Nick Rich’s goal with 27 seconds left powered Westhill-Stamford to a 5-4 victory over Staples-Weston-Shelton in the Division III hockey state championship game at Ingalls Rink on Saturday morning in New Haven.
Rich, who netted a hat trick in the game, provided the final margin in a game that seemed destined for overtime after the Wreckers rattled off three goals in a six-minute span to turn a 4-1 deficit into a 4-4 deadlock.
“I knew it needed to go in,” Rich said. “There is no better feeling.”
The junior forward broke through center ice, rifling a shot that seeped through SWS goaltender Zach Bloom (14 saves) for the game-winning goal at 14:33.
“To be honest with you, we didn’t see it go in,” Westhill-Stamford head coach John Santagata said. “We thought it hit him (Bloom)… I still don’t know where it went through. I think it went through under his arm. Until we saw the ref point it, we weren’t sure it actually went in.”
That halted a deluge from the third-seeded Wreckers (15-9), who fell behind 4-1 after taking a 1-0 lead on Ryan Johnson’s goal 35 seconds into the game.
“Going to the locker room after the first period, everybody had their heads down,” Rich said. “But we came together, came out in the second period hyped up and put up three on the board.”
A dominant second-frame effort by fifth-seeded Westhill-Stamford (15-6-2) resulted in two goals from Chris Clemmenson, the first short-handed, and another from Rich — with sophomore Cooper Healy notching a pair of assists. Healy then set up Rich’s second marker of the game at 4:20 of the third period, pushing the Viking edge to 4-1.
From there, SWS forged ahead looking to chip away its deficit.
Jesse Greenspun scored at 5:17 to ignite the comeback, off an assist from Johnson, before Sam New, again assisted by Johnson, beat Viking goaltender Christian Compolattaro (26 saves) at 7:50 to narrow the Wrecker gap to 4-3.
At 11:57, New pulled SWS even on a 2-on-1 — smashing home a rebound off of Greenspun’s shot after Compolattaro’s initial save.
“That’s what these kids are about,” SWS head coach Todd Sharinn said. “This is a team that has worked hard… We stayed focused and committed to it. They’ve made a lot of sacrifices, all of them. I’m very proud of the fact they persevered in the manner in which they did.”
While the Vikings were reeling, they certainly were not out of it after the Wrecker’s furious rally.
“This can’t be happening,” Compolattaro said of his initial reaction to the 4-4 deadlock. “But we stuck to our play.”
The play resulted in Rich’s championship-clinching goal, assisted by John Nilsen, when overtime seemed to be a foregone conclusion.
“I just didn’t want an overtime game,” said Santagata, whose Westhill squad lost a 4-3 overtime decision to Masuk High in last year’s Division III semifinals. “Been there, done that. Our record in overtime has never been great… It kind of gets in your head sometime… To finish it there was great.”
Said Compolattaro of Rich:
“He saved our lives.”