East Haven edges Wilton in entertaining hockey game

In an exciting, back-and-forth game, the Wilton high boys hockey team fell, 5-4, to the East Haven Yellow Jackets on Monday afternoon at the Winter Garden in Ridgefield. The Yellow Jackets took advantage of poor discipline by Wilton, scoring four power-play goals, including the tying and winning goals in the third period.

Prior to the game, all 12 of Wilton’s seniors were honored on the ice as part of the team’s Senior Night ceremony, in which the players presented their family members with flowers.

The Warriors (6-9) got off to a sloppy start, but senior goalie Kyle Buckley was sharp early on to keep East Haven off the board. An aggressive forecheck by East Haven was successful in disrupting Wilton’s rhythm and forcing the Warriors into committing turnovers.

Wilton raised its skill level as play went on in the first period, and senior Ned Zawislak gave the Warriors the lead with 50.2 seconds left. With the Warriors shorthanded, Zawislak skated down the right wing and fired a quick wrist shot that flashed past East Haven goalie Devan Avena’s blocker.

Wilton put itself in a hole early in the second period by taking two penalties in a row, giving the Yellow Jackets a 5-on-3 power play for 1:11. The visitors capitalized, scoring twice in a span of 12 seconds starting at 12:44 of the period to take a 2-1 lead. Nearly three minutes later, strong forechecking behind the net gave the Warriors puck posession in the offensive zone, and Zawislak snuck a low shot from the slot through Avena's pads to tie the score.

“It was exactly what we look to do on our forecheck," said Zawislak afterwards. "Alec Biegen battled to get the puck deeper into the zone and was able to poke the puck into the slot where I was open for the shot.”

Zawislak’s second goal of the game came at 9:50 of the second period.

Later, with just over five minutes left in the period, a long stretch pass by Wilton tri-captain Jameson Hill found fellow captain Kyle Jonas at the Yellow Jackets’ blue line, springing the Warriors on an odd-man rush. Jonas exchanged passes with David Craven before beating Avena high glove side at 4:57.

The scoring didn’t stop for either team in the fast-paced second period as the Yellow Jackets tied the game at 3-3 with 2:46 left before Jonas scored his second goal of the game 41 seconds later.

First, following an East Haven faceoff win in the offensive zone, a point shot took a crazy deflection and popped high in the air over Buckley and into the net. Tyler Moss was credited with the goal. On the next shift, Craven and Luke Rizzo worked hard along the boards in the Yellow Jackets’ zone to win the puck back for the Warriors. Craven threw a pass out to the high slot to Jonas, who laid off the puck to Mark Donohue, whose shot rebounded out in front right to Jonas for the goal.

As in the first period, penalties cost the Warriors the lead as East Haven scored two more power-play goals in the third period to take the lead for good. After Michael Montesanto tied the game with 12:54 left on a hard slap shot that Buckley could only get a piece of, Anthony Avallone scored the eventual winning goal on a subsequent power play with 7:42 left on a rising slap shot from a tough angle. Avallone’s goal capped a tough night for Wilton’s penalty killers.

“We shot ourselves in the foot, especially on the 5-on-3 in the second period”, said Craven, one of the Warriors’ main penalty killers, afterwards. “They moved the puck well in the zone and utilized the extra man pretty well. They also shot the puck as soon as a lane opened up.”

The Warriors applied heavy pressure in the final minutes, and came close to tying the score, but their efforts came up just a bit short.

Despite the loss, it remained a special night for the team’s seniors. “It’s an honor to be part of the Wilton hockey program. I am thrilled to be part of the team and Senior Night was amazing, “ said Buckley, who only started playing hockey at the end of his sophomore year. “Although we didn’t win, I had a great time."

The night was extra memorable for one senior Warrior in particular. After being sidelined so far this season due to ACL surgery, tri-captain Christian Hansson returned to the lineup to make his season debut against East Haven. "Playing made all the hard work in my rehab process worth it," said Hansson. “I’ve had a lot of support from the players and coaches and to finally play was amazing."