Division II Championship Preview presented by IPH Hockey

(6) Glastonbury (14-7-2) vs. (4) Branford (17-3-3)

March 18, 7:00, Ingalls Rink

The Tomahawks of Glastonbury High School and the Hornets of Branford High School pair up in the Division II State Tournament tonight at 7:00 at famed Ingalls Rink. In this matchup you have one team, Branford, who's spent most of the season in the Power 5 Rankings and is coming off a conference title. Then, you have a Glastonbury team who, in the last Power 5 Rankings, only garnered one vote; nice work, Jess. While this is far from David and Goliath, Branford should be favored. This favorite treatment is an immediate response not a historical one. This will be Glastonbury's fifth championship appearance having won two of their previous four. The last time the Tomahawks took the ice at Ingalls was 2012 when they fell 5-0 to NDWH in the Division I final. Their last championship came back in 2003 when they beat Hamden 3-2 for the Division I title. They also won a Division II title back in 1999 over Cheshire, 4-3 in OT.

For the Hornets, their title-game resumé isn't as colorful last reaching the Division II final in 2012 when they fell to Trumbull 5-3. The only other time Branford has reached a final they won, way back in 1988 at the Hartford Civic Center, 5-3 over Shepaug Valley. That's a 31-year championship drought.

Branford's Spencer Engstrom (Matt Dewkett)

The season got off to an inauspicious start for Branford who fell to these Tomahawks 4-0 in the first game of the year for both teams back on December 12. In that game, Glastonbury junior speedster Adam Poetto would come on strong right out of the gate, collecting a hat trick in the win while senior goaltender Brendan O'Connor would stop all 28 Hornet shots. That would be the only time these two would meet. Branford would go on to be just fine collecting wins over DIII champ LHK (twice), DI SCC foe West Haven and DII powers Cheshire, WMRP and Guilford. The Hornets would then take down Guilford again (in a shootout) and Watertown-Pomperaug en route to their SCC/SWC DII conference title.

To get to the title game, Branford took care of a pesky 13-seeded Woodstock Academy group, 6-2, outlasted 5-seed South Windsor, 3-1, and thumped 9-seed WMRP, 6-1, in the semis. Junior Jack Manware led the way for the Hornets in that one, collecting two goals and an assist. Senior Max Bunton and juniors Chris Donadio and Spencer Engstrom all added a goal and an assist in the win while junior Blake Kustra lit the lamp as well. Stud sophomore goalie Jared Yakimoff finished with 31 saves in that one.

Glastonbury's season was a roller coaster ride. After starting the year 3-0 with wins over Branford, New Milford and WMRP, the Tomahawks would go 3-5-2 over the next ten creating a lot of doubt about who these guys really were. Then, they gave us an idea of who they really were, winning five of their final six regular season games, including wins over South Windsor and West Haven and a desperate Conard team, twice. While they would fall in the CCC North semifinals to rival Farmington Valley, they would be able to exact revenge eventually. We'll get to that in a minute.

Glastonbury's Justin Hazard (Matt Dewkett)

This postseason, the Tomahawks picked up where they left off at the end of the regular season. They were paired with a talented 11-seed in Westhill-Stamford. After a tight one for a while, the Tomahawks were able to pull away and top the FCIAC co-op, 6-2. In the quarterfinals, Glastonbury was given another tough test in 3-seed Cheshire. They put up five goals on a Rams team who had only allowed five goals one other time this year, on January 3rd... to Branford.

That set up the rematch with 10-seed Farmington Valley who posted a pair of impressive wins to reach Ingalls, beating 7-seed East Catholic on the road and 2-seed Guilford in overtime. Farmington Valley had won two of three against the Tomahawks this year. Senior captain Justin Hazard wasn't going to let that be three of four. After a pretty even game, Glastonbury found themselves down 2-1 with under a minute to play. Then, Hazard potted the game-tying goal with 48 seconds left on a rebound at the goal mouth. The Generals and Tomahawks played a full, rather eventless, overtime period and in a second overtime, which was played very similarly to the first in terms of both teams vehemently trying not to make a mistake, Hazard was the hero again halfway into the second extra session. After winning the in zone face off, Hazard lifted the game winner of Farmington Valley senior goalie Trevor Paluso's shoulder and lifted Glastonbury on to today. In the win, O'Connor stopped 38 and sophomore Keane Smith also tickled the twine.

So here we are. Two teams with championship droughts, one much longer than the other. You have two relatively young teams. Glastonbury has four rostered seniors, Branford has five. Branford Head Coach Jim DiNapoli was recently named SCC/SWC Division II Coach of the Year and also just had the proud dad moment of watching his son George, a sophomore on LHK, win a Division III state title. It'll be a pretty happy spring for the DiNapoli's if Branford can do the same. On the other side, Glastonbury 23-year Head Coach Ken Barse will undoubtedly have his Tomahawks ready for battle. While I'd be the first to admit during that 3-5-2 stretch, this may not be the year for Glastonbury, it's quite impressive the revitalization that's gone on, a direct tribute to Barse and his impressive legacy.

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