Farmington Valley hadn?t been to a state hockey final in 13 years. Guilford was the defending Division II champion.
But when the two teams met on the ice Friday night in the Division II championship game, the Generals made an emphatic statement, rolling past Guilford 7-3 for their first state title in 13 years and first as a co-op, behind two goals from Matt Arena.
?I was in a little slump,? Arena said of his two goals. ?I didn?t score in the quarterfinal or semifinal. And I was hurt for like three weeks before that, in the final six games of the year. It was great to come back, and to play at the level I did was satisfying.?
Farmington Valley was relentless from the opening puck drop, putting up 14 shots in the first period on Guilford goalie Mete Yanbul, who stood tall behind his defense for most of the period.
But the Generals finally broke through with 3:44 to play, when Arena took a feed from Peter Hoffman, worked around several Guilford defenders, and potted a tough shot across Yanbul and into the upper right corner.
?I scouted this team four games and watched film for three days,? Farmington coach Mike Barone said. ?I had a game plan, and we knew what we had to do. These are smart kids, and I kind of just guide them in the right way, and they get it. So I give them all the credit in the world.?
Farmington added to its lead with 26 seconds left in the period.
Seconds after missing an open shot on goal from a nifty Tim Arena pass, Owen Lacourciere made up for it by burying an Eric Schweitzer assist for the 2-0 lead into the first intermission.
In the second, the Generals didn?t slow down, coming in waves at Yanbul and the Guilford defense and scoring five goals in the period.
With 10:14 to play, Jake Percival got things started when he deflected a Sam Buchanan slap shot from high above the right wing circle for the third Generals goal.
From there, the floodgates opened. Matt Arena scored his second goal of the night with 8:49 left. Just 50 seconds later, older brother Tim broke through for his first goal of the game. With 4:14 to play, Kyle Kadziolka added to the deluge. And just 31 seconds after that, Eric Schweitzer scored to pick up his second point of the night.
Guilford finally broke through with 1:19 to play in the second period to stem the bleeding and end Generals goalie Trevor Paluso?s shutout bid. John DeLucia took a feed from Neleber and buried it past Paluso. Jack Ring added another goal in the third period to make it 7-2, and Jack Dacey scored another with 1:50 to play, but the lead was too large for Guilford to overcome.
?I?m proud of our season,? Guilford coach Ralph Russo said. ?Tonight was a tough game for us. We didn?t execute some plays well. We didn?t play well defensively. But we put up 22 wins this year. That?s a school record and more wins than we had last year. And we came one win short of repeating as champions. That?s a pretty darn good season.?
For Matt Arena, the win was special because of the bond he shares with older brother Tim, both on and off the ice. And for the seniors who have helped reshape the Farmington program after a couple of down years.
?First thing I did was I went over and hugged [Tim],? Matt Arena said. ?He?s meant so much to this program. We won 22 games this year. That?s just something that doesn?t happen often. I was so happy, it such a surreal moment, and I was so happy for the seniors, my buddies and my brother.?