Branford hockey finds offense, skates past Milford

Branford goalie Justin Edwards steers a shot aside in Branford's win over Milford.

Branford goalie Justin Edwards steers a shot aside in Branford’s win over Milford.

NORTHFORD >> All Branford needed was to get back to playing Southern Connecticut Conference Division II games.

After suffering a pair of losses to Division I Fairfield Warde/Ludlowe in its first four games, the Hornets lit up the scoreboard in the final 30 minutes Thursday afternoon to take a 7-1 victory over Milford at the Northford Ice Pavilion.

“It was a really big win for us, said Branford center Scott Klouda, who had a pair of goals. “We lost twice to a D1 team and struggled out of our league. Beating Milford is a big win for us.”

Branford is 2-3 overall, but is 2-1 in Division II contests.

“It was nice to get back within the division and see where we are,” Branford coach Jim DiNapoli said.

Branford controlled the play for most of the game and scored the first goal of the game less than four minutes in. Spencer Engstrom pounced on a rebound in front of Milford goalie A.J. Bolduc and popped it into the upper left corner of the net.

Milford evened things with two minutes remaining in the period when Jake Burwell scored on a wrap-around goal.

Branford took the lead for good three minutes into the second period when Engstrom won a face-off and sent it right to Zach Withington, who blasted a wrist shot from the right circle that clanked off the inside of the far post and went into the net.

“We knew their goalie was giving up a lot of rebounds, so we starting shooting low,” Withington said.

Two and a half minutes later, Withington was involved in another Branford score. With James Cunningham in the penalty box on a tripping call, the Hornets were shorthanded. But Withington rushed the puck down ice and flipped it to Klouda, who was racing down the middle. Klouda took the pass and flipped it high over Bolduc to make it 3-1.

“We were fortunate things are balancing out,” DiNapoli said. “We gave up three shorthanded goals in our first four games.”

“Those shorthanded goals take you right out of the game,” Milford coach Sal Follo said. “We have some young kids and they’ll bounce back.”

Milford had a couple chances to close the deficit to just one goal going to the third period thanks to a pair of Branford penalties but were not able to get the puck past Hornets’ goaltender Justin Edwards.

“When we’re a man down and scored a goal, it got us a lot of confidence,” Withington said. “We’ve been working on our penalty kill, so we have to stay positive with it and keep doing well with it.”

Branford broke the game wide open in the first 52 second of the third period as Klouda and Withington each scored unassisted goals.

Robert Lionetti and Max Bunton each scored goals later in the period for the Hornets, who killed off three penalties in the middle of the period without allowing a big shot on net.

Milford fell to 1-4 with the loss.

“Defensively, we had too many breakdowns in our zone,” Follo said. “When you let guys get behind you, they’re going to bury the puck. You can’t do that against a good team because it’s tough to recuperate.”