HAMDEN — Following the graduation of its starting goalie and the vast majority of its offense, the Hamden boys ice hockey team was just a bit under the radar during the preseason.
After a week in which they knocked off two of the top seven teams, each by multiple goals, the Green Dragons are now squarely in the spotlight.
Sophomore Jesse Fracasso and senior Alan Cozzolino each scored a pair of goals to help lead No. 8 Hamden to a 5-2 victory over No. 2 Darien Saturday afternoon at Louis Astorino Ice Arena in Hamden.
The Dragons, who beat New Canaan 4-2, in their opener on Wednesday, will next head to Rhode Island for the annual Christmas Tournament at URI on Dec. 26-28, and are riding high at 2-0.
“It’s no better feeling than when everyone’s saying your team’s not going to win, to win a game like this,” Fracasso said. “We knew who was coming in today and getting those two wins right off the bat is huge. Now we’ve got to go to Rhode Island and get the job done there, too.”
“We don’t have any superstars,” Hamden assistant coach Rob Celentano said. “We roll three lines and even at the end of the game, I put the third line out there and they played the last three minutes like it was nothing. This is a hard-working team.”
While many people may have seen Hamden as a rebuilding team, that wasn’t the case for the Blue Wave and coach Mac Budd.
“When you play Hamden, you know you’re going to be in a battle,” Budd said. “Since I’ve been involved coaching this team, we love having them early. They’re always a physical team, they typically have some good skill. It was a good high school hockey game, but when push came to shove, they wanted it a little bit more than we did in that third period.”
Hamden had a second straight solid start by goalie Maxx Ricci, who has taken over as the starter for his senior season. Ricci made 18 saves against 20 shots and allowed just one even-up goal.
“Maxx is playing above and beyond,” Celentano said. “He’s always had guys who are a little better than him ahead of him, but now he’s ready to play. This year, it’s his turn and he’s really stepping up to the plate.”
The game had a wild start.
Hamden made its first push into the offensive zone with Joseph D’Adamo taking the initial shot. Darien goalie Chris Schofield (10 saves) blocked the attempt but the rebound landed in front and Fracasso cleaned it up for a 1-0 lead just 24 seconds after the opening drop.
That lead didn’t last long as the Wave quickly responded with James Conway scoring during a scrum in front of the Hamden net at 56 seconds.
The Dragons regained the lead with 2:26 to go in the first, as Jack Shane made it 2-1.
Fracasso then netted his second goal for a 3-1 advantage 10 seconds into the second period.
Again, Darien answered. Jameson Moore flipped the puck high past Ricci during a power play to cut the deficit to 3-2. Sam Erickson and Bennett McDermott assisted.
Darien had the better of play in the second frame but the play of Ricci and the defense kept the Dragons in front before Hamden took over in the third.
“We had some good looks (in the second period) and we certainly gave ourselves some opportunities and didn’t capitalize,” Budd said. “That hurt us because that could’ve shifted the momentum Going into the third period, it was anyone’s game and their push was harder than our push in the third period.”
“In the second period, they were all over us and we took too many penalties,” Celentano said. “In the third, we talked over some things and we stayed out of the box, but what really worked for us is that we’re conditioned. We worked hard and went hard to the net.”
Cozzolino, the senior, iced the win for Hamden in the third period, scoring two goals 49 seconds apart for a three-goal bulge. Hamden then skated away the final eight minutes to nail it down.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Jesse Fracasso, Hamden. The sophomore wing led the Dragons with two goals and an assist. His second tally came during the first minute of the second period and gave Hamden a two-goal advantage at the time.
“It’s a huge win. We knew who was coming in the house and and no one ever thought we’d pull out a win like that. They came out strong and they’re a hard-fought team, but we were ready to play all game.” — Hamden sophomore Jesse Fracasso