NORTHFORD – If the North Branford hockey team had thoughts of defeating Fairfield Co-Op in a rematch of last season’s CIAC Division II final, the formula was pretty simple: Stay out of the penalty box.
Unfortunately for the Thunderbirds, the formula to success was not followed as North Branford allowed three power play goals by the Mustangs in the middle period, allowing Fairfield to take home the rematch, 7-3, Wednesday at the Northford Ice Pavilion. The Mustangs also won the title game last season in overtime.
“What made the difference was we had three lines who all contributed,” Fairfield coach Carl Larouche said. “We were able to roll three lines out there the entire game . They all did a good job. The power play was the key.”
The Mustangs (4-1) opened the second period with a two-man advantage which carried over from the first period and broke a 1-1 tie when Will Von Brauchitsch poked in a loose puck in front with eight seconds left in the man advantage for a 2-1 lead.
After Mustangs’ goalie Dawson Gunn robbed Marc Daddio and the rebound by Brian McKee with 9:54 left in the middle period, Fairfield extended its lead to 3-1 with another power play goal. This time, the Mustangs needed just ten seconds of the man advantage as Anthony Beccaria scored his second of three goals in the game when he put in a rebound past North Branford goalie John Lovelace.
“We have to be more disciplined,” North Branford coach Ralph Shaw said. “Obviously, their power play was working tonight. We have to work on our penalty kill.”
The Thunderbirds were able to get some life when Brendan Dupuis fed Sean McKee at center ice. Sean McKee skated just inside the blue line and snapped a shot on goal which was stopped by the blocker of Gunn, but went in the air, over the head of the goaltender, and into the net to get North Branford within 3-2 with 5:48 left in the middle period.
“That has been the story of our season,” Shaw said. “We have been very inconsistent. We play one shift well, then we take a shift off. We are focusing on one shift at a time.”
That life was stolen from North Branford as another penalty put the Mustangs back on the power play with less than five minutes to go in the middle period. North Branford looked as if it would kill the penalty, but Arel Ram picked up a loose puck which went off the post and tucked it past Lovelace with five seconds left in the power play for a 4-2 Fairfield lead with 2:46 left in the period.
“We tell the boys to keep doing the system,” Larouche said. “There is no panic. When we are in a fast-paced game, there is no panic. I am very pleased with the team.”
The Thunderbirds again got within striking distance to start the third period when Brian McKee scored on the power play from the slot off assists from Sean McKee and Dupuis 1:51 in, but the Mustangs answered with three goals in a span of 3:11 to put the contest away.
Beccaria completed his hat trick with a goal in front with 8:58 remaining, Von Brauchitsch scored his second of the game 1:51 later, and Garath Gacetta needed 1:20 to extend the margin to four goals.
“It starts in practice,” Beccaria said. “It is a team effort. We had eyes looking all over the ice. We wanted to crash the net and take advantage of pucks in frront of the net.”
The first period was controlled early by the Mustangs, but ended with both teams scoring once. Two North Branford penalties in the final minute of the opening period put Fairfield on a two-man advantage to start the second period.
The Mustangs put on the early pressure in the game with Lovelace denying Keegan O’Reilly from the right faceoff circle 1:39 in, and Kyle Mazza from the left side a short time later. In between, Fairfield took a 1-0 lead when Beccaria scored off a scramble in front with 4:11 gone by in the game.
The Thunderbirds finally got a quality shot on goal with 7:25 left in the opning period as senior Scott Clinton wheeled around in front and ripped a one-timer which was turned aside by Gunn with a nice pad save.
North Branford evened the game on the power play with 4:18 left in the opening period as Daddio fed Sean McKee on the side of the net and McKee perfectly placed a shot between Gunn and the right post for the equalizer.
Beccaria finished with three goals and an assist, while Von Brauchitsch had two goals for the Mustangs. Gunn finished with 10 saves in the win.