WEST HAVEN — With six consecutive wins to open the season — but just one against Division I competition — the East Haven hockey team was eager to prove it was a top team. Matt Longobardi made sure of that.
Scoring three goals and adding an assist, the senior left wing led East Haven to a 6-2 victory over West Haven Saturday afternoon at the Edward L. Bennett Rink. With the win, East Haven, ranked No. 9 in the New Haven Register Top 10 poll, improved to 7-0, while sixth-ranked West Haven fell to 3-2.
“This was a big game for us,” Longobardi said. “West Haven was coming off a big win against Notre Dame of Fairfield. We knew we could not take them for granted. We got a couple of goals and everyone’s spirits were up.”
Longobardi and the Yellowjackets seemed a step ahead of the Westies all game and never trailed. East Haven set the tone just 32 seconds into the contest and never looked back.
Junior Michael Falanga put the Easties on the board quickly when he scored off assists from Longobardi and Tristan Goodwin on the game’s opening shift.
“They wanted it more,” West Haven coach Joe Morrell said. “I am very much disappointed. We know how we have to play. We have to keep moving. Today, we were standing around too much watching. We are not good enough to do that.”
The goal seemed to wake up the Westies as Alex Scranton, Jeremy Borelli and Wyatt Condon had quality opportunities within a minute, but East Haven goaltender Tom DeLucia was up to the challenge each time.
Condon evened the game with 9 minutes left in the opening period when he tipped in Alex Lynch’s shot from the point, but that was as close as the Westies got the rest of the way.
After constant pressure, East Haven took a 2-1 lead with 59.9 seconds remaining in the opening period. On the power play, Longobardi snapped a quick shot by West Haven goaltender Mike Savino and inside the post to give the Yellowjackets a 2-1 lead.
“We knew this was an important game,” East Haven coach Lou Pane said. “This is a tough building to play in. We looked back at the game against Greenwich where we won there in another tough building. We knew we could win on the road. We thought our first line was going to be tough and it was.”
The first line of Longobardi, Falanga and Goodwin combined for nine points in the game, with Longobardi and Falanga combining for five goals.
Special teams continued to play a big part in the game as East Haven scored a short-handed goal with 3:05 gone by in the middle period. Longobardi was at the center of attention once again when he took a pass from Anthony Avallone on a two-on-none break to give the Yellowjackets a two-goal lead.
“I thought it changed the momentum of the game,” Longobardi said. “We had some good chances before that.”
Once again, the Westies came right back, scoring 1:17 later to get within 3-2. Joe Ayala’s slap shot was stopped by DeLucia, but Condon was there to pick up the rebound for his second goal of the game.
Savino (20 saves) and DeLucia kept the game within a goal with several outstanding stops. Savino denied Jake Delguidice from the point and Longobardi with a nice blocker save 39 seconds apart and DeLucia stoned Jaeson Puleo from the right faceoff circle and Kevin Coyle on a backhander in front 50 seconds apart.
The game changed once again with 37.2 seconds remaining in the period. Falanga sent Longobardi in on a partial break and Longobardi beat Savino to the top-right corner for a 4-2 lead.
“They scored the goal with 35 seconds left and that was big,” Morrell said. “We made mistakes and they scored. You have to give them credit.”
East Haven put the game away with two goals in the third period. Dylan Butler gave East Haven a 5-2 lead with 9:16 remaining and 51 seconds later, Falanga found the back of the net for the 6-2 win.
“That line of Longobardi, Falanga and Goodwin is so good,” Pane said. “Longobardi had two great goals today. He sniped both goals. To be 7-0, you can’t ask for more than that. We have a big week coming up. We have to take it one game at a time.”
Falanga had two goals and one assist and Goodwin and Avallone each had two assists in the win, while DeLucia finished with 26 saves.