SHELTON — There was an upset special in the first round of the CIAC Division III ice hockey state tournament on Monday. It just didn’t belong to Southington-Coginchaug-Westbrook.
On a night that saw the No. 15 Rocky Hill Co-op take down No. 2 New Milford, the No. 16 Southington Co-op fell to top-seeded Masuk 8-3 at the Sports Center of CT.
Senior Kyle Suftin led the Panthers with a hat trick.
Nicholas Kondub, Angelo Michetti, Christian LaBella, Luke Kondub and Colin Deering added single goals as Masuk improved to 18-1-2 and advanced to the quarterfinals to face No. 9 Hall (12-9-0) in Thursday’s quarterfinals.
Senior Drew Nafis led the Blue Knights with two goals. His twin brother Jake also scored as Southington’s season came to a close at 6-15 after an 0-11 start.
Both Nafis brothers scored in the second period to cut a 4-0 deficit in half before Masuk regained control in the third period.
“We expected to come out on top,” said Southington coach Bob Allan. “We’re a lot better team than our seed showed. I think we showed that in the second period, coming back in the game, narrowing the gap to two goals.
“Our guys didn’t quit,” Allan added. “We played against the top team and just weren’t able to overcome their fast start.”
Indeed, the Panthers wasted little time getting on the board. After the teams exchanged a shot on net in the first minute, junior Nicholas Kondub scored in the second minute of play. Senior Andrew Scalia was credited with the assist.
A mere 36 seconds later, the Panthers extended their lead to 2-0, with Suftin scoring his first of the night assisted by junior James Cybart.
Masuk made it 3-0 with a little under three minutes left in the first period. Senior Angelo Michetti recorded that goal off assists from Suftin and senior Colin Deering.
The Panthers outshot the Blue Knights 10-4 in the first period and continued to push the attack to start the second. Just over two minutes in, freshman Luke Kondub scored to give Masuk a big 4-0 lead. Deering earned his second assist on the play.
Though down by four, Southington was not down and out. The Blue Knights got two much-needed goals in a four-minute span. With 6½ minutes left in the second period, Drew Nafis scored an unassisted goal.
Southington maintained the mojo and scored another goal four minutes later, with Jake Nafis scoring off assists from his brother Drew and junior Tyler Schmarr.
“We knew we could [get back into the game]; I don’t think the belief ever stopped for this team right up until the final buzzer,” Allan said. “They played us really tough in the first period; they took us out of our game. We came out in the second period, played our game, and then we got the results for it in the period.”
Its lead halved to 4-2, and with social media abuzz about Rocky Hill’s budding 3-0 upset in New Milford, Masuk responded with urgency in the third period. Suftin scored his second goal one minute into the final frame to restore a three-goal lead and, 90 seconds later, sophomore Christian LaBella made it 6-2 off a feed from Suftin.
Two minutes later, it was Deering lighting the lamp for a 7-2 lead.
With 4:20 left in the game, the Blue Knights scored their last goal of the night and, as it turned out, of the season. Drew Nafis got it on the power play assisted by Gabe Mohr and Nikolas Allan.
Suftin answered with his third goal, completing the hat trick on the power play off assists from Deerin and LaBella.
The Panthers haven’t lost since suffering a 7-6 loss to Branford on Dec. 21. They set a program record with their 17 regular-season wins.
As for Blue Knights, they will look to prepare for next season. Coach Allan is anticipating the return of key players such as Tyler Schmarr, starting goalie Max Scirocco, Jack Ford, Jasen Hurley and Nik Allan among other underclassmen.
Southington will graduate Mohr, the Nafis twins, John Frechette, Tom Czarkosky, Eli Vernick and Cody Pettola.
The team had a turnaround season toward the end of the year after a 2-18 season a year ago and has hopes of being better in 2023-24.