E.O. Smith/Tolland Drops Title Game

This article was written by Danny Atkinson.

E.O Smith/Tolland gave Newtown fits in Saturday morning’s DIII hockey championship.

As impressive as the fourth-seeded Bucks played, however, they ended up holding the short end of the stick. Scott McLean scored with 3:33 remaining in overtime to give the second-seeded Nighthawks a 2-1 victory in front of a packed crowd at Yale’s Ingalls Rink.

McLean grabbed a rebound and beat Bucks goaltender Matt Schoen to his left with a low shot. The goal gave Newtown (18-5-3) its first state title in program history, and denied the E.O. Smith/Tolland co-op a win in its first championship appearance.

For McLean, it was his first goal in his high school career. The freshman had entered about 50 minutes earlier as an injury replacement for Dan Harrison.

Both teams had solid scoring opportunities in an exciting overtime. The Bucks best looks came on shots by Justin Gagnon and Ross Brancati. Gagnon hit the crossbar on a slapshot, and then Nighthawks goaltender Patrick McLoughlin made a last-second save on a rocket from BrancatI only one minute before McLean’s game-winner.

“I thought we were going to win on both those shots,” E.0.Smith/Tolland head coach John Hodgson said. “Ross’s shot was right on point and the goalie made a great save, and then Justin just hit the crossbar.  The whole overtime was back and forth, and they got the last bounce. We gave everything we had.”

The Bucks offense struck first with 9:45 left in the opening period when Peter Mayer broke free of the defense and struck the pack past McLoughlin. The goal was Mayer’s fourth in in four playoff games. Cameron Burns earned an assist on the score.

Newtown answered just under four minutes later on a power play goal from Connor Hanley. From then on, the game became a battle of wills.

Although it frequently seemed as if the offenses were on the verge of breaking through during the second and third, this never occurred due to efficient defensive play by both squads, along with the outstanding performances of Schoen and McLoughlin.

The physical play of the E.O. Smith/Tolland defense made it challenging for the Nighthawks to set up open shots and obtain any breakaways. It also regularly deflected shots. When Newtown got open looks at the goal, Schoen was there to make saves, no matter how challenging it was for him to snatch the puck. He displayed significant agility, and earned 28 saves in all.

Unfortunately for the Bucks offense, the Nighthawks defense was every bit as physical, and McLoughlin matched Schoen save for save. He finished with 29 stops. While the Bucks players were able to regularly get shots on goal, they also consistently hit shots that went wide of the goal when open.

Hodgson praised the play of his defense and both goalies.

“Our defense played the same way they have since the start of the season,” he said. “It was great to see our kids leave it all out there, and we knew that would be the case. And Matt was incredible in goal, and so was McLoughlin.”

Mayer answered bluntly when asked why the offense was unable to break through in the final two periods and overtime.

“Honestly, I’m not really sure why we didn’t score,” he said. “Their goalie played a heck of the game, and their defense made big plays. I think we outplayed them in overtime, but in the end, we couldn’t get a shot to trickle through.”

Even with the disappointing ending to the Bucks season, Hodgson and Mayer both believed that it was a very satisfying campaign.

“I’m proud of how we played this year,” Hodgson said. “We competed hard and came a long way from the beginning to the end.”

“We’re very happy with how we played and represented the school and community,” Mayer said. “I’m going to remember this season very well.”

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