Cheshire Captures Division II Ice Hockey Crown Over East Haven Co-op

HAMDEN, CT — The last time Cheshire High School won a CIAC ice hockey championship, the seniors on the current roster were just lacing up skates for the first time at ages 4 and 5. Fast forward 13 years, and those little tots found themselves in a state final showdown on the home ice of defending NCAA champion Quinnipiac University, taking on a 6-school co-op team which had dominated the opening three rounds of the Division II tournament.

The Rams parlayed four goals from senior Biagio Pepe and a sparkling performance by goaltender Ryan Miller into a 6-3 win over the East Haven Yellowjackets before a raucous near-sellout crowd at the 3,570-seat M&T Bank Arena.

Cheshire, the top seed, withstood a furious comeback by East Haven, which trimmed a 4-0 deficit to one goal in a 3:44 stretch of the third period.

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Miller came up with several big saves early in the contest, but neither team dented the scoreboard until Pepe scored from an awkward angle to the right of Yellowjacket goalkeeper Michael Fritz with 1:01 left in the first period.

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Evan Vasiljevs missed the net on a breakaway for the Rams early in the middle stanza, but moments later, Drew DePodesta beat an East Haven defender to a long pass by Ryan Fraser and tucked the puck behind Fritz for a 2-0 Cheshire lead.

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On his next shift, DePodesta was hauled down on a partial breakaway, with a pair of Yellowjackets being issued minor penalties for a 5-on-3 Cheshire advantage. Pepe cashed in right away, netting his second goal of the game after some nifty passing between Charlie Golden and Vasiljevs.

Pepe had a golden opportunity to complete a hat trick with just over two minutes left in the session, but his breakaway bid was stopped by Fritz.

Four and a half minutes into the third period, Vasiljevs appeared to put the final nail into the East Haven coffin by converting a rebound of a Fraser shot from the left point, while being taken down to the ice by a Yellowjacket defender.

Not so fast. East Haven, which had outscored its previous three tournament opponents by a combined 17-3 margin, finally showed some offensive firepower with a power play goal by Griffin McGlinchey with 6:22 to play. Just under two minutes later, Lorenzo DeFilio banged home a rebound of a McGlinchey shot to make it 4-2.

A tripping penalty assessed to East Haven’s Preston Cantele seemed to halt his team’s momentum, but DeFilio, after being thwarted by Miller on a shorthanded chance in close, came back and stole the puck near center ice, broke in alone and found the back of the net to make it a 4-3 contest with 2:38 remaining in regulation time.

The excitement of the Yellowjacket fans quickly dissipated, however, as Pepe completed his hat trick after being left alone in the slot in the waning moments of the Cheshire power play. With Fritz pulled in favor of a sixth attacker, Pepe tallied his fourth of the game into an empty net with exactly a minute remaining.

Cheshire outshot East Haven, 37-31.

The Rams won their fifth state championship overall. The Yellowjackets, consisting of players from East Haven, Morgan, Old Lyme, Sheehan, East Hampton and Valley Regional high schools, had been seeking their first state title since 1998.

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