WEST HAVEN — The Sheehan TItans brought the fire and had their chances in Tuesday night’s CIAC Division II hockey semifinals against top-seeded North Haven.
They just couldn’t get anything past Jared Anderson.
North Haven’s senior goalie notched a 27-save shutout to lead the Nighthawks past the No. 4 Titans, 2-0, in the second of Tuesday night’s D-II semis at Bennett Rink.
Anderson’s work in net, combined with goals at the other end by Owen Quick and Alex Peterson, send North Haven (23-2) on to Monday’s state championship game at Quinnipiac University against No. 3 Wethersfield, which advanced earlier in the night with a 6-3 win over No. 2 Lyman Hall.
It was an 0-for-2 night for the Wallingford squads, who were looking to reprise their Division III state title clash of 2019. Instead, LH closed out at 19-6 and Sheehan at 18-6.
“Tough way to lose, but making it to the semifinals and really making a run in states with this team, I’m really happy, really proud of these guys,” said Sheehan head coach Dave Festa.
“It stings. We know we left it all out in the ice tonight and I thought we played a pretty strong game tonight,” Festa added. “Just couldn’t get a few bounces tonight. Maybe it would’ve gone the other way. (We) wish North Haven the best of luck.”
The Titans were hoping the third time would be the charm against North Haven. Sheehan had lost to the Nighthawks 2-1 in overtime in the regular season and 5-1 in the SCC/SWC Division II semifinals.
Round 3 was up in the air until the closing minutes. Quick’s goal with 28.9 seconds left in the first period gave North Haven a 1-0 lead that went unchanged until Peterson capitalized on a deflected pass with 2:20 left in regulation.
Sheehan goalie Michael Fritz, only a sophomore, stood tall in the bright lights. He stopped 21 shots and denied North Haven on four power plays.
“He’s just growing and maturing everyday and every game,” Festa said of his keeper. “He’s just getting stronger. He’s got a great career ahead of him.”
Both Fritz and Anderson were sharp from the get-go. Anderson stymied Anthony DeFilio on a breakaway.
North Haven, meanwhile, went on its first power play with 6:13 left in the period. Fritz and Titan penalty killers Brenden Hilinski, Jimmy Stratton, Andre Guy, Aidan Koenig and Landon Cantele kept the Nighthawks at bay.
In turn, the Titans went on the power play with 3:18 left in the frame. Sheehan’s top defensemen teed it up — Stratton had two shots, Hilinski had one. Anderson turned aside all three.
The first period seemed destined to end scoreless until, with 28.9 seconds left, Quick got a shot off from the slot. The puck hit Fritz in the shoulder and ricocheted in for a 1-0 North Haven lead.
“A lot of that just kinda takes the air out of you, especially in the last 30 seconds of a period,” Festa said of the goal. “It’s tough to come back from that hole in a tight game like this.”
The second period opened with both teams rejuvenated and throwing around some weight.
At one point, North Haven’s Justin Pniewski lost his helmet. At another, play was temportarily halted when a shaken up Brian Joosjr was helped off the ice by his North Haven mates.
The nets, though went untouched, and North Haven’s 1-0 lead held.
With 6:27 left in the period, North Haven went on consecutive power plays on a pair of holding penalties. Fritz and Sheehan killed them both. That included Fritz denying one of North Haven’s leading scorers, senior Jack Hines, on two good looks from the slot.
“Being able to recover from that and not let them score so they were zero percent on their power play was satisfying,” noted Festa.
At the other end, DeFilio and his linemates nearly pushed one across off the final faceoff of the period. but Anderson, the SCC/SWC Division II goaltender of the year, preserved his shutout through two periods.
The Titans kept up the attack in the third and Anderson continued to be a brick wall. DeFilio blistered a shot with 9:30 to go. Anderson stuffed it.
Sheehan lost two valuable minutes to yet another penalty kill. Fritz and the Titans got the job done for a fourth time, but less than five minutes remained by the time Sheehan returned to even strength.
With 3:34 left, Sheehan coach Dave Festa called a timeout.
“We were just kind of looking at our last few minutes and just kind of setting up our strategy for the last few minutes,” Festa said.
The Titans returned to the ice in search of the long-sought equalizer. Instead, North Haven got a crucial insurance goal off a deflected pass. Petersen chased it down and, with no one between him and Fritz, slid it through the 5-hole with 2:20 to play.
The Titans pulled Fritz for a sixth skater, but never could dent the cage. Anderson had his shutout, North Haven its 21st straight win and a ticket punched to the state final.
It will be the program’s first championship game appearance since 2004, when North Haven beat Hand 3-1 to win Division II.
Sheehan, meanwhile, bids farewell to a raft of seniors who had a tremendous career in burgundy: DeFilio, Guy, Hilinski, Stratton, Matt Carboni, Aidan Koenig, Gavin Mastel and goalie Luca Mange.
“Really proud of those guys,” said Festa. “They put Sheehan’s name in the conversation in the state.
“What a great career those guys had. They came together; they really led this team. They had that quiet confidence to work hard every practice and really led this team.”