WATERBURY — The Harwood Union boys hockey team won’t be making its return to Gutterson Fieldhouse this winter.
Plagued by the same inability to score that afflicted them for much of the season, the fourth-ranked Highlanders fell to No. 5 Milton, 1-0, Saturday in the Division II quarterfinals.
Stymied by the hot glove of Milton goalie Jackson Ehler, Harwood’s hot-and-cold offense was unable to score. But in the end, streaky forwards weren’t the ones who cost Harwood its season. Instead, it was an inexcusable penalty taken by a Harwood defenseman in the third period that led to the Highlanders’ demise.
With six minutes remaining, Harwood junior Reece Anderson, who is no stranger to the penalty box, delivered an after-the-whistle head-butt to a Yellowjackets player in front of the Harwood goal. After exchanging a few words with officials, Anderson was ejected and given a game misconduct.
Given about a minute of 4-on-3 and a minute of 4-on-4, Milton had a three-minute power play. The Highlanders, who boast a strong penalty kill, were 17 seconds away from being out of the woods when Milton’s Owen Perry knocked a rebound past the outstretched pad of Harwood goalie Sean Russell (37 saves).
Harwood pulled Russell in the final minute and created chances skating with an extra attacker, but the Highlanders were unable to finish.
During the regular season, Harwood’s offense revolved around senior Hunter Wimble, who led the team in goals. The Highlanders averaged a meager 2.65 goals per game during the regular season, but one would have been enough to push Saturday’s quarterfinal to overtime.
Milton will face No. 1 Woodstock on the road in the semifinals. The Wasps are undefeated this season.
Harwood finishes 12-8-2. The Highlanders lost, 4-3, to North Country in last year’s state championship game.
Saturday marked the first time that the Yellowjackets have ever beaten the Highlanders in a boys hockey playoff game.