After what the Newington boys hockey co-op had to survive in the Central Connecticut Conference South tournament semifinals, the league championship felt like an easy task.
With a trip to the final on the line Wednesday, third-seeded Newington-Cromwell-Berlin-Canton-Manchester and second-seeded Wethersfield battled. Tied at two goals apiece after the third period, the game went into overtime.
And then a second overtime.
... and a third overtime.
... then a fourth, and then a fifth.
It wasn’t until the 3:01 mark of the fifth overtime that Newington’s Sam Davies scored the winner to send the co-op into the conference championship game after a three-hour battle at Newington Ice Arena.
“I sensed that they were on a mission,” Newington coach Dave Harackiewicz said. “The mission was to win a conference championship. After getting through that [five-overtime] game, I don’t think anything was going to stop us.”
And nothing did. Newington wrapped it up with a 5-0 victory over fourth-seeded Tri-Town, which beat No. 1 seed Hall-Southington in the semis. Newington took a two-goal lead in the first period, and seniors Killian Ranger and Sam Hedlund each scored twice.
If the mission was a conference title, then mission accomplished. But as Harackiewicz told his players, it’s the five-overtime slugfest that went until nearly midnight that they’ll remember the most.
“It had every element you could think of,” Harackiewicz said. “Breakaways, hitting the post ... it was such a shift of emotions. At that point, when you get into the second and third overtimes, there’s not much you can say to the players. My message was ‘stay hydrated,’ to be honest. The effort of both teams, the players ... they left it all out there. We were just fortunate to get a good shot that went in. It could have easily gone the other way.”
Davies had a chance to end the game in the fourth overtime but missed a shot on a breakaway. He felt like he had let his teammates down in the locker room between the extra periods but capitalized on his opportunity in the fifth. Newington senior goalkeeper Andrew Fogarty finished with 36 saves, and his coach called him the MVP after he buckled down in the fifth overtime when his team was outshot, 7-1.
The conference championship, played just two days later, was Newington’s first since 2012 and capped off an 11-1-1 season in which some teams didn’t even have the chance to play in the postseason. Fellow CCC schools East Catholic, Conard and Suffield-Granby-Windsor Locks had to shut their seasons for COVID-19-related issues.
Newington avoided having to quarantine at any point this season.
“To go through the whole season where I could be getting a phone call any minute that because of contact tracing, the game is canceled,” Harackiewicz said. “All the way up to the final game, you didn’t know. ... I give credit to the players and the families for keeping the kids as safe as they could be.”
In a non-pandemic season, Newington would now be preparing for the state tournament. But with the statewide postseason canceled, Newington’s season ends with players lifting a conference tournament banner on their home ice.
To Harackiewicz and his players, a championship is a championship.
“My mentor Jerry York at Boston College used to say, ‘You’re going after trophies,’” Harackiewicz said. “It doesn’t matter if its a Hockey East championship. Obviously a national championship is what you want, but if it’s not available, the next best thing is a conference championship. That, to us, getting that plaque, is the ultimate. And we felt that we were as good as any team in Division III, if not the best team in Division III.”
Shawn McFarland can be reached at email@example.com.