Newark, Del. — Ian Cohen’s seventh-minute overtime goal sealed the Delco Dragons’ 3-2 win over Wilmington in the Delaware Middle School Hockey League South Division championship game on Sunday (March 24) at the Patriot Ice Center, while the Wilmington Nighthawks’ North Division team edged away to a 5-3 score over the Delaware Patriots in their championship matchup thanks to a hat trick from Matt Bellopede.
South Championship – Delco 3, Wilmington 2
While the Nighthawks were consistently the faster and stronger team for the first 2-1/2 periods, generating odd-man rushes consistently and backchecking to prevent the Dragons from having any extended territorial advantage, solid goaltending from Andrew Craig and net-front awareness gave Delco the edge they needed in the South Division title match.
Nick Trettina put the Dragons on the board 4:18 in the first period when he jammed the rebound of a Julio Codina shot past Wilmington goalie Gavin Needs, only for the Nighthawks’ Liam Polsky to respond with a 15-foot wrist shot through Craig’s five-hole at the 9:37 mark. In the 13th minute of the opening frame, Wilmington’s Alex Gaynor generated a breakaway in the neutral zone, but was denied by Craig from point-blank range.
After Craig stopped another breakaway — this one from Gavin Leffler – early in the second period, the Nighthawks capitalised on a two-man advantage to take a 2-1 lead 6:26 into the frame. With Nick Pugliese and Michael Conway serving hooking and tripping penalties respectively, Alex Gaynor crashed the Delco net and tipped in a Leffler shot to put the Nighthawks up. In the ninth minute, the Dragons began to find their momentum, mounting their first attack of the period with three rapid-fire shots — their first of seven in the frame — but Needs stopped all of them.
It appeared as though the Nighthawks would protect their lead through the third period — generating a scoring chance off the initial face-off, outshooting the Dragons 11-5, and keeping them in their zone for two power plays — but Craig successfully held his ground. With 1:12 left in regulation, Trettina tied the game for Delco amid a net-front scrum.
The Dragons maintained their momentum into overtime, completed 6:10 in when Pugliese set up Ian Cohen’s net-front punch-in with a back-door pass.
Craig stopped 29 of Wilmington’s 31 shots on goal, while Needs recorded 20 saves on 23 shots in defeat.
North Championship – Wilmington 5, Delaware 3
In the North Division championship, Matt Bellopede’s third-period hat trick — capped by an empty-net chip shot in the final 39 seconds — propelled the Wilmington Nighthawks to a come-from-behind 5-3 win over the Delaware Patriots.
The Nighthawks soared to an early 2-0 lead by way of two first-period goals from Nate Bellopede, only for the Patriots to regroup in the second. After setting the tone with three shots in the first 50 seconds of the middle frame, Caleb MacKenzie accounted for Delaware’s first goal, generating a breakaway from a Tyler Firlein headman pass through the neutral zone at 4:58. With just over six minutes remaining in the middle frame, goalie Lucas White stopped a two-on-one attack from Wilmington, and MacKenzie tied the game for the Patriots just 35 seconds into the third period with a 20-foot wrist shot from the slot borne of a Firlein centring pass. The Patriots kept their momentum alive through a stretch of four-on-four action to take a 3-2 lead 5:30 into the third, when Jacob Records carried the puck from a defensive-zone face-off the length of the ice to pot the go-ahead goal.
Not to be outdone, the Nighthawks countered with a three-goal run of their own, all off the stick of Matt Bellopede. With Liam Bouchard issued a tripping minor at 5:52 and the Nighthawks in the midst of a rare four-on-three power play, Matt Bellopede potted a close wrist shot at 7:12 to tie the game at three. Matt Bellopede reclaimed the lead for Wilmington with 2:27 to go, circling a pair of Delaware defenders in a two-on-two attack for a clear wrist shot before sealing victory with his last-minute empty-net goal off a defensive-zone takeaway.
Dean Sclavounos recorded 19 saves on 22 shots in net for Wilmington, while White and Taylor Price — who played the first period and the beginning of the third — combined to stop 19 of 23 they faced.
Correction: The original publication of this recap omitted Lucas White’s appearance in net for the Patriots during the second period and the end of the third period. He and Taylor Price shared the Delaware goaltending duties.