As the final second ticked off the scoreboard clock, Masuk High hockey players raised their arms, the bench spilled out onto the ice, and the celebration was underway.
Masuk, the Division III State Tournament’s top seed, topped off a nearly-flawless season with an oh so perfect finish — a 6-3 win over No. 3 Newington co-op in the championship game, held at Quinnipiac University’s M&T Bank Arena in Hamden Monday night.
Drew Scalia broke a 2-2 tie in the game-changing second period with his second of three goals, and the Panthers wrapped up a 23-1-2 campaign in style, with the program’s first state championship.
“They just came through. Every single game they’ve done it,” Masuk Coach Andy Townsend said. “Everything went right this year. It was just an unbelievable year. Everything that could go right did go right.”
Even the team’s lone loss, a 7-6 setback to Branford, just three games into the season, couldn’t faze this group. Townsend said the Panthers quickly put that loss behind them and moved forward — to the tune of 23 straight games without a defeat, including a run to the conference crown.
Townsend, also a teacher at Masuk, said his pregame nerves were settled a bit by his student athletes when he saw them playing chess only hours before the biggest game of their careers.
“We’ve got it today. They were that calm,” Townsend said of his pregame confidence spike.
“There were tears of joy on the ice after the game,” Scalia said following the state title triumph.
Townsend and Scalia were recently honored as Coach and Player of the Year in the Southern Connecticut/ South-West Conference.
Panthers jump out in front
Scalia, assisted by Nick Kondub, opened the scoring, and Kondub had a goal of his own to answer Newington’s first tally for a 2-1 Masuk lead after one period of play. Scalia and Luke Kondub assisted the go-ahead goal.
Newington struck just 1:29 into the middle stanza to knot the score again. The game stayed tied until late in the second when Scalia scored twice in a span of less than two minutes.
Scalia capitalized on a turnover in the high slot to whip home his second net-finder, unassisted for a 3-2 lead, 11:23 into the second.
The Panthers went on a two-man power play advantage and cashed in with Scalia lighting the lamp off assists from Nick Kondub and Austin Braiewa. He took a pass through the low slot and wristed home Masuk’s fourth goal from the left faceoff circle, making it 4-2 at the 13:13 mark.
Masuk all but crushed any hopes of a Newington comeback moments into the third period. Kyle Sutfin jammed the puck home, assisted by A.J. Michetti, just 33 seconds into the final period.
Sutfin returned the favor, assisting Michetti on an empty-net goal for a 6-2 cushion with just 1:24 left.
Newington added a goal as time expired, scoring on a bit of a bizarre play, in which Newington capitalized on Masuk beginning its celebration a second or so too early.
Masuk goaltender Maddex LaFountain made 24 saves. Masuk outshot Newington 29-27. The Panthers were outshot 15-6 in the opening period before seizing control of the game.