NORTHFORD – A year ago, Sheehan and Hand were two of the top teams in the CIAC Division III and II ranks before the season was stopped halfway through the state tournament because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The pair are expected to be among the top teams again even though there will not be a state tournament.
But it was Sheehan which totally dominated Friday night as the Titans scored often early on the way to a 5-1 Southern Connecticut Conference hockey victory over 9th-ranked Hand at the Northford Ice Pavilion in the season opener for both teams.
“We’ve had this game circled on our calendar for quite some time now,” Sheehan coach Dave Festa said. “Getting on them quick and repeating it in the second period was one of the keys for us.”
Sheehan took a quick lead in the first period. Just 2:22 into the contest, Joey Romano got the Titans on board with an assist from Luke Festa. That came after Hand turned the puck over in its defensive end.
The Titans made it 2-0 with 2:40 remaining in the contest on a power play goal. With Dominic Montesi in the penalty box for the Tigers for interference, Dylan Hennessey put the puck past a sprawling Hand goalie Eric Dillner.
Being down, 2-0, reminded Hand coach Brian Gonsalves of the game 13 months ago when Sheehan had a 3-0 lead and the Tigers rallied back to take a 4-3 lead before the Titans won in overtime, 6-5.
“When they got up 2-0 real quick, I had a little déjà vu,” Gonsalves said. We had three or four good shifts and it had that same feel.”
But a couple of bad penalties in the middle period gave Sheehan a chance to break things wide open. Logan Massey was whistled for a roughing penalty and Tatum Fitzmaurice also took an unsportsmanlike penalty on Tatum Fitzmaurice at the midway point of the period. That gave Sheehan a 5-on-3 power play and the Titans took advantage of it quickly. Luke Festa sent the puck to Anthony Romano deep at the right circle and he put the puck past Dillner to make it 3-0 with 7:30 remaining in the second period.
“It’s one of those pivotal points in the game,” Gonsalves said. “You’re prepared to go 5-on-4, but then it’s 5-on-3 in the blink of an eye.”
Less than four minutes later, Joey Romano collected his second goal of the night with the puck trickling into the Hand net just outside the crease to make it 4-0.
“We were stressing the fact they have an incredible offense,” Anthony Romano said. “We take two shifts off and they’d be back in the game. We wanted to keep the pedal to the metal. No breaks.”
The Titans kept pouring it on in the third period, even when shorthanded. Freshman Landon Cantele made it 5-0 when he took a rebound off a shot by Anthony Romano and ripped a bullet into the net at the three-minute mark of the third period.
The Sheehan first line of the Romano twins and Festa accounted for six points in the game.
“Magic,” Festa said. “I don’t know how they get the opportunities,” said Festa. “They just know where the other person is without even looking. It’s fun to watch.”
Hand finally got on the board when Tatum Fitzmaurice whacked at the puck in a scramble in front of the net with just 6:39 left to play.
“Our defense played lockdown defense,” Anthony Romano said. “One goal against Hand is pretty impressive.”
“We knew the pucks would bounce funny on us tonight and we’d have a difficult time with the hockey part of it,” said Gonsalves, who noted that Hand had just two practices prior to playing Friday night. “But our biggest mistake tonight was our mental game.”
Sheehan outshot Hand, 28-21. Justin Lyon had 20 saves for the Titans, while Dillner stopped 23 shots.