North Haven Skates its Way to Two Quick Victories
Senior captain Eli Brubacher and the North Haven boys’ ice hockey squad posted victories in their first two games of the winter season. North Haven earned a 3-0 win over the East Haven co-op and then edged out Lyman Hall by a 2-1 final during the opening week of play. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier)
Senior captain Nick Howlett (No. 19) and fellow senior Mason Sullivan (5) helped the North Haven boys’ hockey team defeat the East Haven co-op in its Feb. 10 2021 season opener. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier)
Senior Nick Tondalo sends the puck past the Yellowjackets’ goalie for his first varsity score during North Haven’s 3-0 win versus the East Haven co-op. Tondalo netted his second career goal when North Haven beat Lyman Hall later in the week. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier)
After waiting anxiously for several weeks for the season to begin, the North Haven boys’ hockey squad finally hit the ice to play its first two games of the 2021 campaign last week. North Haven kicked off its season on a triumphant note by claiming a 3-0 victory over the East Haven co-op, after which Head Coach Chris Avena’s squad notched a 2-1 win against Lyman Hall for a 2-0 start to the year.
North Haven hosted the East Haven co-op team for its season opener at Northford Ice Pavilion on Feb. 10. North Haven scored one goal in the first period and then added more two scores in the second on its way to a 3-0 win versus the Yellowjackets.
North Haven wasn’t able to hold as many practices as it typically would leading up to its season opener this year and, as a result, Coach Avena felt that his team showed some signs of rust on the ice. However, with 20 players returning from last season, North Haven was able to rely on its combination of experience and depth to post a convincing victory in its first game of the year.
“We had limited on-ice practice time, and our play showed how rusty we were, but in the scheme of things, we were very happy to be on the ice competing,” said Avena. “The key is that we are returning 20 players. Everyone knows what to do in our offensive zone and our defensive zone. It’s not like we needed to learn anything new. That’s why we were able to come out with a win.”
North Haven struck early when junior center Nick Tondalo scored on assists from sophomore wing Alex Petersen and senior wing Mason Sullivan just 2:28 into the game. It was the first career varsity goal for Tondalo, who scored shortly after North Haven had controlled a face-off in the Yellowjackets’ zone.
Holding a one-goal lead after the first period, North Haven made it 2-0 just 41 seconds into the second stanza on a goal by Will Fiore, a senior captain wing. This was another goal that came off a face-off in the East Haven zone. Sophomore center Tommy Guidone won the draw, passed it over to senior defenseman Justin Marks, and then Marks found Fiore, who slipped the puck through traffic and past the Yellowjackets’ keeper for a two-goal advantage.
North Haven made it 3-0 by netting the final goal of the night late in the second period. This time, North Haven’s goal came off of a breakout from its own zone as sophomore wing Will Sullivan scored on assists by Tondalo and junior defenseman Justin Pniewski. Just like with Tondalo’s goal earlier in the game, Will Sullivan’s goal marked the first one of his varsity career at North Haven.
North Haven maintained its 3-0 lead throughout the rest of the game. Senior captain goalie Andrew Sacco earned the shutout in net for Coach Avena’s squad.
Avena was pleased to see Tondalo and Will Sullivan light the lamp for the first time in a North Haven uniform. Avena said that everyone on the bench was pumped up for both of them.
“That was the most positive thing that came out of the game—how excited everyone was for Nick and Will,” Avena said. “We had a lot of kids who were getting excited about a good pass or a nice hit. It seemed like we were playing for each other, not just with each other. We also have four lines that we can roll out, and most teams don’t have that.”
North Haven’s first game of the season featured something that is new to the Connecticut ice hockey world this winter. All of the athletes, coaches, and referees had to wear protective face masks throughout the contest. There were three mask breaks at four-minute intervals during each of the three periods with each break lasting for about 45 seconds. During the break, the players on the ice were allowed to spread out and remove their masks to catch a little breather before play resumed.
Coach Avena felt that the mask situation was a little unusual, but added that it’s something everyone will have to adjust to as the season unfolds.
“It was a struggle for me to communicate with the kids with the mask on. It’s something we will deal with and have to get used to,” Avena said. “We’ve talked about being only concerned with what we can control and, if it’s something that we can’t control, to not put a lot of energy into it. But it’s definitely a big difference and a big adjustment. We’ll just have to get used to it more and more every game.”
Three days after defeating East Haven, North Haven ran its record to 2-0 by earning a 2-1 win versus Lyman Hall in a road game at Northford Ice Pavilion. Petersen opened the scoring at 7:27 of the first period by scoring from Will Sullivan to give North Haven a 1-0 lead after one. The score remained that way until Tondalo buried a rebound off a Mason Sullivan shot from the slot to put North Haven up 2-0 at the 1:16 mark of the third period.
Lyman Hall scored a goal just two minutes later to make it 2-1. Late in the third period, North Haven’s special teams unit rose to the occasion by killing a five-minute penalty to solidify a 2-1 victory. Sacco played another excellent game in goal for North Haven, making several clutch saves during the final frame.
Sacco is serving as one of four captains for North Haven this winter. North Haven’s senior captains are defenseman Nick Howlett and winger Fiore, and the team’s alternate captains are Sacco and fellow senior Eli Brubacher, a wing.
Coach Avena feels that each one of his captains offers something special in the leadership department. Avena said that Sacco brings the excitement and motivation on gameday, and that Brubacher has an excellent skillset that’s complemented by his veteran presence on the ice.
North Haven’s coach went on to say that Fiore is the Energizer Bunny who shows up first to the rink each day and just keeps going and going. Avena added that Howlett is the strategical captain who’s always asking the coaches questions and then relays that info to his teammates.
“Each captain is unique in what he brings to the table,” said Avena. “It’s unusual to have all these characteristics wrapped up into four good individual players, but that is exactly what we have.”
Brubacher and Mason Sullivan are the wings on North Haven’s top forward line, which is centered by senior Aaron Racino. North Haven’s second line features Tondalo at center with Petersen and Will Sullivan on the wings.
Guidone centers the third line and is flanked by Fiore and junior Jake Hines at the wing position. North Haven’s fourth line consists of junior center Ayden Mindlin, junior wing Brian Jooss, and fellow junior winger Mike Anquillare. North Haven’s roster also includes forwards Ethan Buck and Andre Ohanyan, who are both sophomores, along with Kevin Lawlor, a freshman.
North Haven’s top defensive pairing features Howlett and sophomore Owen Quick. Marks and Pniewski also form a defensive tandem for the team. North Haven’s other duo on defense is sophomore Joey Taft and freshman Jake Donovan.
Aside from Sacco, junior Jared Anderson and sophomore Bryce Petersen are North Haven’s other goalies.
In his third season behind the bench, Coach Avena is assisted by Mike Tantorski, Dennis Mastriano, and Don Funaro.
North Haven has matchups against Cheshire, Branford, West Haven, and Amity coming up on its schedule. There won’t be a state tournament following the regular season, although the Southern Connecticut Conference is scheduled to hold a league tournament.
North Haven advanced to the SCC final for the first time in team history last year. Coach Avena said that North Haven’s goal is to be the team that’s holding the conference trophy when all is said and done this winter.
“We certainly respect every team in the SCC, and it’s always a hard-fought, competitive game regardless of who we’re playing, but our goal is to be the last team standing at the end,” said Avena. “Our goal is to come out of the regular season with the best record we can and then win the SCC Tournament.”