Sophomore Chase Freiman scored the first of four unanswered scored for the Hand boys' ice hockey team in its 4-1 home victory over SCC/SWC Division II rival Amity on Feb. 18 to help keep the defending DII state champion Tigers' postseason hopes intact. (Photo by Gary Komoroski/The Source
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Hand Boys' Hockey Keeps Playoff Hopes Alive with Amity Win
Published February 25, 2015. Last updated 11:54 a.m., February 25, 2015
While the season might not be going the way that Hand boys' ice hockey would like, the defending Division II state champion Tigers aren't quite ready to relinquish their throne just yet.
The Tigers hosted SCC/SWC DII rival Amity in a rematch of last season's state final on Feb. 18 at the Northford Ice Pavilion and emerged with a 4-1 win to improve to 4-8-1 on the campaign. Hand, which took the state crown as the No. 13 seed last winter, is still alive for a spot in the state bracket as it now needs four victories in its final seven regular season games to clinch a return to the postseason.
"This was really a big win for us tonight," said Head Coach Ken Mitchell, who is in his second season behind the bench for the Tigers. "We've been searching lately, just like any young team. We have a big push coming up to try to make states so we needed this win."
While the Tigers found themselves in an early hole, they dug themselves out of it with a pair of second period power play lamp lighters before tacking on insurance in the third. Sophomore netminder Robert Smith withstood the Spartans' heat on offense by stopping 30 of 31 shots put on him between the pipes-another bright spot on a much more youthful, but eager and energetic squad.
"We have a younger team, but they've shown up to work every day for us," said Mitchell. "They are learning how to play in systems, which is new to some of these guys, but their heart and desire have gone a long way for us."
Amity (3-13-1, 2-6-1 in SCC/SWC DII) used a man-advantage of its own to go ahead on a power play tally in the first as the 1-0 score held up for the first 15 minutes of play.
The Tigers (3-4-1 in league play) evened the score in the second and never looked back from there. First at 10:40, sophomore Chase Freiman notched a strong breakaway and found the back of the net on Hand's man-up attack to tie the contest at 1. Junior defenseman Jeff Rider contributed what amounted to the game-winner on another power play strike to put the home side ahead 2-1 only 20 seconds later.
In the third, Hand sealed the deal with sophomore Tristan Sorenson scoring for the first time this season in giving the Tigers a two-score cushion with 12:10 to play prior to the day being capped off by sophomore Matt Rice with Hand's fourth and final goal as 5:28 remained.
"These guys are starting to jell and really play well together," said Mitchell, who is assisted by Eric Braumann and Dave Sagnella. "We had a little lack of flow early on in the year, but it is a matter of just growing as a team. I can't hold anything against them because they show up every day ready to work hard and learn."
The Tigers said good-bye to seven seniors from that championship club of a year ago, including netminder Chase Briggs, and were also dealt with the loss of junior Ben Solin-who had hat trick in the state final-to the Phillips Exeter Academy prep school. Coach Mitchell knows that if Hand is going to get back to the draw and rekindle some more March magic, it will be on the strength of a collective and consistent effort.
"We have a lot of youth on this team and not a lot of familiarity in terms of playing time," Mitchell said. "We also have a lot of guys from last year that saw playing time trying to do too much and put too much pressure on themselves to carry the team when it's really the whole team that carries it."
Hand started the campaign at 2-0 after a signature victory over DI power Northwest Catholic on Dec. 20 prior to a four-game winless streak and later a five-game losing skid with a victory over conference rival East Haven on Jan. 14 weaved within those stretches. However, Hand now needs to flush out all the inconsistencies and just zone in on the road ahead to keep its title defense alive.
"We had that 2-0 start with the win against a good DI team in Northwest Catholic and there have been little things here and there this season with a learning curve, yet progress has been made," said Mitchell. "We just need everyone chipping in with effort, like we had tonight, and play a complete 45 minutes of hockey. We need to just focus on the job at hand down this stretch."