HARTFORD — A brilliant regular season for Watertown/Pomperaug came from simple things, simple things that their Friday night opponent in the CIAC Division II boys hockey quarterfinals turned back on the Indians.
WMRP struck early, struck for two second-period goals, then barely gave the Indians a sniff at its net in the third period of a 4-1 WMRP victory at Trinity’s Koeppel Center.
“They essentially beat us at our own game,” Watertown/Pomperaug coach Vic Vicenzi said. “They got pucks to the net, bodies to the net, played smart, got pucks deep, outworked us. They were the better team tonight.”
Aaron Cholewa scored two goals from the goal mouth. Brody Davidson’s goal, seconds after the Eagles’ only power play expired, proved to be the game-winner. Trevor Piecewicz’s empty-netter finished it.
And aside from an early third-period scramble and a couple of late chances after the Indians pulled goalie Ryan Fleming, the Eagles kept Watertown/Pomperaug to the perimeter, if it got in the WMRP zone at all.
“My defense has been out here every single game, stepping up every shift,” said WMRP goalie Jake Peckrul, who made 29 saves. “I give all my credit to them. They played a spectacular defensive-zone game today, stopping their best offensive players.”
Ninth-seeded WMRP (17-6) advances to face fourth-seeded Branford (17-3-4) in Tuesday’s semifinals at Yale’s Ingalls Rink at 7:30 p.m. The Eagles lost to Branford 4-0 in the regular season.
“Since last season ended right here in this rink to Enfield in the D3 quarterfinals, the other captains and I knew this wasn’t going to be our last game,” Peckrul said.
“We wanted this so bad, and we got it.”
All that beat Peckrul was a Zach Smith deflection in the first period, which tied the game at 1-1.
Watertown/Pomperaug, ranked in the top 10 in the GameTimeCT poll for much of the year though it was unranked to start the postseason, finishes 17-5-2. Forward Sean Dunfee was out with a broken wrist.
With a standout goalie in Fleming, the Indians played solid defensive hockey most of the year and earned the top seed in the division.
“Losing as many seniors as we did over the past two years, and the success that we had, knowing we were going to have a short, small bench this year, we exceeded our expectations at the beginning of the year,” Vicenzi said.
“As we started playing, the wins started piling up, and good, ugly, whatever the ‘W’ was, a win is a win. The kids battled. It wasn’t always fun hockey, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to win.”
He saw their mirror image Friday night, and it ended their season.
“This team, it took a while during the year for us to jell and get it together, but once we did, the last three or four games, we’ve played very smart ice hockey,” said WMRP coach Dennis Tulimieri, whose team is back at Yale for the second time in three years.
“That’s what it takes, disciplined, smart ice hockey. I was impressed with the game sheet. That’s two very aggressive teams, and there were only two penalties.”