— Xavier Athletics (@athleticsXHS) March 6, 2019
MIDDLETOWN — Xavier was deep, Xavier was talented, but until Tuesday’s first round of the CIAC Division I boys hockey tournament, Xavier hadn’t had anything like what it did at Spurrier-Snyder Rink.
The Falcons scored four goals in the second, tacked on three in the third and beat West Haven 9-1 to move on to face the top team in the state.
“I think it’s been coming along the past eight games. We were, what, 6-2-2 (the past 10),” said Falcons senior co-captain Trevor Earley, who like sophomore linemate Nick LeClaire was in on five of the nine goals.
“Those past few wins showed us we had it in us. We just needed to put it together. Coming in Saturday, it’s going to help us, because we’ve still got a job to do.”
Eighth-seeded, eighth-ranked Xavier (9-10-2) advances to the quarterfinals on Saturday at a site and time to be announced. It will meet top-seeded, top-ranked Ridgefield, which at 22-0 is three wins away from the state’s first undefeated season since 1983.
The Falcons opened their season Dec. 15 with a 4-1 loss to Ridgefield.
“It’s playoff hockey. Anything can happen,” Xavier coach Kyle Heins said. “Ridgefield’s a great team. They beat us the first game of the year. No one’s played our schedule. We’ve had a really tough schedule. But they’re as talented as they come. We’re going to be up for the task, and we’re going to leave our heart out there.”
Ninth-seeded West Haven finishes 10-11.
“They have a bunch of seniors out there, and we don’t. When you’re playing for your lives: Even at 2-1, I said ‘we’re there,’ then they got a couple of goals. They’re playing better every day,” West Haven coach Joe Morrell said.
“After a four-win season last year, we just told them (the Westies players) we’re really proud of them. We’ve asked freshmen to step in and do things we really don’t ask, so I think the future’s good.”
The teams needed overtime when they met Feb. 23 at West Haven’s Bennett Rink; Xavier won in overtime that day. The Falcons did not win a game by more than three goals in the regular season.
Once again Tuesday, the Falcons took a lead. LeClaire scored off a feed from Earley across the top of the crease.
“Just got the puck deep and went to work,” LeClaire said.
Defenseman J.J. Ford led a rush and scored, and it was 2-0 3:45 in.
West Haven senior Niko Kyle got one back, but goalies Jake Woznyk for Xavier and sophomore Jared Pliszka of West Haven held the fort until intermission.
The goals came in another bunch in the second, but they were all Xavier’s. Brendan Buckley scored from LeClaire on a power play after Luke Lappe kept the puck in the zone. Earley scored two minutes later after a tenacious forecheck kept the Westies from breaking out. Chase Maxwell cut in alone and around Pliszka. Earley squeaked in a shot from the right side.
Four goals in five and a half minutes made it an easy one for a team that went through a midseason coaching change, battled a tough schedule and has grown through the second half.
“I think it starts in the locker room,” Earley said. “Our team’s been really good with that, playing as a team, playing as a family. It really helps.”
Maxwell and Peter Gerardi scored in the third, and then Earley finished off a hat trick to finish the scoring.