A strong overall campaign came to a tough end for the Masuk High boys hockey team on Monday night.
The host Panthers were eliminated by Trinity Catholic of Stamford with a 6-2 loss in the first round of the Division III State Tournament, at The Rinks at Shelton.
Masuk, the No. 9 seed in the bracket, finishes its season following a 10-9-1 regular season record and semifinal round exit in the conference tourney. No. 9 Trinity advanced to take on top-seeded Woodstock Academy in the quarterfinal round.
Trinity went up 2-0 after one period of play and built a 3-0 lead in the second. The Panthers got on the scoreboard11:16 into the second stanza when Elijah Begin scored a goal set up by Brendan Andros.
The Panthers tried to cut into the deficit early in the third. Nikita Kuzmitski’s shot from a tough angle was steered aside by Trinity goaltender Zach Lockwood. Sean Squibb and Begin combined on an aggressive forecheck despite being shorthanded, but couldn’t cash in. T.J. Scalia made a nifty move the blue line to create an open shot but was denied. Brendan Andros’ rip from the blue line off a Panther faceoff win was stopped.
Trinity got the next goal before the line of Begin, Casey Bowler and Adam Montague generated heavy pressure in the Trinity zone. With just 2:19 left Kyle Cirillo stole the puck behind the Trinity goal and set up Montague for a shorthanded tally.
Trinity got a pair of late-game power play goals to put the game out of reach. Kyle Bernard scored a hat-trick, Jake Lavato scored twice and Shane Haggerty netted Trinity’s other goal.
“It wasn’t our best game. This game obviously is not a reflection of the whole year, but it’s the last game so that’s what you’re left with thinking about,” Masuk coach Andy Townsend said.
The Panthers were sluggish from the start, said the coach, adding that the Panthers needed to do a better job getting to loose pucks and in clearing the defensive zone.
“We just didn’t have that competitive edge today,” Townsend said.
The Panthers did so for much of the campaign and improve on last year’s record by four wins to get into double digits and finish over .500 this year. Masuk also finished tied with the Lyman Hall co-op program with the best record in the South-West/ Southern Connecticut Conference Division III tier with a 5-1 mark.
Some injuries down the stretch contributed to Masuk’s struggles in the playoffs.
The Panthers have a large core of players expected back in the fold, but they will miss their four seniors: Captains Begin and Montague, along with Matthew Andronowitz and goaltender Colin Charney, who backed up Tag Weiss.
“All four contributed in different ways. They’re all good kids and helped build a good team atmosphere this year. They’ll definitely be missed,” Townsend said.