WEST HAVEN — With a five-game losing streak in hand, Jared Pliszka and the West Haven hockey team had the perfect remedy. A contest against arch-rival Hamden was sure to get the Westies going.
Behind 28 saves from Pliszka, a strong defensive effort, and an all-around solid performance by the Westies, West Haven snapped its five-game skid with a 3-1 victory over Hamden in front of a capacity crowd at the Edward L. Bennett Rink in West Haven Wednesday evening.
“Obviously, it is good to end the losing streak,” Pliszka said. “We had a couple of good practices this week and we were ready to go.”
Pliszka was more than ready in the final minutes, turning aside several quality Hamden scoring opportunities, including a point blank shot by Jack Shane in the closing seconds. The ensuing play saw senior Robbie Forleo fire into an empty net for the two-goal lead with 15.5 seconds remaining.
“He has been amazing,” West Haven coach Steve Harris said of Pliszka. “He is a quiet leader out there. He may not wear a “C” or an “A”, but he is a quiet leader. The kids feed off him.”
For West Haven (6-5), the contest was a necessary victory after five losses followed the handful of victories which opened the season. West Haven was outshot in the opening period, but hard work by the Blue Devils in the middle period produced the first goal of the game.
Senior Richie Greene circled in front and had his shot turned aside by Hamden goaltender Maxx Ricci, who finished with 32 saves in the contest. The rebound came out front where freshman Ben Carfora tucked the puck inside the left post for a 1-0 advantage with 7:52 remaining in the middle period.
“We definitely came out with a lot of fire,” West Haven senior Kaden Morgillo said. “Everyone gave everything they had. We haven’t beaten them in five years. Every player fought and gave 150%.”
The Green Dragons had plenty of scoring opportunities in the middle period, but Pliszka turned aside all eight shots. The senior was at his best when he denied Brandon Sargolini with a pad save in front with 6:49 left in the period, then denied Christopher Dolan with a glove save 37 seconds later.
“The crowd was into it,” Hamden coach Todd Hall said. “It felt a little old-school out there. I love playing in this rink. You have to give credit to West Haven. They played hard and they beat us. They got to everything. They worked hard and they deserved it.”
West Haven increased the lead to 2-0 just 34 seconds into the third period when Kevin Moriarty scooped up a loose puck in front and beat Ricci.
“That goal was them getting to those pucks we talked about,” Hall said. “We were a little short, but they got there. Give them credit. They were the first to the puck.”
Hamden (7-4) did not go away and less than three minutes later, the Green Dragons were within a goal. With traffic in front, Alan Cozzolino just got enough of the puck to have it trickle by Pliszka with 11:29 remaining off assists from Anthony Malonis and Joseph D’Adamo.
West Haven was not to be denied and forced a pair of two-on-one breaks. Nick Boanno fed Morgillo on the first and Carfora hit Colin Hines in stride on the next, but Ricci came up big each time, keeping the Hamden deficit at one with 5:30 remaining.
“This is a big rivalry,” Harris said. “Most of these kids, the seniors, have never beaten Hamden before. The seniors really stepped it up. We had two great days of practice and it showed.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Jared Pliszka — West Haven senior finished with 28 saves, including 12 in the deciding third period.
“Obviously, they are a long-time rival. They embarrassed us last year. We wanted to make sure we came out with a great effort.” — West Haven goaltender Jared Pliszka