NORWALK — Two short-handed goals went a long way for the Norwalk/McMahon hockey team on Monday night.
Norwalk/McMahon entered its Division III Tournament opener against Milford co-op without a victory in the postseason since the 2005-2006 season, but that changed in a big way at Sono Ice House Monday.
It paid to be short-handed for Norwalk/McMahon, which scored two goals while playing a man down, and skated to well-earned 2-1 win over Milford co-op in the opening round of the CIAC Division III Tournament.
Seeded seventh, Norwalk/McMahon advanced to Wednesday’s quarterfinal round, where it will play the combined No. 15 Housatonic-NM-Wamogo-Torrington squad at a site yet to be determined. The victors received their long-awaited playoff victory courtesy of two goals from senior forward Jeb Boyrer.
Boyrer’s winning goal came with Milford on a 4-on-3 power play with 4:20 remaining in the third period.
“We came down the left side of the ice in the zone on a broken play, the puck went back up to the point, our defenseman took a shot that went wide and ricocheted to the right side of the goal,” Boyrer said of the sequence. “I was coming around the net and just poked the puck in.”
What followed was a feeling Boyrer will long remember from his short-handed goal.
“It was sweet, having our whole bench yelling and all our fans yelling and cheering,” Boyrer said. “I can’t describe it.”
Junior Finn Cullen was credited with the assist on the winning tally for Norwalk/McMahon, which had to withstand a furious final two minutes with Milford co-op on a power-play.
Evan White, Rich Carino, Kyle Kosh and Luca Ubaldi each registered shots on goal in the final two minutes, but Norwalk/McMahon goalie Max Vitucci stepped up with several key stops in the waning moments.
“That was a very long final minute of the game,” Vitucci said. “At those times is when you have to work the hardest, when you’re a man down. My job was just trying to be aware of where everyone was on the ice.”
Vitucci made 21 saves, while Derek Ouellette made 30 saves for Milford co-op, which included players from Foran, Jonathan Law and Platt Tech.
“Our team has had some down years, but this was a big step for our program,” Milford coach Ken Mitchell said. “We hadn’t been to the playoffs for five years and we qualified for the state tournament. Then to qualify for SCCs for the first time in eight years was another good step for the program.”
Skating on a line with junior Finn Cullen and freshman Keegan Cullen, Boyrer scored the game’s first goal with 10:06 remaining in the first period. He intercepted a pass at the blue line, skated by a defenseman, took it to his forehand and went top shelf with a snap shot, making it 1-0. The goal came with Milford on a power-play.
“We played it pretty well, but he put a shot in the only spot it could go in,” Mitchell said of Boyrer’s goal. “Hats off to him.”
Said Boyrer: “The opportunities came for us tonight when we were short-handed, I guess,” Boyrer said. “That’s when we got the the looks.”
Milford co-op tied the score at 1-1 on freshman forward Connor Chirico’s short-handed tally with 8:08 to go in the first period. He knocked in a rebound off a shot from the point by Ubaldi. Sophomore Kevin Wokanovicz was also credited with the assist on Chirico’s tally.
The physical matchup featured 11 penalties, with Norwalk/McMahon being whistled for infractions seven times. Neither squad converted on their power-play chances, but were quite adept at scoring, while short-handed.
“It was a great game, I’m so excited for them,” Norwalk/McMahon coach Scott Raymond said. “We didn’t have our best night, but we battled as a group. We lived and died by a bunch of kids and they did what they were supposed to do. They stepped up in a game that mattered, a tight game.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Boyrer was the offense for Norwalk/McMahon scoring both of the team’s goals.
“We have the whole town behind us and both schools,” Boyrer said. “Everyone is rooting for us and it feels good.”
Milford co-op’s squad’s roster included four freshman, 10 sophomores and four juniors. Seven seniors played their final game for the team on Monday.
“There is a lot of talent coming back,” Mitchell said. “A lot of hockey IQ is coming back.”
Norwalk/McMahon 2, Milford co-op 1
MILFORD 1 0 0 – 1
NORWALK/MCMAHON 1 0 1 – 2
Goals: M – Connor Chirico; N/M – Jeb Boyrer 2; M – Luca Ubaldi, Kevin Wokanovicz; N/M – Finn Cullen.