NEW HAVEN — Long after a happy Lyman Hall Co-op ice hockey team vacated the Ingalls Rink locker room, Michael O’Toole was easy to spot.
He was the big kid, with the biggest smile, wearing the hard hat.
O’Toole became the unlikeliest of heroes Monday night. The junior defenseman’s goal — only his second of the season — with 1:14 left capped off a remarkable 4-3 Lyman Hall win over Newington in the CIAC Division III semifinals and propelled the second-seeded Trojans (17-7) into Thursday night’s state championship.
“I saw that I had all the time and space in the world, so I just settled down, got the puck on my stick and picked a corner,” O’Toole said.
“It’s crazy,” O’Toole continued. “When we tied it up, that just got the ball rolling. I really think we got the momentum. My goal just so happened to be the one that put us over the top.”
O’Toole’s goal set up Thursday’s night’s title tilt with Wallingford rival Sheehan. The fourth-seeded Titans (19-5-1) rolled to an 8-2 win over top-seeded Hand in Monday night’s opening semifinal.
In the nightcap, without a Newington defenseman around him, O’Toole had plenty of time to take the puck off the left-wing boards and fire in his game-winner. His wrister beat Newington goalie Alex DiPaola over his left shoulder.
“Just a great shot,” Newington coach Dave Harackiewicz said. “Short side, not that much room. It was a heck of a shot.”
Just a minute and a half earlier, with 2:44 on the clock, the Trojans tied the game on Matt Pettit’s power-play goal, set up by a perfect pass from freshman Jack Roberts.
It was Pettit’s second goal of the night. The All-SCC junior opened the scoring after a scoreless first period.
“That power-play goal was huge; it gave us a boost of confidence,” LH senior captain Kyle Roberts said. “Then Mike just ripped one.
“It’s awesome (for Mike). He just let that thing go. It was a rocket,” Roberts added. “Everyone just went nuts. It was an awesome feeling.”
Leading throughout the second period and into the third, the Trojans allowed Newington to not only tie the game midway through the final period, but take its first lead with just over five minutes to play.
At that point, the momentum had swung completely in favor of the third-seeded Indians. It also set up the Trojans’ dramatic ending.
T.J. Arduini extended the Trojans’ lead to 2-0 in the second period before Newington netted the next three goals to take its only lead of the night.
“The boys were content at 2-0 and that’s not the right motive to have there,” said LH coach Rich Minnix. “Going down 3-2, our power play’s been dynamite all year and it’s just a beautiful thing, seeing a guy like Michael O’Toole, who puts his heart and soul into the game and grinds every day at practice, get a game-winner right there.”
Yes, wearing a hard hat after his game-winner was appropriate. Given to the hardest working player in the game, the hat certainly fit O’Toole’s style of play.
The gritty grinder has been part of a LH defense that had allowed just one goal in two previous state tournament games to get to Ingalls. For the season, O’Toole and his defensive mates have allowed just over two goals a game.
“We didn’t have the flair (tonight) that we’ve been playing with,” said Roberts, who assisted on LH’s first two goals. “We just had to grind this one out. It was a pretty rough game.”
O’Toole, however, provided a pretty sweet ending.
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