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With their backs virtually against the wall and trying to ensure the season will extend past the regular campaign’s finale, Newtown High School’s boys’ hockey team defeated visiting Masuk of Monroe 4-1, at Danbury Ice Arena, on February 8.
Newtown jumped out to a 3-0 lead after one period of play and carried that advantage into the third period.
David Brestovansky, assisted by Marc Carlson, opened the scoring 2:55 into the game. Carlson, set up by Jack Hanley and Adam Kliczewski, made it 2-0 just 15 seconds later.
Adam Gray lit the lamp on a goal assisted by Jiyei Hawke and Matthias Paltauf 10:47 into the first.
“That decided the game right there,” Masuk Coach Andy Townsend said of the early 3-0 lead for Newtown.
“Very solid first period. The guys came in very prepared to strike,” said Newtown Coach Paul Esposito, adding that the Nighthawks also had strong forechecking and backchecking.
That amounted to an 8-3 shots on goal advantage in the opening stanza.
Masuk outshot Newtown 12-4 in the second period, but Nighthawk goaltender Justin Halmose kept the shutout intact through the first 30 minutes.
“He made some good saves in there. Justin’s been playing well,” Esposito said.
Masuk finally broke the ice midway through the third period as Casey Bowler was assisted by Colin Raymond for a shorthanded tally.
Hanley came in alone and scored on a backhander just 2:02 later, reclaiming Newtown’s three-goal edge with 4:36 remaining. Justin Moore and Carlson had the helpers.
Newtown limited Masuk’s chances, especially in the first and third periods, as the Hawks finished the game with a 20-16 shots on goal advantage.
“Our D was really solid tonight — taking bodies, blocking shots,” said Esposito, pointing specifically to the play of Kliczewski, Moore, and Phil Makris.
Esposito thought Hanley and Brestovansky brought solid all-around play to the ice.
The game, which was rescheduled from the night before due to weather conditions canceling school, marked the first of four apparently crucial matchups among six to close out the regular slate for the Nighthawks.
Newtown improved to 5-9-1, and needs three more wins among the remaining handful to secure a Division II state playoff appearance.
“It needs to be consistent, maximum effort every shift. We’ve got to have that sense of urgency. If we’re going to do anything in the playoffs we have to have that,” Esposito said.
Masuk fell to 2-11 and is still in contention for the D-III state playoffs given 16 teams qualify regardless of record, and the Panthers stood at 15th heading into their final seven tilts.
Newtown is only guaranteed a playoff berth with eight wins and is on the outside looking in, but got a much-needed stride closer with the win over the Panthers.
“That was must-win,” Esposito said. “Bottom line is every shift has got to be playoff mentality. That’s something we’ve tried to instill in the players all season long.”
“They came out hard. They came out desperate,” Townsend said of the Nighthawks.
Among the remaining games for Newtown is the Saturday, February 10, clash with Joel Barlow of Redding, also at Danbury Ice Arena, beginning at 3:10 pm. Barlow is a D-III team with just one win, that Newtown already defeated 8-0 this campaign.
Esposito, however, cautioned his players to not take the game lightly and play hard.
Also on the schedule are D-III schools Daniel Hand of Madison (3-11, ranked 14th in D-III heading into the weekend) and the winless Shepaug-Litchfield-Thomaston-Nonnewaug squad.
The likely toughest games left on the schedule are those against D-II foes Amity of Woodbridge and Branford, ranked eighth and 11th, respectively, in the division heading into this stretch run.
Newtown skated to a 3-3 deadlock with host New Milford, at Canterbury School, on February 2.
Makris, Hawke, and Brestovansky scored for the Nighthawks. Matthias Paltauf assisted one goal, and Brestovansky won a battle in the corner to set up another. Halmose made 29 saves, including some late-game stops to help the Hawks salvage the tie.
Carl Bianco had both Nighthawks goals, and Paltauf set up his teammate, in a 5-2 loss to Watertown-Pomperaug of Southbury at Taft School in Watertown, two days earlier.