The members of the North Branford boys’ ice hockey team are probably glad that January is finished, although the T-Birds had to be pleased to cap the month with a victory versus SCC/SWC Division II rival Branford. North Branford went 3-6 in January and now owns a record of 5-7 for the season.
“Any time you go from back-to-back years of making the finals, it’s a process to get the new guys buying into what you’re doing, and this year is no different,” Head Coach Ralph Shaw said. “Each season is a unique year and we lost a lot of scoring and defense from last year—pretty much a full line of guys that were crucial to about 75 percent of our scoring. The schedule didn’t change much and it’s tough for us. We play a challenging schedule, so our focus is to qualify for the tournament and be tough in the postseason. They’ve been there and know what the postseason is all about, so we’re focusing on getting our eight wins.”
On Jan. 25, North Branford took a 6-2 loss to non-conference squad Suffield-Granby-Windsor Locks. Brian McKee and Christian DeFrancesco were the goal scorers for the T-Birds, who saw John Lovelace make 33 saves in goal.
“It was a tighter game than the score indicates. We got within one in the second and then they scored a late goal before going into the locker room. They used that momentum and popped two in quick in the third,” Shaw said. “It’s a mental thing where we have to stay focused and be diligent to get the job done. We would’ve loved to see the score tighter, but we had a few mental errors here and there. If we can limit them, we can capitalize, and the end result would be different.”
Two days later, North Branford traveled to Danbury to take on New Fairfield-Immaculate and lost 3-1. McKee scored the lone goal for the T-Birds on an assist from Nick Mancini. Lovelace had 31 saves. The defeat marked the team’s sixth in a row, but Coach Shaw continued to drive home the message for his athletes to focus on playing the North Branford style of hockey.
“The message is to stick to game-plan and work hard. We’ve been playing inconsistent hockey where we have some strong shifts and then play poor hockey with a lot of mental mistakes,” he said. “Hopefully, the next half of the season we can learn and capitalize on that. It’s always the same message: Be positive, work hard, get out there, and take care of business.”
The Thunderbirds returned to the ice the very next night and defeated Branford 9-6 at Northford Ice Pavilion. McKee was a wizard on the ice as he scored four goals and recorded three assists for North Branford.
“He had a fantastic night. He led the charts, but we also had a couple of defenseman put a puck in, and we played everybody we had on the bench, which was positive for us,” Shaw said. “Credit to Branford. It’s a cross-town rival type of game, always hot at the nip, and one of those game you just want to win. We marked our calendars, never quit, and just had to keep working and plug away.”
North Branford’s other goals were scored by Jack Curran, Marc Daddio, Brendan Dupuis, Sean McKee, and Brendan Stoner. Sean McKee finished with two assists, while Scott Clinton, Daddio, Pasquale D’Angelo, and DeFrancesco all had one apiece. Lovelace and Tyler Odice both saw time in net in the victory.
“We were on a six-game losing streak there, so it was important for the guys. Nothing makes you feel better than a win,” Shaw said. “We really needed a good confidence booster.”