Masuk High boys hockey coach Andy Townsend emerged quickly from the team’s locker room last Saturday night at The Rinks in Shelton.
Housatonic Regional-Northwest Regional-Wamogo had posted a 3-2 overtime victory.
Westley Reel’s blistering shot from just outside the right face-off circle in Masuk’s end ended the game at 1:57 of the sudden-death, eight-minute overtime period.
Reel took a pass off the boards from line-mate Seth Sherwood, outraced the Masuk defense and sent his shot over Masuk goalie Owen Bowler’s right shoulder and into the far corner of the net.
The Mountaineers earned their seventh victory in 15 outings and moved one step closer to qualifying for the Division III state tournament for the first time in four years.
The loss left Masuk with a 9-6-1 record and Townsend shaking his head.
“When we come out and don’t work like we did tonight, we can be the worst hockey team in the state,” Townsend said. “But, when we come to play we can be pretty good. These kids have got to decide which way they want to go. We were out-worked tonight.”
Masuk got the start it wanted when first-line forward Chris Ruspini threw a shot from behind the net at 1:12 of the opening period and it hit a Mountaineer defender and ended up in the goal.
Shane Dushay earned an assist and the Panthers had a 1-0 lead.
Masuk put another nine shots on goal in the period, but they couldn’t get another one past Mountaineer goalie Joe Bazzano, who wound up with 31 saves.
In between, HRNRW scored at 1:21 of the second period on a goal by Drew Donzella to draw even, before taking the lead on Ralph Folino’s unassisted goal at 4:51 of the same period.
“I’ve seen this happen before,” Mountaineer coach Dean Diamond said. “Sometimes the team that scores first and that early in the game doesn’t always win.
“One thing I didn’t want to see was to have this game go into overtime. I have high blood pressure.”
Masuk evened the score late when Luke Butkovsky scored at 10:18 of the third period.
Butkovsky scooped up a rebound from in close and fired it past Bazzono. Assists went to Joe DaMota and George Andros.
Masuk took 15 shots in the period, but the Panthers could only score once.
Bozzano made a good glove save early in the overtime off of a shot by Ruspini before Reel ended it.
“He (Reel) has the strongest shot on the team,” Diamond said. “And, it was a freshman (Sherwood) who chipped the puck off the boards to him.
“They beat us (4-1) the last time that we played. I thought it should’ve been closer. Tonight, I simply told my kids that they had to play their hearts out on every shift. That was the only way that we could win this game.”
After winning nine of their first 14 games, the Panthers have now lost two in a row, including a 4-3 South-West Conference loss to Newtown, a team they beat earlier in the season.
Following the defeat to the Mountaineers, Masuk lost 4-1 to New Milford Monday night. It left their overall mark at 9-7-1 with three games left on the schedule.
“If we want to do well in March, we’ve got to play better,” Townsend said. “As a student-athlete, you’ve got to come to play every night. We seem to pick and choose when we want to play.”
Masuk outshot the Mountaineers, 33-11, but the Panthers came out on the short end.
“All that does is show you what hard work can do,” Townsend said.