NORTHFORD — It’s not easy playing against a team with its season on the line.
But Hand made it look that way Wednesday night with a dominating 6-1 SCC-SWC Hockey League victory over Watertown-Pomperaug at the Northford Ice Pavilion.
The Tigers (9-9) allowed just 16 shots in the entire contest, with 10 of them in the first period, as they controlled the game from start to finish. Watertown-Pomperaug finished its season at 5-14-1 and was eliminated from qualifying for the CIAC Division II tournament.
“I told our guys they had something to play for and I wanted them to treat it like every other game,” Hand coach Ken Mitchell said.
The duo of Ben Solin and Danny Braumann also dominated the scoring column. Solin had a pair of goals and an assist, while Braumann had a goal and three assists.
“That line (along with Mike Belliveau) is starting to click,” Mitchell said. “It showed some signs early in the year, but it got away from them. Now, they’ve shown signs of it coming back.”
That pair got Hand off to a good start 6 minutes into the game when Solin skated from the left circle and passed the puck to Braumann in the slot in the middle. Braumann blasted a shot that went high into the air off Watertown-Pomperaug goalie Carl LaRosa (26 saves) and trickled into the net.
“I think they knew about us,” Solin said. “I know Danny and I always talk about not letting it get to us.”
The Tigers then took advantage of a couple bad penalties by Watertown-Pomperaug to score a pair of power-play goals early in the second period.
Jonathan Manzer of the Indians was hit with a 2-minute boarding penalty and a 10-minute misconduct with 7 seconds remaining in the first period and Hand took advantage.
In a scramble in front of the net, Dan Healey flipped the puck past LaRosa to make it 2-0 just 50 seconds into the second period.
“Jon is our leader and played a great first period, taking the body,” Watertown-Pomperaug coach Vic Vicenzi said. “Not having him hurt us.”
And when Watertown-Pomperaug’s Jeff Strakosch was whistled for a penalty 30 seconds later, the Tigers took advantage of that one as well with Solin scoring from the left circle to make it 3-0.
Hand made it 4-0 when Max Leveroni popped in a rebound just 1:50 into the third period.
“We gave them a big lead, but our guys fought to the end,” Vicenzi said. “We had a big comeback from three goals down to New Fairfield-Immaculate last week (a 5-3 loss), but penalties killed us tonight.”
Brian Manzer broke up the shutout with Watertown-Pomperaug’s lone goal on a scramble in front of the net with 11:57 to play in the contest.
Belliveau and Solin added goals in the third period as Hand put the game away.
Chase Briggs had 15 saves for the Tigers, who outshot Watertown-Pomperaug 32-16.
“We played well and Chase was unreal in goal against a team facing elimination for the state tournament,” Solin said. “We had to come out and play well.”