North Haven and Woodstock Academy were neck-and-neck the two most formidable boys hockey teams in CIAC Division II for months, and that remained the case until the last possible moment of the 2022-23 season.
Alex Petersen scored 5:35 into overtime, leading the top-seeded Nighthawks over the No. 2 seed Centaurs 2-1 in the Division II finals Tuesday night at Quinnipiac University.
It was North Haven’s first state championship since 2004 and third all-time. The school was the runner-up twice, including last season when it fell 3-0 to Wethersfield.
“To get back here again and then to do it the way we did it is just the elation,” North Haven coach Chris Avena told CTInsider. “It makes every day going to the rink, the grind … all the worthwhile. To see kids so happy and to see kids celebrate like that, it was the best experience I’ve had in hockey.”
Facing massive expectations on the heels of that runner-up finish, the Nighthawks went 24-2 and also won the SCC/SWC Division II title for the third year in a row. They dropped just one in-state game, 3-2 to Branford on Feb. 1. Their only other loss came three days later against Warwick Co-op (R.I.), 6-0.
Woodstock Academy struck first against North Haven, with Donnie Sousa beating Petersen’s brother, Bryce, with 3:31 left in the second period. The Centaurs, bidding for their second state title in six years, maintained that lead well into the third thanks to Dante Sousa, who denied North Haven time and again.
It wasn’t until 5:30 remaining that North Haven finally broke through, as Tommy Guidone’s goal made it 1-1. And the teams remained square into overtime, when Alex Petersen capitalized off a turnover and beat Dante Sousa inside the right post for his seventh — and most memorable — goal of the playoffs.
“I just thought, ‘I’m not messing this one up,’” Alex Petersen said via CTInsider. “It just dropped on my stick in the slot. The last goal of my career and the most important one, I think, for North Haven hockey.”
Woodstock Academy finished 23-2, with both losses coming against North Haven. The Nighthawks beat the eventual Nutmeg Conference champions 5-1 on Jan. 11, dropping them to 7-1. The Centaurs’ only other appearance in the state final was in 2017, when they beat Hall/Southington 7-3 to win Division III.
Bryce Petersen finished with 34 saves, four more than Dante Sousa.
** featured image courtesy of Chris Eadevito/CT Hockey Report