NORTHFORD — One game.
That’s what separated Sheehan and Lyman Hall in the SCC/SWC Division II hockey standings before Saturday night’s tilt. Then, Lyman Hall upset No. 6 Sheehan, 3-2.
Now, the two rivals are dead even at 5-1 with a rematch scheduled for Monday night at 8:15 p.m. back at Northford Ice Pavilion.
It’s been two years since the Trojans beat the Titans 6-2 in the 2019 Division III state final. Since then, Sheehan has been in ascendance. The Titans were on course for the D-III state title last year until the pandemic wiped out the CIAC tournament and, this year, won their first five games by a combined 33-11 and rose to No. 6 in GameTime CT’s state poll.
And while the Trojans, in last year’s two regular-season meetings, had tied Sheehan 5-5 and lost the second game 6-5 on a late goal, they were hardly the favorites going into Saturday night.
“Everyone in the state thought we were going to lose,” said Lyman Hall senior goaltender Brendan Reddington. “No one had us picked to win this game, so turning it around is a huge statement game. They were undefeated and now we’re on top. We’re killing it.”
Reddington played a large part in the Trojans’ upset, saving 27 of 29 shots against the top offensive unit in SCC/SWC Division II. The senior netminder made multiple diving saves.
“I couldn’t tell you; I don’t even have an answer,” Reddington said when asked about his diving stops. “I stuck (to) my instincts, adrenaline really kicked in (and) helped me out.
“I was seeing it really well tonight, so I kind of had a feeling for where it was and I just moved accordingly.”
Lyman Hall head coach Dave Sagnella immediately knew the importance of those diving saves, which occurred late in the second period when the game was tied 1-1.
“Turning point in the game,” Sagnella said. “And I told the kids on the bench as soon as that happened, I said, ‘If you don’t win this game, it’s shame on us because he just bailed us out.’”
Sagnella said Reddington was phenomenal all game and is one of the team’s hidden gems.
“He’s such an athletic goalie that even when he’s not in position, he’s still in position,” Sagnella said. “He gets the job done and he’s a team-first guy, just like everyone else on this team.”
While Reddington shined between the pipes, senior forwards Tommy Ralston and Kevin Stoddard scored the Trojans’ three goals.
Stoddard netted the game’s first 1:29 into the second frame. He fired the puck into sophomore goaltender Justin Lyon’s chest and followed his shot to poke it in.
After the Stoddard-generated lead, Sheehan eyed an equalizer for roughly seven minutes and got it with 6:35 left in the second period when senior Dylan Hennessey rifled a shot over Reddington’s shoulder.
But then Stoddard did it again. This time, Stoddard seemed to be dumping the puck on net from the blue line. Instead, the low slap shot, which appeared to be deflected, slid past Lyon and gave LH a 2-1 lead with 9:28 to play.
Once again, though, the Trojans’ lead didn’t last. One minute later, Sheehan freshman Landon Cantele sped ahead on the penalty kill and took a shot. Reddington made the save, but senior forward Luke Festa, following on the play, poked the loose puck through the five-hole.
Ralston netted the game-winner with 5:48 left off a rebound of a shot by sophomore defenseman Peyton Durant. This lead stuck, even as Sheehan pulled Lyon for an extra skater in the final 1:22.
“It’s been great because everyone knows that we have our top line,” Sagnella said. “And today, our second, third line, really, they helped us win. I mean, they were matching lines, they were putting their top line against our second line, and we held our own.
“And always, you got to tip your hat to Sheehan,” Sagnella added. “They carried the play for most of the second period. They’re well-coached, great offense.”
Sheehan’s offense certainly is potent, led by the No. 1 line of Anthony Romano, Joe Romano and Festa. Through their first six games, the Titans have 35 goals, just shy of six a game.
Yet, looking ahead to Monday’s rematch, Sheehan head coach Dave Festa knows the offense has to do better.
“I think one of the things is we were shooting a lot into (Reddington) today and really putting the pucks right at him where he wasn’t having to go out and make extraordinary saves,” Coach Festa said. “A couple times we caught him off balance and where a lot of times we would get the bounce, today we weren’t getting the bounce.”
The teams return to Northford Ice Pavilion on Monday night in what looms as another statement game for both parties. Coach Festa said he hopes Sheehan will play an “A game or A-plus game” on Monday to “set the tone for the second half of the season.”
For that to happen, Sheehan will have to fire pucks past Reddington. Will Reddington once again be up for the challenge?
“Absolutely,” Reddington replied. “I thrive under pressure. I love when people put the pressure on me, and I felt it tonight. And I obviously killed it, so I think Monday you can expect the same thing.”