MIDDLETOWN — Something had to give Monday night at Wesleyan College. Nicholas Maringola made sure it wasn’t the Cheshire defense.
Maringola made a career-high 48 saves and the Cheshire hockey team scored three times in the third period to beat Sheehan 5-4 in a SCC/SWC crossover tilt between teams with state championship aspirations.
Thor Novicelli’s second goal of the night with just under five minutes to play off a perfect pass from Niklas Vasiljevs proved to be the game-winner. Sheehan scored a power-play goal with three seconds to play.
Cheshire, which reached the Division II state quarterfinals last season, improved to 4-1 with the win. And while the Rams ultimately found their offense in the third period, it was Maringola who kept Cheshire in the game.
But that’s nothing new. Earlier this season, Maringola made 45 saves in a 3-2 win over Lyman Hall/Haddam-Killingworth/Coginchaug.
“The Wallingford teams like to shoot the puck, I guess,” said Maringola, an All-State goalie last season as a junior. “I expected (Sheehan) to be good, and they came out firing. We just knew that we have to buckle down on defense.
“I did my part, but my defense also did their part. They blocked more shots than me at some points. I really have to tip my hat to (my defense) and thank them.”
Maringola’s efforts comes against a Sheehan team that had found the back of the net 30 times in its first four games. Sheehan (3-1-1) entered the game No. 1 in Division III playoff rankings and hadn’t scored less than five goals in a game this season.
The Titans were coming off their season-low in goals: a 5-5 tie with the Lyman Hall Co-op that was a rematch of last year’s Division III championship game won by the Trojans.
As modest as Maringola was following his latest stellar effort, his coach knew better. Cheshire was outshot 52-23 on Monday night and 47-14 by LH on Dec. 21. The Rams won both games.
“We’ve said all along that goaltending was going to carry our team,” Cheshire head coach Anthony Giusto said. “Nick is going to give us a chance to win every single game.”
Sheehan head coach Dave Festa agreed, but left the rink proud of his team’s efforts.
“Nick is a very strong goalie and we knew we were going to have a battle against him,” Festa said. “We certainly had our chances tonight, but he is going to win games for them.
“Playing (bigger) teams like this, teams with git and determination, is only going to get us better,” Festa added. “I can’t fault us. The score didn’t reflect the effort. The kids played well, right across the board. It was just one of those games.”
The teams entered the third period tied 2-2. And, as the final stats showed, Sheehan had the better chances all night, but Maringola made 32 saves through the first two periods to keep the Rams even.
Cheshire scored 12 seconds into the third on Aidan Gaudet’s power-play goal. Gaudet also had two assists.
Gaudet’s goal came with the Rams on a 5-on-3 power play that carried over from the second period.
Festa was hit with a bench minor at the same time his son Luke was called for roughing. Both Dave Festa and Giusto were called for bench penalties complaining about calls on the ice.
Festa wasn’t shy about his feelings following the game.
“(The referees) determined the fate of the game, which was a shame,” said Festa. “It was very concerning. (Referees) shouldn’t be a factor in games at this level. It’s very frustrating.”
Still, the Titans weren’t down long in the third. They tied the game 3-3 with 13:34 to play on Devin Napoli’s power-play goal.
Cheshire, however, took the lead for good, 4-3, with 10:09 to play when Charlie Pettit scored off a nice feed from behind the net from Lorenzo Ocone-Krause.
The Rams made it 5-3 with 4:55 to play when Vasiljevs rushed up the ice on the right side and fed a wide open Novicelli with a perfect pass on the tape.
Vasiljevs finished with four points, assisting on three goals and scoring the Rams’ first.
Novicelli gave Cheshire a 2-1 lead with his second-period goal, a beautiful backhanded rebound past Sheehan goalie Luca Mange.
“Without Nick, four of those goals wouldn’t have happened,” Novicelli said.
As for his first goal?
“I just saw the puck out front, dribbling out, and the empty net. I just spun around. It was pretty crazy,”
Novicelli’s goal came off a rebound just three minutes into the second quarter after Vasiljevs’ shot was stopped by Mange (18 saves).
The Titans quickly responded to re-tie the game 2-2 at the 10:05 mark of the second period. The equalizing goal came from Joe Romano on the power play, but his tally didn’t come without controversy.
Romano’s goal was initially waved off by the referee behind the net, but credited seconds later from the second referee on the ice at the blue line.
Joe Romano finished with two goals and an assist. He scored the final Sheehan goal, while his twin brother Anthony scored the first.
“Nick is a great goalie; we just had to get rebounds on him,” Joe Romano said. “We outshot them, but it happens. We need to get more shots next time.”
As expected, the Titans came out and peppered Maringola from the start. Maringola was up to the task, stopping 18 of 19 first-period shots. The Rams had nine shots in the first 15 minutes.
Sheehan took a 1-0 lead 5:52 into the game on Anthony Romano’s goal. Maringola shopped Romano’s initial blast from the point, but the puck trickled into the net to give Sheehan the early lead.
The first power play of the game resulted in Cheshire tying the contest with 28 seconds left in the opening period on a wrister from the point by Vasiljevs that beat Mange low and left.
The Titans threaten to add to their advantage throughout the period, as Luke Festa, Joe Romano, James Stratton and Joey Richo all put the puck on Maringola’s pads.
The Titans’ best chance of several in the first period to make it 2-0 came on a nice feed from Devin Napoli to Festa at the point. Maringola, however, turned aside Festa’s shot. Maringola also stoned Festa’s slapper after a Cheshire turnover in its own zone.