Hall-Southington (12-9-3) took down No. 11 Newington Co-op 4-3, No. 3 Housatonic-Northwestern 6-1 and No. 2 Wethersfield-Middletown-Rocky Hill-Plainville 1-0 on the road to Championship Saturday.
Woodstock Academy (22-2-1) has enjoyed a dominating postseason, outscoring tourney foes 28-1. The Centaurs routed No. 16 Joel Barlow 11-0, No. 9 Trinity Catholic 11-1 and No. 5 Lyman Hall-Haddam Killingworth-Coginchaug 6-0.
The stats lean heavily in Woodstock’s favor, but Hall-Southington has done something just one other team has done this season: beat Woodstock.
“We played them hard,” Cannon said in reference to the previous meeting. “We shellacked each other once or twice over the years and then all the rest of the games are 2-1, 3-2, going either way.”
The teams split their regular-season meetings this year. Woodstock won 2-1 on Dec. 31. Hall-Southington won 3-2 on Feb. 6.
“They’re a good team and they have two of the most talented players in D-3,” said Cannon. “They probably would be darn near as talented in Division II.”
Those two players are Ryan Black and Nathan DeLuca, who have put on a postseason show. Black’s biggest night came against Trinity Catholic, when he posted five goals and four assists. Black has scored 50 goals this season, 35 percent of Woodstock’s output, and has 83 points as one of the state’s most prolific scorers.
DeLuca has totaled 58 points this season, 35 of which have been goals.
“They are just so dangerous,” Cannon said. “They don’t need a lot of room. They make their own room. They both are fast and they finish fantastically.
“And then you still have to beat their goalie.”
Beating Woodstock’s Cal Wilcox will not be an easy task for the Warrior-Knights. Wilcox has allowed just one goal in his last 135 minutes. That included the semifinal shutout of the Lyman Hall Co-op, which has weapons like Hunter Boileau, Chris Blanchard, Kyle Roberts and Scott Bradley.
“We know we are in the game,” said Cannon on meeting Woodstock at the Division III summit. “We did manage to pull it off once, so nothing says we won’t pull it off twice, but God knows they can make a mockery of us if we let them.”
Even with all Woodstock’s tools, Hall-Southington has earned its spot.
“We’ve done it before. We know what they are all about,” said sophomore Mike DiPietro, who scored the only goal in the Warrior-Knights’ 1-0 semifinal conquest of second-seeded WMRP on Thursday night. “We just need to stick to our game plan. Everyone’s playing great right now. We’ve got to keep it going through the rest of it.”
Given their win over WMRP, a team to whom they had lost twice this season, the Warrior-Knights are peaking at the right time. Depth is one of the reasons.
“We have to hope our depth, of being able to run three lines and spot a fourth, can wear them down over time,” Cannon said. “That’s how we win games.”
Hall-Southington offensive weapons like DiPietro and Jeremy Fortin have been glimmering the whole postseason. What really shone in the semifinals were the capabilities of the defensemen.
Captain Drew Booth chased down two breakaway chances to preserve the narrow lead. Richard Mitchell and Chris Gambardella have played consistently well and proven their worth.
Hall-Southington goalie Zach Monti needs to continue his streak of strong performances for just one more game. Monti didn’t see many chances in the semifinals, but showed patience in making timely saves and focusing down the stretch.
The Centaurs are fast, strong and big. They have beaten up on teams from all divisions. Their only other loss was in the regular-season finale to Division II Conard, 4-3.
The Warrior-Knights have beaten them. They’re one of the few Division III teams to even play Woodstock close. Those Warrior-Knights: They’ve proven to be a pesky foe.