NORTH BRANFORD — While the Northwest Catholic and New Canaan boys hockey teams have solid defenses, their combined offensive talent was expected to produce some excitement for their fans entering their CIAC Division I quarterfinal matchup on Saturday with a few goals in the process.
After all, in their last 10 games the Lions outscored opponents 34-13 and the Rams outscored opponents 41-18.
As expected, the teams did produce many exciting offensive plays, but in the end the defenses dominated.
Connor Melanson scored 2 minutes, 4 seconds into the first period and Michael Kaliff had 18 saves to make the lone goal hold up as No. 2 Northeast Catholic defeated No. 7 New Canaan 1-0 at the Northford Ice Pavilion.
Most of the Lions offensive plays were initiated on breakaways down the right wing and Melanson’s goal was the result of a 2-on-2 breakaway on the right wing. Brennan Horn carried the puck along the boards and sent a lead pass to Melanson as he skated between the two circles. Melanson went to the front of the left post and wristed a shot between New Canaan goalie Dylan Shane’s leg pad and the left post for a 1-0 Northwest Catholic lead.
“I did not think that one goal would hold up, especially with their No. 18 (Gunnar Granito) who is a very good player and had a lot of chances to score,” said Melanson, the nephew of Northwest Catholic coach Dan Melanson. “With the talent on both teams, I thought the scoring would go back and forth.
“But our entire team played hard both ways and we especially played good defense.”
Northwest Catholic (20-2-1) advanced to the Division I semifinals and will play No. 6 Notre Dame-West Haven on Tuesday at Ingalls Rink in New Haven at either 5:30 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. (to be determined).
Dan Melanson said the Northwest Catholic and New Canaan quarterfinal game was a “tight, defensive game” similar to their regular-season matchup that the Lions won 3-2 in overtime.
“Both teams had their chances, we even hit two posts,” Dan Melanson said. “New Canaan is a very good team and we thought there would be more goals. But both teams played good defense and both goalies played great. The combination of our defense and taking away time off the clock were key turning points for us.
“I was a little concerned when they had a power-play opportunity in the third period. But our players did a great job killing the penalty. Everyone did a great job today.”
In the second period, the Rams were limited to three shots on goal, but Granito had one of the best chances in the period to score. Granito grabbed the puck near center ice and bolted all alone on a breakaway toward Kaliff. He hit a rising slap shot that came off Kaliff’s right leg pad at 13:50 and Kaliff was able to clear the puck away.
Both teams had chances to score in the third period. But the Rams had their best chances when Northwest Catholic’s Colby Tuttle was called for a tripping penalty at 4:49. The Rams never got a clear shot off and the penalty was killed.
Jack O’Hare had the best chance to score with a wide open shot from about 12 feet in front of the net, but Kaliff made the stick save with 2:40 to go in the game.
“You have to give credit to their goaltender, he kept the puck out of the net,” New Canaan coach Clark Jones said. “This was a heck of a high school hockey game. We had our chances including one last shot with 2 seconds left in the game.
“We even hit the post a couple times but the puck just didn’t bounce our way. Our guys played hard right to the very end.”
Shane ended up with 19 saves for the Rams (14-8-1).