The Trumbull Eagles were leaving it all on the ice as time was winding down in their battle with North Branford last Wednesday.
At the 3:14 mark, Michael Antoniou found an opening in the crease and put the puck into the back of the net to tie the game at 2.
Alex Pierne and Sean Gallagher assisted on the play, and celebrated with Antoniou as the Eagles’ persistent effort had paid off.
The celebration would soon end in frustration. As the final minute ticked off the clock, Dylan Podbielski of North Branford struggled to maintain possession at mid ice, chasing after the puck all the way to the blue line.
Alec Martone came streaking straight down the middle uncontested, and Podbielski managed to slap it onto his stick.
Martone wound up and fired one just under the pads of Trumbull goalie Matt Paolini with just 15 seconds remaining for the game-winner.
Trumbull’s slide continued Saturday at the Shelton Rink, where Stamford won a 4-2 decision to drop the Eagles’ record to 1-6.
Cameron Doomany made 17 saves for Trumbull, with Antoniou and Gallagher knocking in the goals. Sam Watson, Brendan McGill and A.J. DiMasi (two) recorded the assists.
Trumbull head coach Greg Maxey, along with assistant coaches Kurt Osterberg and Pat Cooper, are hard at work trying pick up the pieces from last year’s Division II state championship, but the Eagles came into this season missing a bulk of their scoring.
This isn’t the first time that Trumbull had a slow start on the season, but the Eagles usually find their way back to Ingalls Rink on the Yale campus.
The locals have qualified for the state tournament in 10 of the last 12 years and have reached the semifinals in 6-of-9 seasons.
“I would take a game like that all day long (North Branford),” Maxey said. “I thought the effort was there and we stuck right with them.
“They are a good 5-2 team and it was anybody’s game down the stretch. We never quit and we fought right till the end.
“We are young on defense and we made a couple of mistakes that hurt us.”
“But we do have an experienced goalie in Matt Paolini, a senior who has been keeping us in these close games.
“All three lines are coming around, and if we continue to play with this kind of effort we are going to start winning these close games.”
Trumbull dug a hole in the first period with two penalties called against the Eagles.
DiMasi, McGill, Jake Crow and Justin Danforth converged together out in front of the net and helped to kill off the first power play opportunity with eight minutes remaining in the opening period.
At the three-minute mark, Trumbull was back in defensive mode after a second penalty.
Sam Watson, Andrew Charlton, Vincent Russello and Gallagher were up for the challenge and killed off another power-play opportunity as the game remained scoreless into the second period.
Trumbull tried to get the offense started and had two power play chances, only to have North Branford meet that challenge and kill off a pair of penalties.
The Eagles’ Robert Fantarella and McGill delivered big time hits in the crease to keep the T-Birds from mounting a serious threat of their own.
Finally with only 58 seconds left in the period, Podbielski skated behind a pair of defenders in the crease and slapped a backhand just under the pads of Paolini for a 1-0 advantage.
“The key is to put ourselves in a position to win in the third period,” Maxey said.
“Earlier in the season I saw that the effort that we need wasn’t there. We do need to get better on our power plays, but the last few games the effort has been there.”
The Eagles turned it up a notch to start the third period. DiMasi steered a pass to Watson on the boards.
In what looked like a passing attempt, Watson wound up and fired one across the front of the goal that found a way into the net to tie the game at 1.
Owen Polzello, Matt Sarosky, Nate Walker and Nick Cirino continued to push the puck into the T-Birds’ end looking to convert the go-ahead goal.
With 10:25 to play, North Branford got an opportunity on a power play and Podbielski ripped one into the net from the point for a 2-1 lead.
Trumbull went after it and assaulted the North Branford net, with Antoniou finally tying the game at 3:14 to go.