NORTHFORD — It was must-win night Wednesday at the Northford Ice Pavilion.
With both North Branford and Guilford teetering on the possibility of not making the CIAC Division II state tournament, the Thunderbirds scored a quartet of third-period goals to come out on top, 8-4, in a wild one between the two SCC-SWC League teams.
“Everyone wants to qualify,” North Branford coach Ralph Shaw said. “We’re both in the same mode. We need W’s, so we’re happy to get the win.”
North Branford (6-8) was actually outshot in the game by Guilford by a 25-23 margin, but made the most of its shots.
Tied at 4-4 going to the third period, it took the Thunderbirds just 1:15 to get the eventual game-winner when Alec Martone converted a pass from Brendan Appi that made it 5-4.
Tanner Opie scored the second of his two goals and then Appi added an unassisted goal with 5:09 to go in the game to give North Branford plenty of insurance. Dom Raccio finished up the scoring with a goal with 2:46 to play.
“I know Guilford is struggling a bit this year,” Shaw said. “We took advantage of some of their mistakes.”
Guilford coach Ralph Russo said, “The ceiling fell in for a couple of minutes. They capitalized on everything and put it in the net.”
North Branford got out to a quick 2-0 lead in the first 7 minutes, dominating possession of the puck. Opie’s blast from the left point scooted past Guilford goaltender Hunter Martins (15 saves) to make it 1-0 just 4:20 into the game.
Two minutes later, Jordan Glenn converted a pass into a goal to give the Thunderbirds a 2-0 edge.
Guilford, however, finally got its offense going and scored the next three goals.
Stephen Thibault backhanded a rebound into the net that North Branford goalie Will McEwen (21 saves) couldn’t control for a power play at the 9:21 mark.
With only 42 seconds left in the first period, Indians’ defenseman Evan Powell ripped a slap shot from the right point that beat a screened McEwen to tie things at 2-2.
Guilford took the lead for the first time at the 1:32 mark of the second period when Ryan Brand’s shot in front eluded McEwen.
North Branford then took advantage of a couple mistakes early in the second period by the Guilford defense as they didn’t clear out the Thunderbirds from in front of the crease.
After a rush down the left side of the ice, Adam Burkle’s shot went off Martins’ stick and right to Jared Neubig, who was sitting on the doorstep on the right side. Neubig had a wide-open net and popped the puck over Martin’s left shoulder to tie it at 3-3.
Less than 2 minutes later, Martone sent a perfect pass from behind the net to Nick Johnson, who was waiting in the slot in the middle in front of Martins. Johnson had the whole left corner and banged the puck in from there.
Guilford’s Evan Powell tied things with 44 seconds remaining in the second period on a shorthanded goal from the left side.
“We had some inconsistent play, but played better than we have in a bit,” Shaw said. “Our game plan was to take some shots and get some traffic in front. The one thing was that our special teams weren’t on for us tonight.”
Guilford (3-10) probably will need to win at least four of its final seven games to qualify for the CIAC Division II hockey tournament.
“You look at that result and it’s a little frustrating,” Russo said. “We did some nice things. We outshot them and had some good quality chances to score. We have to find a way to put the puck in the net and it turns the game around.”