WEST HAVEN >> Although it’s generally believed among the high school boys hockey community that the Hamden/West Haven rivalry is the oldest in the state, no one seems to know the exact date the rivalry began.
West Haven is celebrating its 80th season as a varsity program, and Westies coach Joe Morrell believes the rivalry could be the same age. One thing is certain: the Green Dragons and Westies usually provide exciting hockey for its fans and alumni.
On Saturday, the rivalry was renewed at Bennett Rink and, as usual, there was end-to-end action with the outcome decided late in the game. Jaeson Puleo scored twice and goalie Mike Savino made 35 saves to lead No. 9 West Haven to a 6-3 SCC-SWC Division I win over No. 2 Hamden.
The game was tied at 3 in the third period when the Westies (4-2) scored two goals 30 seconds apart to take command of the game. Puleo’s second goal of the game made it 4-3 at 10:07 of the third and Tyler Paine scored at 10:37 to make it 5-3.
“We impress upon our players the importance of the rivalry against Hamden, but it’s really not necessary because our players are always pumped for this particular game,”Morrell said. “Myself, (Hamden coach) Bill (Verneris) and all the coaches of both teams over the years have made this a good, fun rivalry. It brings out our West Haven alumni and it’s very important to them for us to beat Hamden.
“Today, I knew we needed all three lines to contribute and they did. When Hamden tied the game, that woke us up. And that fourth goal gave us the momentum we needed.”
Hamden’s Stephen Pantera gave the Green Dragons a 1-0 lead at 3:54 of the first period. The Westies answered with three straight goals — Jake Lynch at 5:01 of the first period, a Puleo power-play goal at 8:49 of the first and a Wyatt Condon score at 11:45 of the second — for a 3-1 lead.
The Green Dragons fought back with a pair of goals by Jeremy Routh at 12:29 of the second period and8:51 of the third to tie the game at 3.
Enter Puleo and Paine.
“Falling behind 1-0 didn’t bother us, because as a team we never get down on ourselves,” Puleo said. “It felt great to score that fourth goal, because from then on all the momentum was on our side.
“Our rivalry with Hamden is huge. If we can beat Hamden, then we know we can beat anyone in the state.”
Hamden goalie Chris Feldman made 26 saves for the Green Dragons (3-2).
“This was a typical Joe Morell defensive game with their guys consistently clearing pucks and limiting our shots in front of the net,” Verneris said. “The momentum was changing in our favor when we tied the game 3-3. But that fourth goal was the turning point and iced the game for them.
“When I looked at our guys on the bench, that fourth goal took the wind out of their sails.”
The final goal of the game was an empty-netter by West Haven’s Donny Froehlich with 34 seconds remaining.