Indians raise roof
When you have been coaching for as long as Milford Indian hockey head coach Sal Follo has, you just have that instinct of knowing when to pull in the reins.
The Indians had suffered back-to-back one-goal losses to Amity (4-3) and St. Bernard (3-2) with a very tough East Haven team on the schedule.
Follo, along with assistant coaches Bob Riordan and Vin Corso, got together and decided the best way to prepare the team for the 5-1-1 Yellowjackets was to give it a day off.
That type of game plan worked to perfection, as the Indians stunned East Haven by a wide 5-2 margin on Saturday at the Milford Ice Pavilion
“I’m ecstatic,” Follo said following the win. “Nobody but nobody believed we had a chance against this team. But you know what, these kids deserved it the way they played.
“We suffered two tough losses and people probably thought I had lost my mind giving the kids a day off right before a big game like this.
“But they came back focused and worked their tails off. This is huge and will certainly go a long way in developing the character of this team.”
East Haven took the ice and it was crystal clear from the outset that this team had one gear — full speed ahead.
The Yellowjackets almost overwhelmed the Indians with their sheer speed, as they assaulted the Indians net, leaving behind defenders in their wake.
Just three minutes in, Mike Falanga raced in uncontested and slammed a shot from point-blank range that eluded Milford goalie John DePalma for a 1-0 East Haven lead.
On the next trip down the ice, Milford’s Rob Buskey fired a shot that went off Yellowjackets’ goalie Zak Bouve but Zach White skated in for the rebound and drove it in to tie the game at 1.
Follo quickly pulled his defenders out to the blue line to try and slow down the speed of East Haven. Putting a body on every attacker coming across the blue line turned out to be the key, as DePalma began fending shot-after-shot off his chest protector.
Twice, East Haven put on an all-out charge into the Milford end — even knocking the goal off its supports and sending DePalma tumbling in a heap.
Each time the Milford goalie arose from the pile up with the puck securely in his glove.
DePalma turned in a valiant effort, coming up with 42 saves and more than two-dozen deflections.
“You can’t talk about how many saves I had without talking about the tremendous job the defenders did out on front,” DePalma said.
“The whole team rose to the occasion, it wasn’t just me. We wanted this game so bad, it was a total team effort. I live in East Haven and I was really psyched up for this game,” added the Platt Tech junior.
In the second period, DePalma made 12 saves and deflected nine more shots on the net, as defenders Jarrod Butts, Ben Lavallee, Colin DiPisa and Jonathan DePascale threw themselves on top of every puck that came into the crease.
With 59 seconds left in the period, Milford’s Will Vitelli knocked away a puck from an attacker and steered a pass to White, who eluded a defender with a spin move at mid ice.
White continued his charge and got around the last defender before he placed a backhanded shot to the far post for a 2-1 Milford lead.
“We played a great game,” Follo said. “That is a very good East Haven team, but we stuck to our game plan and good things happened.
“And every time we needed Johnny to come up with the save he was there for us. The shots were pretty much even (Milford 40, East Haven 43).
“I can’t say enough about the kids it was unbelievable how they responded. For guys like myself, Coach Corso and two of the kids, we are from East Haven and this game was huge for us.”
In the third period, the Milford crowd began to watch the clock as well as the play on the ice.
Then in a two-minute span, the white-knuckle affair suddenly turned into a four-goal lead as the fans uproar shook the building.
The Milford lines of Charles Knights, Brandon Argyros and Luke Gibbs, along with Dylan Hallett, Larry Shea, Jacob Comeau and Brady Dennigan, began to create pressure in the East Haven end.
With 9:53 to play, the pressure got to East Haven when Buskey got his stick on a loose puck in a pile up at the post and stuck it into the net for a 3-1 lead.
That gave Milford a little breathing room, and what happened over the next two-minutes took the breath away from the Yellowjackets.
Milford’s Gerald Villecco tipped a pass at the post to Colin DiPisa in the crease, and he one-timed it to the back of the net at the 8:27 mark.
Not 30 seconds later, Vitelli buried one on a rebound off an assist from White and Buskey, as the fans rose from their seats as one.
The 5-1 lead shocked East Haven and everyone in attendance, as the Milford players on the bench pounded on the boards in celebration.
The Yellowjackets did respond with a goal with 7:35 to go, when Matt Longobardi skated in on a breakaway for the 5-2 final margin.
“A lot of teams would have put their heads between their legs and gone through the motions following a loss like we had against St. Bernard,” Follo said.
“But our guys came out hard and really showed the character of this team. We took care of business and I couldn’t be any more prouder of them.”
Milford played Sheehan on Wednesday and will host Newtown on Saturday at 1 p.m. back at the Milford Ice Pavilion.
Milford had opened the week with a 3-2 loss to Norwich Free Academy.
White and Buskey scored goals with White gaining an assist.
Noah Ericson had 21 saves.