E.O. Smith-Tolland Rights Ship With Win Against Newington Co-Op

NEWINGTON-The E.O. Smith-Tolland (EOT) boys hockey team entered Saturday night’s game at rival Newington Co-op struggling mightily, with the Bucks having lost five of six games and scoring just 14 combined goals during the stretch. EOT needed a great team effort to turn things around on both offense and defense against the hot Indians, and they certainly did in a hard-fought win.

EOT outlasted Newington Co-op 5-3 on the Indians Senior Night, defeating them for the second time this season. The Bucks (8-10-1) showcased their depth and versatility, obtaining goals from five different players and holding Newington Co-op (12-7) scoreless for the final 12:40 of the match to secure the match.

After the squads each traded goals during the first two periods and the beginning of the third, EOT finally took the lead for good with 8:10 remaining when forward Matt Abrey beat goalie David Mix to his left through his five-hole. The pass was sent up by a pair of precise passes from forward Ross Lennon and defenseman Gavin Till.

“I was so happy to score and give my team the win,” Abery, a sophomore, said. “That was my first goal in a while.”

EOT officially secured berths in the CCC Conference Tournament and Division II State Tournaments with the triumph. Malcolm Lewis, Till, Lennon and Jason Franklin each had both a goal and assist for the Bucks.

“I’m really proud of the team effort tonight on both ends and getting goals from all different guys,” EOT head coach John Hodgson said. “We’ve had the goal of getting into both the conference and state tournament all season, so this win is especially special for us.”

From the opening whistle, the match was highly physical and intense. EOT struck first, with forward Eamon Judkins firing a shot past Mix low and to his right close to the goal exactly four minutes in. The team’s opening goal was set up by quality passes from Aidan Bayne and Till. During the remainder of the first period, the Bucks were able to maintain their 1-0 lead. Their defense was able to consistently block passes and shots and limited the Indians ability to get into the zone with its physicality.

The Newington Co-op offense found more success against the EOT defense in the second, which ended with the squads tied at two. The Indians tied the match in the opening seconds. Forward Ethan Ranger found forward Andrew Graham open right in front of the goal, who fired a shot low and past Pierre Doyle. Newington Co-op continued to maintain possession for a majority of the period, but the Bucks were able to effectively pressure its main offensive players in the following few minutes, also benefiting from the Indians missing on a handful of shots.

EOT’s offense rarely got open against the aggressive Indians defenders in the first few minutes of the second. Its best scoring opportunity came when the Bucks earned a penalty shot seven minutes in, but Mix made an outstanding to his right on Till’s low laser.  Eventually, however, the offense’s relentless effort paid off when Lewis beat Mix amidst a crowd of players near the goal at the 5:51 mark, giving his team a 2-1 lead. Forward Will Russell earned the assist.

Newington Co-op again tied the score 1:30 later. Multiple defenders were out of position and Kyle Bucher took advantage, beating Doyle over his shoulder. Pat Doherty and Cade Palladino earned assists. The remainder of the period became even more physical on both ends, and each goalie made multiple quality saves.

While it seemed the Indians may have had the momentum entering the third, EOT immediately grabbed it back, as Lennon scored on a close high shot just 19 seconds in to make it 3-2. Forward Owen Stacey and Abery set up Lennon’s goal with passes following a rebound. The aggressiveness of the Bucks defense soon cost them however. An open Palladino again tied the score three minutes later when Newington Co-op held a 5-on-3 power play, firing in a shot from up high following passes by Bucher and Graham.

Following two athletic saves from Mix, EOT took a 4-3 lead and helped guarantee a win with Abrey’s goal. Hodgson discussed the Bucks reasons for their much-improved offensive play in the win.

“We’ve been struggling to score and trying to be more efficient on offense, and I saw that tonight,” he said. “We showed better execution on passes and shots and improved speed, and we were able to just put shots in the net. We played as a group like we wanted.”

The EOT’s defense locked down in the final 11-plus minutes of the game. The defenders covered the Indians very closely in the Bucks zone, swarming shooters and forcing the puck away. They also successfully did not allow Newington Co-op to execute multiple breakaways.

Franklin punctuated the win by scoring EOT’s final goal with less than a minute remaining, dropping the puck into an empty net.

“We’ve been working on cleaning our defense up, and it was strong tonight,” Hodgson said. “Our spacing was improved, and the structure and coverage we displayed in our zone was strong. We played well as a unit.”

Abery echoed his coach’s statement about the player’s ability to play more effectively as a group in the win.

“We’ve been struggling a lot lately, but we played much more as a team tonight. We were constantly talking on the ice about the plays we were running and things like spacing, and making sure everyone got involved,” he said.

Hodgson and Abery were both clearly excited about the team qualifying for the tournaments, with Abery calling it an accomplishment he and teammates were extremely proud of. The pair discussed what E.O. Smith-Tolland, which is now ranked 14th in the Division II standings and has one home game remaining at Woodstock Academy on Monday, must do to sustain the momentum from beating Newington Co-op and go on tournament runs.

“We must continue showing attention to the little details and playing as a team on both ends,” Hodgson said. “That would especially help our defense.”

“We just have to keep working hard in practice and then communicating and staying focused in games. We have the ability to make it far,” Abery said.

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