NEW HAVEN — He didn’t score the game-winning goal in Saturday’s Division III state hockey championship game — but he made a gutsy, determined play to help set it up. He didn’t play his freshman, sophomore, or junior years for Newtown High School — yet has made among the biggest, perhaps the most significant, on-ice impacts on the program in its 13-year history.
He’s Jon Lovorn, a standout forward-turned-defenseman who might, at first glance, be mistaken for a puck hog but, upon closer review, proves to be just a really talented player who knows when to take advantage of open ice and when to make a pass.
His vision of the ice, coupled with his skating prowess, led to Newtown High Coach Paul Esposito moving him from his forward position to defense about a third of the way through the season.
Lovorn previously played for the Brewster Bulldogs, an A level travel team from Brewster, N.Y. Throughout the years, some of the best players in high school hockey have gone to play travel club hockey, or to boarding or private schools (see perennial Division I state powerhouse Fairfield Prep).
Lovorn was in the stands when his high school classmates were eliminated from the Division II state playoffs in the quarterfinal round last year. Maybe it was the enthusiastic support of hundreds of fellow Newtown High students in the stands, or the fact Lovorn felt he could be a difference-maker in a big tournament game, especially with Newtown being moved to the D-III ranks based on its previous season’s results and makeup of the roster, which included eight freshmen. Esposito believes that fan-perspective experience influenced Lovorn’s decision to pull the blue and gold school colors over his equipment and lace up the skates to represent his high school in his final chance. You just don’t get that kind of atmosphere at games unless you represent your school, the coach notes.
“I saw there was a really strong opportunity for a team of this caliber to go far and we did everything we wanted to do,” Lovorn said while gathering loose pieces of teammate’s equipment following the celebration of the program’s first state championship, on the ice at Yale University’s Ingalls Rink.
Newtown defeated EO Smith-Tolland 2-1 in sudden death overtime. Lovorn got the secondary assist for making the primary play that led to the history-making goal. He carried the puck, shielded it from one defender, went into the corner, and took a hard hit. As he got back to his skates, Scott McLean was finishing off the play, following up a rebound of Brian Gregory’s shot toward the goal. McLean raised his arms in the air as the puck settled into the back of the net and Lovorn got to celebrate both with his teammates and all of their classmates who filled a couple of sections near the blue line at Ingalls Rink.
McLean was the first to voluntarily throw himself, in all-out jubilation, into the boards right in front of the fans. His teammates followed and a pile of thrilled, too-excited-to-be-tired Nighthawks were cheered on by their devoted fans.
Lovorn had voluntarily taken a less-joyous bounce off the boards moments earlier to help make it all possible.
“You’ve got to take the hit if you want to make the play,” Lovorn said.
It’s not uncommon for a forward to go deep with the puck but defensemen are the guys who are supposed to feed the puck to the forwards, or dump it deep, and hold back near the blue line in the offensive zone. Not Lovorn.
“He’s a complete player — he’s all around. He’s an offensive juggernaut, he’s got wheels, he’s got a shot, he’s playmaker,” Esposito said. “When he wants to get physical he can mix it up with the best of ‘em.”
Lovorn, who was far from the biggest or most intimidating-looking player on the ice on any given night — he’s not so small either, standing at 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds — might have been the most scary to encounter for opposing players. He led the team in goals with 24, assists, with 17, and points, with 41. He was even with his defensive partner, Matt Sabia, with a team-best plus-40 rating, meaning he was on the ice for 40 more goals that Newtown scored than the team allowed throughout the campaign. To put that into perspective, the Nighthawks outscored teams a cumulative 83-47, impressive, but still less than a 40-goal differential.
Esposito is quick to note that it isn’t all Lovorn. Coupled with Sabia, the defensive pairing helped make things easier than they otherwise might have been on goaltender Patrick McLoughlin. “Nobody gets around them,” the coach said.
McLoughlin was stellar when called upon, finishing with a 1.69 goals against average and a .930 save percentage. Cooper McLean had 12 goals and nine assists; Hayden Savoia registered eight goals and nine assists; Connor Hanley had seven goals and seven assists (including Newtown’s regulation net-finder in the pinnacle battle). Gregory played the role of setup man with ten assists to go along with one net-finder. So did Sabia, who had four goals and 15 helpers. And so did Dan Harrison, who unfortunately was injured on his first shift in the championship game, after recording five goals and 13 assists. Zach Waller, Jack Martin, and Domenic Cartelli all logged nine points. Nine seniors who were part of the program for the past few seasons played important roles and their dedication and leadership helped make it possible for Lovorn to shine.
Lovorn might have been the fastest backwards skater on the ice in any of Newtown’s games this winter, and he can poke-check or steal the puck away then skate the length of the ice with the puck at seemingly any time. If he’s not happy with the shooting lanes or can’t find an open teammate he’ll keep the puck on his stick, sometimes circling in the offensive zone, waiting for his opportunity. Then shoot or make a pass to an open teammate.
“I just skate my hardest and I look to better my team,” Lovorn said.
His popularity is evident with his teammates and in the stands where some of the NHS students showed up at games holding signs with his name on them.
The senior, who wore uniform number 14, isn’t sure exactly what his hockey future holds. He’s drawn some interest among college coaches and needs to decide — along with his family members — if he’s going to go that route right after high school, or play more junior level club hockey. He’s got potential — just needs a little more seasoning, Esposito believes.
“He’s definitely got the skills — the ability to play,” his coach said.
And the Nighthawks are certainly glad he brought his ability to play to Newtown High for his senior year.