Conard hosted Hall-Southington Tuesday afternoon in West Hartford in the opening round of the CIAC Division II hockey playoffs.
By Ronni Newton
The Conard and Hall-Southington hockey teams met on the ice at Veterans Memorial Rink in West Hartford in the first round of the CIAC Division II playoffs, this time playing for a berth in the quarterfinals.
Both teams played a squeaky clean game, a defensive battle that fourth-seeded Conard (12-8-1) won 2-1 behind two goals from junior Bryant Caron.
After a game between the two teams on Feb. 24 turned chippy, and Hall senior Drew Booth sustained a serious injury that required a lengthy surgical procedure, the rematch just 10 days later had many of the ingredients for a tense situation. Coaches and administrators, however, did everything they could to defuse any potential problems, including changing the start time from 7 p.m. to 1:10 p.m. and spending plenty of time speaking with players from both teams. A large police presence was also at the rink.
Hall-Southington (12-9-2), a no. 13 seed, scored first, with Mike DiPietro taking advantage of a scramble in front of the net with 11:05 left in the first period that left the goal wide open. He was assisted by Robert Allan and Miles Aronow.
Conard answered quickly, as Caron found the net with 9:42 left in the first, sneaking one by Hall-Southington goalie Zach Monti on an assist from junior Liam Lacroix.
With 8:02 left in the second period, Caron once again found the open goal, rebounding a shot by Lacroix and assisted by senior Paul Wilson.
The only penalty the entire game was near the end of the second period, when Conard senior Brent Soucy received a 2-minute penalty for cross-checking.
Hall-Southington coaches pulled their goalie for a last-minute push to tie the game, but couldn’t convert.
Conard head coach Chris Tornaquindici said the win was a “team effort,” and said goalie Shea Henderson had a great game, stopping 26 shots. Caron, recently moved to a forward position, was the MVP, Tornaquindici said.
Tornaquindici said he coaches a physical game, and while this one was less physical than what he usually likes to see from the team, “we used our speed and our energy tonight and I’ve been preaching that all year. Speed, energy, and accountability,” he said. “I coined us the name ‘SEA’ dogs way back when.”
“They’ve had a tough week or so, we’re emotionally drained,” Hall-Southington head coach Brian Cannon said. “All in all they looked pretty good.” The team narrowly missed a scoring opportunity in the third period, but he said the early goal had helped ease everyone’s nerves.
Reflecting on the season, Cannon said it was overall a good season. “There’s some games we’d like to have back, we could have played a lot better in some games.”
Tuesday’s game wasn’t nearly as exciting as the last meeting, Cannon said, which in addition to the drama that caused by the serious injury ended in a 1-1 overtime tie, but there was still some good action.
Because of the early start time, the stands were not as full as they would have been otherwise, and Athletic Director Jason Siegal said Tuesday morning that the West Hartford students were expected to complete their school day before attending the game. The high schools dismiss at 2:15 p.m., and students began arriving at the start of the third period.
Southington’s administration allowed their students to leave school early to attend the game.
Siegal also shared that Conard junior Brendan Battison, who received a major penalty for the hit in the previous match-up that resulted in Booth’s injury, had released a statement to the Booth family and the Conard hockey program in advance, indicating that he would not play in the game in order to honor Booth.
In a text sent to Booth and his team, that was shared with We-Ha.com, Battison wrote the following: “I have made the decision to have a personal game of silence at Tuesday’s game to honor Drew. I will be there showing my full support and will be leaving my skates in the locker room. I wish Drew the very best in his recovery and hope that both teams can come together in the spirit of friendly competition.”
Battiston was not benched; he was eligible to play and it was his decision, Tornaquindici told reporters after the game. “He decided to take himself out of the game. He thought it would give our team a better chance to win without him in light of all the situation that happened. He made a man’s decision as a young man and he really should be commended for it … He really, really stepped up,” taking the high road, Tornaquindici said, which was an extreme act of good character that made him proud of his player.
Battiston was at the game, watching alone from the balcony at the far end of the rink. He will “absolutely 110 percent” play in the quarterfinal game on Friday, Tornaquindici said.
Booth sustained fractures to the orbital bones of both eyes, a broken nose, and lacerations during the Feb. 24 game against Conard. He underwent neurosurgery, a lengthy and complex procedure, on Feb. 26, and was released from the hospital on Sunday.
“I didn’t expect to see him here today,” Cannon said. “He’s still got a lot of sensitivity to light. I’m glad he got here and hope he doesn’t feel too bad when he gets out of here. He’s running on emotion.”
“I thought it was a hugely gracious gesture on the part of Brendan Battiston to recuse himself from the game,” Cannon said. “That’s a boy making a man’s decision.”
Cannon said he doesn’t know if the two teams will face each other next year. “We make that decision on a year-to-year basis,” he said, typically based on the relative strength of the two teams.
Booth was recognized by the announcer prior to the start of the game and a moment of silence was also observed as a tribute to West Hartford resident Bruce Connal, a former hockey parent who passed away last week.
Conard will play no. 5 seed North Branford in the quarterfinals on Friday at a neutral site and time to be determined.
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