CIAC ICE HOCKEY: ‘Three schools, one dream’ approach took the Co-op the distance

CIAC ICE HOCKEY: ‘Three schools, one dream’ approach took the Co-op the distance

WALLINGFORD — The CIAC plaque given to the Division III ice hockey state champions Thursday night will reside in the Lyman Hall High School trophy case.

But it can be found in the Lyman Hall hallway thanks to the efforts of players from Haddam-Killingsworth and Coginchaug as well as Lyman Hall.

Those players combined as the Lyman Hall Co-op to beat Sheehan 6-2 Thursday night in an all-Wallingford state final at Ingalls Rink.

It was the first ice hockey state championship for the town. For that matter, it was the first time any of the schools involved had reached a state hockey final.

While over 3,500 Wallingford residents filled Ingalls to compacity, only those wearing the blue and orange of the Lyman Hall Co-op left happy.

“This is huge; it’s as big as it gets,” said LH junior Matt Pettit, who scored twice in Thursday night’s win. “You see all the people here? There is probably every kid from my school, H-K and Cog. It’s just crazy.

“The Co-op is the best thing that ever could have happened to us,” Pettit added. “Some may say it’s unfair, but I love it. I’ve been life-long friends with (players) on this co-op, and to share this with them is just amazing. It’s like they are a part of the rivalry; they are no different than us.

“Now it’s time to celebrate with the boys. All for the co-op, right?”

Yes. The efforts of every player who took the ice Thursday night for LH, no matter what school they attend, allowed the Titans to call themselves No. 1 in the end.

“To see this team jell together was just awesome,” said H-K athletic director Lynne Flint, who played hockey at Lyman Hall and is a lifetime resident of Wallingford. “It was nice to see all the fans of the three schools come together.

“It was a cooler experience because of the connections I have with (Lyman Hall and Sheehan),” Flint added. “Coginchaug, being in the Shoreline Conference with H-K; it’s just a strong connection with all three schools.”

Flint was at Ingalls and watched LH sophomore Aidan Weir score two goals. His second-period tally ended up being the game-winner, as the Trojans scored three times in the second to take control of the game and a 4-1 lead heading into the third period.

Jake Roberts, a senior captain from Coginchaug, also scored the first of his two goals in the second period and assisted on Weir’s first goal.

But maybe most important was the play in net of another Coginchaug student: sophomore Andrew Sacco.

The LH goalie stopped 32 Sheehan shots and kept the Trojans in front with a variety of saves. He was peppered by Sheehan’s potent offense from the opening faceoff, making 10 saves in the first period, and then 14 more in the final 15 minutes.

In the third period, Sacco stopped nine power-play shots by Sheehan and did his best work during the Titans’ third and final power play of the period. Sacco denied Anthony Romano, Luke Festa and Devin Napoli with Sheehan on the man-advantage in the game’s final minutes.

“It’s just a team effort, no more about that,” Sacco said about playing for a co-op. “We all deserve it; we all came together as a team.

“Three schools, one dream.”

Few were more impressed with Sacco than his head coach, Rich Minnix.

“I’ve said it many times: When the kid is hot, there is nobody better,” Minnix said. “Tonight, he was the hottest goalie in the state.

“(But) it was a just a team effort,” Minnix added. “Everyone towed the wagon.”

Lest we forget H-K’s contribution, which goes beyond Thursday night’s win: There are five H-K players on the Lyman Hall Co-op, including junior Mike O’Toole, who scored the game-winner Monday night in the dramatic 4-3 semifinal win over the Newington Co-op. The defenseman also had an assist Thursday.

“It’s just awesome to see contributors from all three schools,” Weir said. “We have a very special bond. We all love each other and play for each other.”

Thursday was the third meeting between Lyman Hall and Sheehan this season. The teams split a pair of regular-season games. Sacco shut out the Titans 3-0 on Jan. 26 and Sheehan won 5-1 on Feb. 16.

The teams didn’t meet in the SCC/SWC Division III Tournament, as LH was upended by another co-op, JBWA (Joel Barlow/Weston/Abbott Tech), in the semifinals and Sheehan went on to repeat as conference champions.

Winners of 10 of 11 going into Thursday, the Titans had scored 38 goals in five postseason wins. And despite being the No. 4 seed to Lyman Hall’s No. 2, they were perceived as the favorite. Sheehan had defeated No. 1 seed Hand 8-2 in Monday night’s first Division III semifinal.

The Trojans, meanwhile, had an up-and-down end to their season. Prior to losing in the SCC semifinals, the Trojans had suffered through a three-game losing streak late in the regular season. LH had also needed two goals in the final 2:44 to beat Newington and advance to Thursday night’s title game.

Ultimately, the Trojans won six of their final seven games and Thursday’s victory over Sheehan capped off a historic season.

“We were just tired of losing and tired of hearing about Sheehan winning. We just wanted to get back to grinding,” Kyle Roberts said.

LH certainly had to grind out its final win. Sheehan controlled the puck most of the night and spent the majority of the game in the Trojans’ zone. But LH was optimistic, to say the least.

Outshot all night, the Trojans were content to play solid defense, which they turned into offense with rushes up the ice.

Pettit opened the scoring on Lyman Hall’s third shot of the game. The Trojans tested Sheehan goalie Tyler Robertson just five times in the opening 15 minutes.

Pettit, who grew up in Wallingford, put the Trojans up 1-0 just over four minutes into the game when he redirected Jack Roberts’ shot.

After a Napoli power-play goal knotted things at 1-1 after one period, Pettit struck again in the second period. He netted the first of three LH goals in the period when he scored unassisted. Pettit’s goal came on Lyman Hall’s sixth shot of the game 4:11 into the second period.

Weir followed six minutes later with the first of three LH power-play goals. Kyle Roberts capped off the second-period scoring with an unassisted wrister.

LH’s lead grew to 5-1 on Weir’s second goal just under five minutes into the third period. And after Anthony Romano’s goal 12 seconds later got the Titans within 5-2, Kyle Roberts’ power-play goal with under five minutes to play sealed the win.

“I’m just happy to help out the boys the best I could. I couldn’t have (scored twice) without the help of my guys,” Pettit said. “When we got the momentum, we didn’t want to let off the gas. We knew that if we gave them any room to breathe, they’d come back.

“This win couldn’t have been any sweeter.”

“When I started six years ago, we had 10 players, even with a co-op,” Minnix said. “Now look at it. It’s at another level.”

Lyman Hall boasts a deep history of hockey, but had fallen off by the time Minnix arrived.

Still, Lyman Hall had a hockey program in place, and it just made sense for the Trojans to be the host school when it became a co-op, first with Haddam-Killingworth starting with the 2012-13 season. Coginchaug joined the fold two years later.

“Financially, none of us could have survived on our own,” Flint said. “Co-ops are very common in hockey because the sport is so expensive. There aren’t very many rinks to get ice time. So, we’ve been lucky to find Lyman Hall.”

But will the LH Co-op be around much longer? Even before Lyman Hall grew into a state champion, there were whispers that this could be the last season for its co-op with H-K and Coginchaug.

“I believe we have one year left before they phase it out or at least re-examine it,” said Flint.

If so, the Lyman Hall Co-op will at least get a chance to defend its championship — a championship few saw coming until three schools came together and made it happen.


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