Despite outshooting Newtown, the Masuk High boys hockey team came up short, 2-1, in the conference tournament semifinals, at Milford Ice Pavilion, on Wednesday.
The second-seeded Panthers fell into a 2-0 hole through one period of play, struck early in the second, and piled on the chances late only to see the third-seeded Nighthawks move on to Friday’s South-West/ Southern Connecticut Conference championship game.
“We didn’t come to play the game tonight. We got our lunches fed to us in the first period,” said Masuk coach Andy Townsend, who noted that his Panthers raised their level of play in the second and third periods.
Masuk outshot Newtown 26-20, but Nighthawk goaltender Kyle Murphy was stellar between the pipes.
“Their goalie made some great back-door saves and some rebound saves. That, right there, is the difference,” Townsend said.
Newtown struck on a goal by Jack Hanley 8:15 into the game, and added to its lead when Sean Ferris hit the back of the net at the 11:33 mark of the opening stanza.
The Panthers came looking good to begin the second, and Adam Montague was set up by Elijah Begin only 15 seconds into the middle period to slice the lead in half.
The top line of Montague, Casey Bowler and Begin generated chances throughout the evening, defenseman Brendan Andros was strong on the blue line, and Shane Guaglianone stepped up and played well in the absence of some Panthers sidelined with injuries, Townsend noted.
Newtown was without four of its top players as a result of some major penalties issued during a fracas at the end of the team’s 2-2 tie with North Haven on Saturday.
“It’s a rivalry game. It doesn’t matter who’s in the lineup. You’re always going to have a competitive game between Newtown and Masuk, said Townsend, whose team split a pair of regular-season meetings with the Nighthawks.
Both of those contests also were close, with Newtown winning 7-5 (including an empty-netter) and Masuk prevailing 3-2.
This playoff matchup was every bit as close as the final score indicates and the Panthers nearly forced overtime.
Masuk had a late-game power play, and defensemen Andros and T.J. Scalia, along with Bowler and all had clean shots at the net that Murphy stopped, and Montague had a chance partially blocked by a Newtown defender.
The Panthers pulled goaltender Tag Weiss with about a minute to go, and they continued to apply pressure until the final horn.
As disappointed as the Panthers are, they’ll turn their focus to the upcoming Division III state tourney.
“You always look forward to the state tournament. That’s why you play the games. It’s what you play for all season,” Townsend said.
Tourney seedings will be announced on Friday at casciac.org.