State Champs! Nighthawks Skate To D-III Title

NEW HAVEN – Newtown High School’s hockey team turned a bad break at the beginning of the game – standout senior Dan Harrison suffering a broken wrist on his first shift – into a good break. Freshman Scott McLean, inserted into Harrison’s spot at center on the second line, netted the game-winning goal in sudden death overtime in the Division III state championship at Yale University’s Ingalls Rink on March 22.

McLean was mobbed by his teammates in front of a boisterous fan section after sending the bracket’s second-seeded Nighthawks to a 2-1 victory over No. 4 EO Smith-Tolland for the program’s first state title.

The Nighthawks, who skated to a 1-1 tie with EO Smith-Tolland during the regular season, needed nearly all of a 15 minute overtime to finally decide things.

The winning tally came with 3:33 showing on the scoreboard clock when McLean put home a loose puck from a sharp angle. Jon Lovorn had skated the puck deep and took a big hit in the corner to keep the play moving. Brian Gregory sent the puck in front and it rebounded onto the stick of McLean who did the rest.

“I was trying to crash the right post for a rebound,” McLean said. “I was in the right place at the right time.”

McLean was penciled in on the third line before Harrison, a key offensive weapon for Newtown, left the game. “That kind of threw us into a whirlwind,” Newtown Coach Paul Esposito said of losing Harrison, adding that the team fed off the message of trying to win the game for their injured teammate who has meant so much to their success.

The Bucks struck first, only 5:15 into the game. But EO Smith-Tolland’s at-times overly-physical play cost the team when Connor Hanley evened the score when he whipped home a power play goal with 5:53 left in the opening stanza. Lovorn and Cooper McLean assisted the equalizer.

The game, which featured numerous hard hits, remained deadlocked throughout the rest of regulation and deep into OT as Newtown goaltender Patrick McLoughlin kicked aside 25 shots and his counterpart, Matt Schoen, made 31 stops.

“It feels phenomenal, it really does – very surreal,” Esposito said. “I couldn’t be prouder of the kids.”

Newtown reached the Southern Connecticut/ South-West Conference D-III championship game and lost to New Fairfield-Immaculate of Danbury in OT. The team features ten seniors who have experienced multiple seasons of playoff exposure.

“These guys are seasoned veterans. They’ve been in this type of atmosphere and they found a way to win today,” Esposito said.

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