Drury alum gets better of Blue Devils as Newtown skates to 5-2 win
NORTH ADAMS — It was a happy homecoming for Paul Esposito on Tuesday. Unfortunately for his alma mater, that meant Esposito left Vietnam Veterans Rink with a victory.
Esposito, a 1989 graduate of Drury High School and a former captain for the hockey team, led his Newtown, Conn. team to North Adams for a non-league matinee game, and the former Blue Devil helped guide his Nighthawks crew to a 5-2 win.
"It's awesome," Esposito said of returning home to coach. "I'm looking at everything, nothing has changed. The referees are telling me that all that has changed are the boards. The locker rooms, there's still the old speaker. Thirty years, and nothing has changed here. It feels good to be home."
Jack O'Connell and Phil Makris helped make it a welcomed return visit. O'Connell put his team ahead in the first period, then Makris answered each Drury goal with one of his own — both responses came inside of a minute after a Drury goal — as the Nighthawks weathered two penalty kills in the third period before opening the game up.
"It was a nice hockey game, actually," Drury coach Derek Durocher said. "There was a lot of good stuff there. Our kids had no quit, we did a lot of things that we've been talking about over the winter."
Brandon Lincoln scored both goals for Drury, and both of them helped to breathe life into the team. The issue, though, was Makris having an immediate response.
Lincoln scored the first just over a minute into the second period, connecting on a pass from Sam Garvey. Fifty-eight seconds later, Makris scored on a feed from O'Connell to make it 2-1 after 30 minutes.
Newtown scored the opening goal of the third through Jack Stanton — what proved to be the winner — but Lincoln lit the lamp with five minutes to play on a feed from Camden Abel. Just when it looked like there might be a mad dash to the finish, Makris scored 16 seconds after the restart to make it 4-2.
"I think the kids were coming in thinking we were going to have an easy game, and I said 'listen guys, this is a tough group that will play hard-hat, lunch-pail [hockey], they've got some good players,'" Esposito said. "So it's good to come out of here with a nice 'W' after a long trip up."
Lincoln proved a handful all night for Newtown, and came close to a hat trick on several occasions. The Blue Devils also had a flurry of activity on Markus Paltauf's goal to end the second, but shots by Lincoln, Omar Uqdah and Camden Abel all went just wide, or into Paltauf's glove.
"Power play, special teams, it was as good as it's been all year today," Durocher said. "I thought our power play moved the puck better, the only thing we didn't do was score. We moved the puck and did some good things on special teams. And I think that was the best 5-on-5 play we've seen from the group in probably a month."
Drury (4-11-3) wraps up its regular season today with a home game against Belchertown. With the playoffs out of the picture, Durocher said the finale is about mental toughness.
"I just want to see no quit, I want to see us play the right way," Durocher said, "I want to see us do the things that we've been talking about for the past three months, and I just want us to go hard and have no regrets."
After Tuesday's game, Durocher and Esposito spent several minutes chatting. Durocher said that he didn't know much about Esposito until the game, but that his connection to the program made the whole day a bit more special.
"Hockey is a small world, and it was really kind of nice to have him have this experience with his kids," Durocher said. "Nice group of kids, and it was just a nice change of scenery. It was a lot of fun. The coaching staff and I were talking about, that was the most fun we've had watching our kids play in a few weeks.
"It's been tough with injuries and sickness, so this was a fun day. The scoreboard doesn't bother me a bit."
As for Esposito, return trips to North Adams are frequent since his mother still lives in the area, but getting to coach at a place he played put everything in perspective.
"I look at it from the player's perspectives. I had the best time playing hockey at Drury," Esposito said. "I had great coaches, I still talk to players from that squad that are all over the country.
"It was fun. It's kind of overwhelming to be back here — I knew it was going to be — but it's exciting to come up."
Newtown 1 1 3 — 5
Drury 0 1 1 — 2
N — Jack O'Connell (James Celentano), 3:58.
D — Brandon Lincoln (Sam Garvey), 13:49. N — Phil Makris (O'Connell), 12:51.
N — Jack Stanton (Eli Kirby), 6:10. D — Lincoln (Camden Abel), 5:02. N — Makris (unassisted), 4:46. N — Celentano (UA), 0:30.
Saves — N: Markus Paltauf 25. D: Nate Haley (30) 17, Abaigael Fuls (15) 7.
Geoff Smith can be reached at email@example.com, @GSmith_Eagle on Twitter and 413-496-6254.
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