NORTHFORD — The Sheehan hockey team had not been shut out this season and the Eastern CT Eagles had not shut a team out this season.
On Thursday night, that equation flipped around as the No. 4 Titans fell 3-0 to the No. 5 Eagles at Northford Ice Pavilion in the quarterfinals of the CIAC Division III Tourament. Sheehan’s season is over at 19-5.
“It was a tough pill to swallow,” said Sheehan coach Dave Festa. “Getting outshot the whole game, getting outplayed the whole game: There are no words that really needed to be said.”
The Sheehan locker room was a somber one following the loss. The Titans were upset to miss the state semifinals again.
Sheehan Hockey hasn’t been to Yale’s Ingalls Rink, the host site of the CIAC hockey final four and finals, since 2008, when the team competed at the D-II level.
“It’s disappointing, but we came up against a very strong team in the Eagles tonight,” said Festa. “We couldn’t execute good enough plays and we just couldn’t get some of the bounces to go our way.”
The Titans knew this was going to be a tightly contested game. When the teams met in the regular season, Eastern CT won 3-1 with an empty-netter.
The Titans’ three-goal loss on Thursday was their widest margin of defeat all season.
“It was a great season for the boys, overall,” said Festa. “That is certainly an unpaid check that we want to look at come next year.”
The analysis of the game was pretty black and white: Sheehan had more hockey talent; Eastern CT worked much harder. Herb Brooks, the great coaching mind behind the 1980 Miracle on Ice, once said, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” That was the difference Thursday night.
“They play a very disciplined game; they work their butts off,” said Festa. “They won the puck battles. They won all the little things that win hockey games. They were all over us from the beginning.”
In the first period, the Titans came off the 10-minute bus ride to the “neutral site” at Northford Ice Pavilion very hot and looked like they were firing on all cylinders.
It didn’t take Eastern CT long to shake off the rust and put pressure on the Titans.
The first period ended with zeros on the board and the shot total being 10-9 in favor of Eastern CT. Of the nine Sheehan shots, it would be hard to qualify all nine as “quality opportunities.”
The first Eastern CT goal came at 6:05 in the second period when Will Cannella got free on a breakaway and beat Sheehan goalie Tyler Robertson with a quick move.
Despite allowing two goals, Tyler Robertson was, once again, the strongest Titan on the ice, making 31 saves on 33 shots. The Titans, in comparison, had 16 shots on net.
The second Eagles goal came on the power play two minutes later. Ryan Huta buried a rebound that kicked out off of Robertson’s pad.
The Titans tried to mount an attack shortly after the Huta goal. Joe Romano had a breakaway, but he whiffed on the puck and made the shot an easy save for Eastern CT goalie Rylin Fowler.
The Sheehan attack in the third period reached a crescendo of two shots ringing off the pipes. Joe Romano’s shot off the crossbar and Joey Richo’s shot off the left post came so close to notching things at 2-2.
Instead, the final nail in the Titans coffin came on a Tyler Jackson penalty call with four minutes to play, putting the Titans on the defensive for half of the remaining time.
The loss concludes a successful Titan season that fell just one game short of their guarantee back in December to make it to Ingalls Arena here in March. Sheehan did capture the SCC/SWC Division III conference champioinship.
“We have a lot of talent coming up through the organization,” said Festa. “This is certainly a message to those guys that what you put in now is going to pay dividends next year.”