NORTHFORD — Andrew Graziano walked a little slowly out of the North Haven hockey locker room on Thursday night.
It was no wonder.
The junior goaltender had just spent a couple of hours feeling like the inside of a pinball machine at high speed after stopping 50 of 52 shots as the Indians staved off a furious Branford offensive attack to record a 3-2 Southern Connecticut Conference Division II triumph at the Northford Ice Pavilion.
“I did everything I could to keep the puck out of the net,” Graziano said. “There were a couple times I didn’t think we’d make it through. They came out flying and never stopped the whole game. We couldn’t get the puck out of the zone and they just kept on coming.”
Graziano was stellar especially in the final 3 minutes of the game as Branford put an immense amount of pressure on the entire North Haven defense.
“He’s an All-State goalie and we’re glad we have him,” North Haven coach Tom Roche said.
Branford didn’t help itself defensively with turnovers deep in its own zone leading to all three North Haven goals.
“Coach gave us a talk about giving the puck away,” Branford’s Tony Pascale said. “We had to get the puck over the red line and then get it into their end.”
The Hornets (2-1) dominated the first period, tattooing Graziano but they weren’t able to put the puck in the net. Tyler Criscuolo and Pascale had the best chance with a two-on-one midway through the period, but they were thwarted by Graziano.
The Indians collected the first goal on the power play after Branford’s Tyler Hackett was in the penalty box. After the Hornets gave the puck away deep in their own end, North Haven worked the puck around to Mike Tantorski, who blasted the puck off the inside of the crossbar past A.J. Brink with 2:01 left in the first period.
The Indians made it 2-0 just 3:18 into the second period as two Branford players collided near their own blue line. Vin Fasulo got his stick on the puck and then passed it to Tyler Luedee, who put it past Brink for the score.
Less than 2 1/2 minutes later and after another Branford mistake, Fasulo ripped a shot past Brink from the left circle to make it 3-0.
At that point, Branford coach Adolph Brink pulled his son, A.J., from out of the net in favor of senior goalie Ryan Kallert, who had hardly played the last two years.
“I made the change to shake things up,” Brink said. “After that, we pretty much held them in check. Kallert played real well which was nice to see.”
Meanwhile, Branford continued to put a ton of pressure on North Haven’s defense. Finally a minute into a power-play opportunity with 5:18 left in the second period, Criscuolo skated down the right side of the ice and wristed a shot past Graziano to cut the Hornets’ deficit to 3-1.
Branford took advantage of another North Haven penalty with just over 2 minutes remaining in the second period. Just 9 seconds into the power play, Jason Vitale closed it to a 3-2 game with a goal.
It remained that way for the rest of the game, but Branford mounted massive pressure on North Haven throughout the third period. With just 33 seconds left to play, Pascale hit the left post, setting off a bunch of oohs and aaahs from the crowd as the Hornets kept the pressure on.
“I like hearing the ding,” Roche said. “It’s when you don’t hear the ding is what upsets me. They have some good goal scorers in Criscuolo and Hackett. We tried to limit their spacing, but they have great hands and they were around our goal.”
“We didn’t capitalize in front of the net when the puck was bouncing around,” Adolph Brink said. “They made the first save, but when the puck sat there, they were able to clear it.”
North Haven improved to 2-1 with the win.
“Beating Amity and Branford is a good start for us,” Roche said. “It was two evenly matched teams. They gave us a head start, but they never gave up and were always in the game. We were lucky as we made a lot of mistakes and they capitalized on them, but we stuck together.”