North Haven Takes 3-0 Loss to Wethersfield in State Final
After winning its conference title last year, the North Haven boys’ ice hockey team was looking to pick up where it left off and bring home some more hardware during the 2022 winter season. When the puck dropped, the Nighthawks embarked on an unbelievable run that saw them notch 21-straight victories, claim their second-consecutive conference crown, and then advance to the championship game of the Division II State Tournament.
Top-seeded North Haven faced off against No. 3 seed Wethersfield in the Division II state final at People’s United Center on the campus of Quinnipiac University on March 21. The Nighthawks took a 3-0 defeat versus the Eagles to bring an end to their 21-game winning streak and finish the season with an overall record of 23-3.
Following a scoreless first period, Wethersfield scored the opening goal of the game with 7:53 remaining in the second period and then netted its second goal six minutes later to take a 2-0 lead over North Haven. The Eagles added a third goal in the final minutes of the third period and went on win their second state championship with an overall record of 18-6-2. North Haven, which had earned a 4-1 win over Wethersfield during the regular season, was playing in its fourth state final and its first since the 2004 season.
“It was disappointing,” Head Coach Chris Avena said. “I don’t think I could describe it any other way than that.”
Although North Haven took a tough loss in the state final, the team still saw a tremendous amount of success throughout the season. North Haven’s journey to the Division II title game actually started off with a loss when the team took an 8-1 defeat to Lyman Hall on its season opener. After that game, Coach Avena and his players reviewed their expectations for the rest of the season.
When the Nighthawks came back for practice the next day, they were determined to put that loss behind them and play better hockey going forward.
“We discussed it in the locker room before we left that night. The next day, they came in and assured it wasn’t going to happen again,” said Avena. “They took ownership of how bad they thought they played. We started focusing on the game plan we had in place the very next day.”
North Haven responded by winning 18 of its next 19 games to post a regular-season record of 18-2. When the team played its best, it was often the result of a fast start. By getting on the board first, the Nighthawks received a jolt of energy on offense, while tightening up on the defensive side of the ice.
“We were able to win games by scoring first,” Avena said. “We played so well defensively in our zone that, when we scored first, it energized us and allowed us to play next-level defense. When teams started pressing, we took advantage of their mistakes.”
On the heels of a successful regular season, North Haven entered the SCC/SWC Division II Tournament as the No. 2 seed. The Nighthawks earned a 5-1 win versus No. 3 Sheehan in the semifinals to make their third-straight state final and then netted a 4-3 victory over Lyman Hall to defend their conference championship.
Looking back at the season, Coach Avena said that winning the league tourney for the second year in a row gave his players confidence on the ice, as well as a title to take away from their great campaign.
“We embrace the conference tournament. It’s something to play for. The way it shaped out this year, at least we have a championship to show for the season we had. It’s important to have,” said Avena. “To win it back-to-back years—we didn’t even make the championship until the seniors were sophomores. It’s something pretty special they’re carrying.”
North Haven went on the compete in the Division II State Tournament as the No. 1 seed. The Nighthawks recorded wins against the 16th-seeded Eastern CT Eagles (6-1), No. 8 seed Hand (2-1), and No. 4 seed Sheehan (2-0) prior to playing Wethersfield in the final.
On offense, North Haven was led by athletes such as senior captain Jake Hines, along with juniors Alex Petersen, Tommy Guidone, and Will Sullivan this season. Hines solidified a spot on the All-SCC/SWC Division II First Team for his performance. Coach Avena added that Ayden Mindlin and junior Ben Gilbert also provided sparks for the Nighthawks’ offense.
On defense, North Haven featured a strong core of players that included senior Justin Pniewski, juniors Owen Quick and Joey Taft, and sophomores Jake Donovan and Nolan Cole. Quick was an All-SCC/SWC Division II Second Team selection for the Nighthawks. Senior goalkeeper Jared Anderson garnered All-SCC/SWC Division II First Team accolades for his efforts in net.
North Haven’s balanced attack and stout defense typically created mismatches for its opponents. In addition to their hard work on the ice, Coach Avena said that the Nighthawks’ ability to work together as a cohesive unit proved crucial in the team’s success. Avena was ultimately named the SCC/SWC Division II Coach of the Year.
“They truly played for each other and not with each other. Having two No. 1 lines was a very challenging matchup for teams we played. Then we had the second line. We truly didn’t have a third line, which created some mismatches for us that served in our favor throughout the season,” Avena said. “When we talk about defense deep in the zone, we talk about all six guys on the ice at a time. Everyone took ownership in getting the job done.”
North Haven was led by senior captains Hines and Mike Anquillare, along with senior assistant captain Brian Jooss this year. The Nighthawks’ senior class also includes Pniewski, Mindlin, Anderson, and Nick Tondalo. After winning two conference titles and making the state final, Coach Avena wants the returning Nighthawks to learn from the high standard set by the graduating seniors and try to emulate them next season.
“Locker room wise, atmosphere, winning, culture wise—it’s huge. They saw how our seniors conducted themselves. They saw how they came to the rink every day and truly put the team first,” Avena said. “Them doing that over their careers is really something the underclassmen and juniors have to not only look up to, but figure out how to emulate it and keep it going.”
North Haven created a lot of excitement in town by reaching the state championship game for the first time in 18 years this winter. While it was certainly a memorable season, Coach Avena wants all of his players to come back with a bit of a chip on their shoulder when they return to the rink next year.
“How it felt on March 21 when the game was over,” said Avena. “That’s what I want them to bring to the locker room.”
The athletes on the North Haven boys’ ice hockey team are senior captains Mike Anquillare and Jake Hines; senior assistant captain Brian Jooss; seniors Jared Anderson, Justin Pniewski, Nick Tondalo, and Ayden Mindlin; juniors Owen Quick, Andre Ohanyan, Alex Petersen, Tommy Guidone, Will Sullivan, Connor Keaney, Ethan Buck, Joseph Taft, and Bryce Petersen; sophomores Nolan Cole, Jake Donovan, Kevin Lawlor, Ben Gilbert, and Jack Keaney; and freshman Nick Salzano.