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Newington co-op tops Conard to win Div. III state championship

Players on the Newington High co-op hockey team celebrate after winning the Division III state title on Thursday. More photos

HAMDEN, March 17, 2022 – The pressure was building in the second period of Thursday night’s CIAC Division III boys hockey championship game at the spectacular People’s United Center on the campus of Quinnipiac College.

Conard had one-goal lead but the Chieftains had just killed back-to-back power plays. They were just a bit tired and a step slow. The Newington High co-op boys hockey team made them pay.

The Nor’easters scored a pair of goals in the span of 19 seconds to take the lead and dominated the rest of the way in a 3-1 victory to win their third state championship in program history and the first since 2013.

For the five players from Canton, who joined the co-op in 2019, it was their first state championship. Braeden Humphrey, the co-captain from Canton, had an empty net goal in the final seconds to ignite the celebration among the fans of the five co-op schools – Newington, Cromwell, Canton, Manchester and Berlin.

“To get two quick goals like that really changed the momentum,” Newington co-op coach David Harackiewicz said. “You could just see the energy on the bench change after that second goal. The energy completed shifted.”

Conard killed off a cross checking penalty but just as that expired, the Chieftains were called for too many men on the ice during a shift change. Conard killed that off too but that took some energy out of the Chieftains.

“It was tough. You kill off back-to-back power plays,” Conard coach Jason Olsen said. “(Newington) has a ton of speed and depth and they took advantage of us being back on our heels. It was a couple of off shifts and that was the game.”

Newington’s Andrew Stribling drives toward the net in Thursday night’s Division III title game in Hamden. Newington won, 3-1. More photos

Newington (21-3) put 19 of their 42 shots on goal in the second period.

The Nor’easters tied the game at 1-1 when Tyler Leavitt carried the puck backwards across the crease and chipped it over the left shoulder of Conard goalie Graydon Selstad. The shot hit the far post and deflected in for his eighth goal of the season with 6:16 left in the second period.

The Newington faithful were still buzzing when the Nor’easters added a second goal. Mike Deegan rifled a shot on net that bounced about two feet away from Selstad. Newington’s Andrew Stribling beat everyone to the puck that seemed to sit there for a second or two.

He swooped in and popped into the net for a 2-1 lead with 5:56 left in the second period. It was his tenth goal of the season.

Conard (12-10-2) had nine shots on goal in the first period and combined for nine in the final two periods.

“We’ve been a third period team all season,” Harackiewicz said. “So, we weren’t worried at all as long as we kept working hard and forechecking, we knew eventually something would happen.”

Nearly 800 fans filled the People’s United Center at Quinnipiac University Thursday night for the CIAC Div. III title game. More photos

Conard upset top seed E.O. Smith/Tolland in the quarterfinals with a goal in the final two minutes. The Chieftains did it again in a semifinal win over Brookfield/Weston/Abbott Tech.

But it was hard to duplicate that late-game magic without the puck.

“It was just incredible when you think of the defense,” Humphrey said. “It wasn’t just the defensemen. Every forward backchecked every opportunity they got. They backtracked faster than anyone out there. Our goalie, I admire that kid (junior Jeremy Wagner) so much. It is his second year playing high school hockey and he held his own in a state championship game against a hard-working Conard team.”

Wagner made 16 saves in the game to earn the win.

Humphrey, senior Niko Giotsas and junior Evan Howard are three of the four defensemen from Canton that get a lot of ice time for the Nor’easters.

Did Newington know they were solidifying their defense three years ago when they invited Canton to become the fifth team in the co-op? Probably not but the team is well aware of the value that the Warriors brought to the program.

“Those three Canton guys on defense are just outstanding and you add in Blake (Blackwood) as a fourth defenseman, they have been the glue all year,” Harackiewicz said. “They’re strong defensively. They can score. They were a big part of why we won today.”

Tyler Leavitt (4) ties the game at 1-1 with his shot that went over the shoulder of Conard goalie Graydon Selstad. More photos

It was the third state championship for Newington, which had co-op partners Berlin and Manchester when they won in 2013. It was just Newington and Berlin when the program won the D3 title in 2012.

Brady Narus gave Conard a 1-0 lead early in the second period when he got the puck past Wagner with 57 seconds gone in the period. Selstad made 39 saves in net for Conard, which was making their first finals appearance since 1996.

Newington co-op 3, Conard 1
At Hamden
Conard (12-10-2)                  0  1  0  — 1
Newington co-op (21-3)      0  2  1  — 3
Goals: Brady Narus (C), Tyler Leavitt (N), Andrew Stribling (N), Braeden Humphey (N); Assists: Nicholas Paolitto (C), Harrison Ranger (N), Tyler Leavitt (N); Saves: Graydon Selstad (C) 39, Jeremy Wagner (N) 16; Shots: Newington 42 (13-19-10), Conard 17 (8-6-3); Att. – 775

Some additional footage of the energy in the building.

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 40 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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