Connecticut Boys Division 3 Championship: Newington Stops Conard’s Cinderella Run, Captures Program’s First Title Since 2013

Jim Clark
Jim Clark
Jim Clark joined Hockey Night in Boston in December 2019, and has covered high school hockey in Massachusetts for more than three decades. He also covers high school hockey and is a multiplatform editor for the Boston Globe, and previously spent two decades as high school hockey reporter at the Boston Herald, where he also served as the high schools editor from 2000-06. Clark was honored by the Mass. State Hockey Coaches Association with its William Stewart Award for contributions to the sport in May 2019, and also received the Joel Perlmutter Award for media coverage in 2006. A graduate of UMass, he also spent eight years as sports editor/reporter at the Sentinel & Enterprise in Fitchburg, and has extensively covered high school hockey in Central and Western Mass. as well as Connecticut.

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When Newington fell behind by a goal in the opening minute of the second period of Thursday night’s CIAC Division 3 championship game, the Nor’easters didn’t panic. The #2 seed was controlling the play, for the most part, and just waiting for an opportunity to finally break through against #9 Conard.

Midway through the second period, it finally came quickly, Newington scored a pair of goals 19 seconds apart to take the lead, and held on the rest of the way for a 3-1 win over Conard at the People’s United Center on the Quinnipiac campus in Hamden.

The championship was the third in Newington history, and the first since 2013. The co-op has expanded to five schools in the nine years since that last title, now including players from Berlin, Canton, Cromwell and Manchester.

The Nor’easters (21-4-0) had a 42-17 advantage in shots, including 19 in the middle period. But it took a while for them to finally crack Conard senior goalie Graydon Selstad (39 saves).

Finally, with 6:15 to go in the middle period, they cashed in. Senior defenseman Braeden Humphrey corraled the puck along the boards at the left point and pulled it back to give himself a little room before sending it toward the net. Junior Evan Oliver put a stick on it in the middle of the circle and slowed it down just a bit before it got through, where both Tyler Leavitt and sophomore Jacob Marion had snuck behind the Conard defense. The senior captain Leavitt, parked by the left post, quickly chipped it over Selstad to tie the game.

Josh Grimm Newington

Just 19 seconds later, the Nor’easters were in the lead. Junior forward Josh Grimm outworked a Conard defender as he carried the puck into the left corner, and then sent a pass to the front of the net that deflected off the skate of another Conard player. Junior Andrew Stribling was right there to knock it over Selstad’s blocker before he could react, and Newington had the lead with 5:56 left in the second.

It stayed that way until the final minute, when Conard (12-11-2) finally was able to get Selstad out of the net for the extra attacker. But Newington wouldn’t let anything get close to junior goalie Jeremy Wagner’s net, and the Nor’easters eventually turned up the pressure the other way. Two attempts at the empty net missed, including one that hit the post, before Stribling pounced on a loose puck at center ice and fired it home with 9.8 seconds left to clinch the championship.

Conard couldn’t find the same late-game magic that had propelled the run to the state final. The three previous tournament wins all came against higher seeds, including a 2-1 overtime win against top seed E.O. Smith/Tolland in the quarterfinals in which Conard erased a one-goal deficit in the final two minutes. Conard fell short of its first state championship since 1996, when there were only two divisions in CIAC boys hockey.

Things started well for Conard. After a scoreless first period, it took a 1-0 lead just 57 seconds into the second period. Junior Gavin McGowan kept the puck in at the right point and sent a shot toward the front of the net. Wagner made the initial save, but freshman Brady Narus was sitting right there and quickly popped the rebound into a tight opening between the goalie and the right post.

Wagner (16 saves) and the Nor’easters defense wouldn’t relent again, holding the fort until the offense took over and brought home another championship.

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