Branford's Matt Morgan on his goal, which opened a 2-1 win over East Haven, and on keeping frustration from setting in when a goalie like Logan Hamilton is stopping everything #cthk pic.twitter.com/PVpMLJODaH
— Michael Fornabaio (@fornabaioctp) February 27, 2020
NORTH BRANFORD — He lost six games to injury, but Branford freshman forward Matt Morgan returned in style Wednesday night at Northford Ice Pavilion.
Morgan went to the front of the net and scored the Hornets’ first goal in a 2-1 win over East Haven that clinched the top seed in the CIAC Division II boys hockey tournament for the defending champions.
“I just set up in front of the net, got a good pass,” Morgan said.
Danny Farricielli broke a tie in the second period, all the Hornets (16-2-1, 8-0 SCC Division II) could get past East Haven’s stellar senior goalie, Logan Hamilton.
Morgan and Farricielli are a couple of the newcomers who have mixed into the core for Branford, making the Hornets, No. 8 in the GameTimeCT top 10 poll, a favorite to repeat.
“I thought Matt played well. I thought he fit right back into the responsibilities we’ve given him all year,” Branford coach Jim DiNapoli said. “He helped solidify the offense, for sure.”
The Hornets will play Hand on Saturday night at Northford for the top seed in the SCC/SWC tournament, which begins with semifinals March 5 at Bennett Rink. No. 10 Hand beat North Haven 4-1 later Wednesday.
— Michael Fornabaio (@fornabaioctp) February 27, 2020
East Haven (8-11, 5-4) was without two top forwards, senior Alec Speirs and junior Dave Amatruda. Coach Lou Pane said Speirs was sick and Amatruda had to sit out because of a penalty he incurred in the last game.
“That’s our two leading scorers,” Pane said. “Coming in here, playing without those two guys, it’s very difficult.”
The Yellowjackets played a hard-nosed defensive game, though, and Hamilton made save after save, 36 in all. He denied four or five Branford shots on a second-period shift. He stopped Spencer Engstrom with the shaft of his goal stick in the closing minutes. He took a hard shot to the helmet from Chris Donadio with 1:33 left that kept him down for a minute, but he got up to finish the game.
“He’s been outstanding all year,” Pane said. “It was a great effort on his part and the team to keep it close and have a chance to tie it up at the end.
“That’s why he’s our captain. He’s our leader.”
Farricielli scored on a quick give-and-go with Jack Manware after the Yellowjackets couldn’t clear the zone 5:19 into the second period.
Morgan, alone in front to take a pass from Zach Jones, scored on a backhander 5:32 into the game. Cory Benni answered for East Haven seven minutes later, finding a loose puck in front of Branford goalie Jared Yakimoff.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Logan Hamilton gives East Haven a chance to be competitive every night.
“I can’t give enough credit to Logan. He’s such a good goaltender,” DiNapoli said. “We tried to throw as much rubber at him as we could, and he kept stopping them.”
DiNapoli said he would’ve liked a little higher compete level for his team on Wednesday.
“I’d like to see us come out of the gate really ready to compete, a little more speed,” he said.
“There’s a lesson in it going forward, with the advent of the playoffs. I think there’s a lesson in this for us to learn from and build from, a bit of the maturation process. We’ll take the win and go forward.”
DO IT AGAIN
This evening at Northford was almost a conference tournament before the conference tournament: Wednesday’s games locked East Haven into the fourth seed and North Haven into the third seed. The same matchups as Wednesday’s could happen again in a week.
“As soon as we walked into the rink, actually, everyone was talking about that,” Hand coach Brian Gonsalves said. “It’s kind of something we saw at the start of the year. We knew we were finishing with North Haven and Branford, and we knew they were two of the top teams we’d see this year.
“We knew we had a lot of talent in this building. It’s pretty cool have three teams from one rink participate in that. It’d be cool to have it here in Northford, but we’ll settle for Bennett.”
Hand needs to beat Branford on Saturday at 7:30 to claim the top seed. The Hornets, defending champ in that tournament as well, earn the top seed with a tie or victory.
Hand scored early in the first, early in the second, then scored two goals late. North Haven outshot the Tigers 32-27 but couldn’t sneak one past Eric Dillner until 8.1 seconds remained.
“It shows you we’re not quite there yet. We’re not bearing down in front of their net to make enough plays to score goals,” North Haven coach Chris Avena said. “Outshooting the two best teams in the division (the Indians outshot Branford 36-31 a week ago in a 2-1 overtime loss) and coming away with two losses isn’t going to get you very far in the next two weeks, so we have to figure out how to bury some more pucks and give us an opportunity to get some better outcomes.”
Charlie Wira, John Gagliardi, Brendan Ryan and Tatum Fitzmaurice scored for the Tigers (17-1-1, 7-0-1 SCC Division II). Mike Anquillare scored for North Haven (11-6-3, 5-2-2).
“I give our guys all the credit in the world. We had guys stepping up to the table and playing well tonight. We had some chances there at the end to tie it up. … Branford’s a great team. We came in here with belief that we could win.” —East Haven coach Lou Pane