By David Rooney
Special to the Record-Journal
MIDDETOWN — Truly, it wasn’t over until it was over.
In a rivalry hockey game that saw 11 goals that tended to be scored in dramatic bunches, the Sheehan Titans defeated the Lyman Hall Co-op in a 6-5 nailbiter that came down to the final seconds on Saturday night at Wesleyan.
Sheehan never trailed, yet twice saw LH erase two-goal deficits, including in the third period, when strikes by Aidan Weir and Connor Chordas roughly half a minute apart pulled the Trojans even at 5-5 with 3:51 left to play.
Sophomore Anthony DeFilio put the Titans back on top just 29 seconds later, but victory wasn’t secured until Sheehan killed off a penalty in the waning minutes.
Division III Sheehan skated off at 13-2-1. Division II Lyman Hall fell to 8-7-1.
“It was a great game and a good night for Wallingford, for both teams,” said Sheehan coach Dave Festa. “A great crowd tonight, a clean, fast game. With the game being tied twice, that’s good hockey.”
Colliding for the first time since playing to a 5-5 tie on Dec. 28 at Northford Ice Pavilion, Sheehan drew first blood at Wesleyan when junior Anthony Romano scored from the middle of the right face-off circle with 9:42 left in the first period.
Lyman Hall tied it up a few minutes later, as senior Matt Pettit scored from right in front of the net. Pettit was assisted by Weir.
With 1:48 left in the period, junior Luke Festa regained the lead for Sheehan deflecting a deep shot from just inside the blue line that found its way through multiple defenders and got past the Lyman Hall goalie.
Sheehan extended its lead with just two seconds remaining in the opening period when junior Joseph Romano scored off a steal just inside of the right face-off circle. He put in a point-blank shot and put Sheehan on top 3-1 going into the second period.
Lyman Hall scored two consecutive goals early in the second period to tie the game at 3. First, T.J. Arduini scored a breakaway goal on an open net with 12:49 left in the period.
Sheehan disputed the goal, believing that a penalty had been called and play should have been stopped as soon as Lyman Hall touched the puck.
Nevertheless, the call stood and the goal counted. The Trojans were within 3-2.
With 10:55 left in the period, Co-op senior captain Mike O’Toole scored from close range on the left side of the goal to tie the game at 3-all.
However, Sheehan responded twice to go into the final frame leading 5-3. First, DeFilio scored off a deflection right in front of the net with 9:44 left in the period. Then, Joe Romano took advantage of a Sheehan power play to score his second goal of the game with 7:55 on the clock.
Sheehan’s 5-3 lead held until, with 4:28 left in the game, Chordas scored from near the blue line to bring Lyman Hall to within one. Just seconds later, Weir scored to tie the game at 5.
The game-winner from DeFilio came half a minute later.
Lyman Hall had a power play with 2:28 left in the game. The Trojans also pulled their goalie for an extra skater. But, ultimately, on a night of big offense, Sheehan held on defensively to seal the deal.
“When the puck clears, your heart just comes back out of your throat and you’re kind of able to take a breath,” Coach Festa said of Sheehan’s game-ending penalty kill. “I don’t think we breathed in the last two and a half minutes of this.”
Festa also elaborated on his team’s defensive strategy.
“One of the things we talk about all the time is blocked shots wins games (and) crowding the middle and not giving them the real estate in front of the net,” the Sheehan coach said. “We did a good job of getting in front of shots and not giving them too many opportunities in those last few minutes.”
Sheehan led Lyman Hall in shots on goal 35-25. DeFilio talked about the importance of taking as many good shots as possible. He also explained the importance of crashing the net, especially for the game-winner.
“Joe got it, threw it down to Ant, and I just started crashing the net. I got it, just put a shot on the net (hoping) it might go in, and it did.”
Lyman Hall coach Dave Sagnella talked about the game in terms of growth and using it as a learning experience.
“We qualified for the D-2 state tournament; that team could easily be a top D-2 team,” said Sagnella, who was aboard last year as an assistant coach when LH beat Sheehan in the CIAC Division III state final. “We learn from it, and we’re getting ready for the bigger picture.”
Sagnella added that a game like Saturday night will help prepare his team for what they will experience during the state playoffs.
“The main goal is to win a state championship, or at least compete for one, and having a crowd like this, getting them ready, it gets them prepared,” he said. “It gets us ready to go on the road and try upsetting someone in front of their fans.”
Sheehan returns to action on Monday. The Titans host Hall-Southington at Choate at 1 p.m. Lyman Hall will next play on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at home at the Northford Ice Pavilion against the Eastern CT Eagles.