NEWINGTON - Apparently Luca DiPaola likes to reach career milestones the same way his Newington High School Co-op team likes to win: In dramatic fashion.
A few days after edging Fermi Co-op 4-3 at home, his team was back at Newington Arena, in a Wednesday night nail-biter with the New Milford Green Wave.
Second and third period Green Wave goals had erased a two-goal Newington lead and a New Milford penalty had just tacked off the remainder of a 5-minute penalty kill on a boarding call assessed with about 6 minutes left in regulation.
So with about two minutes to play, DiPaola stationed himself behind the Green Wave net, just off the right post. Line mate Matt Roberts, in the opposite corner, zipped a pass across to him with Rajat Rai crashing in front.
And then DiPaola did what Newington head coach Dave Harackiewicz says he does best: Control the puck and wait for the perfect moment for the feed.
“Not many people can do what he does,” Harackiewicz said after the game. “He was able to hold it long enough to get it to Raj.”
Rai’s one-timer went in with 1:42 seconds left, marking DiPaola’s 100th career point and his teammate’s first goal with the Co-op program.
“I think it tipped off someone in front and kind of bounced into the net,” Rai said. “I was waiting for my first goal of the year. I’m glad it came from Luca’s 100th point.”
DiPaola had actually wanted to set Rai up earlier. Rewind to the first period. There’s 53 seconds left and DiPaola is doing something else he does well--shifting in and out of traffic in the neutral zone. The puck, by his own admittance, was less than under control as he crossed the Green Wave blue line. With a New Milford defenseman stepping up to what could have essentially become a loose puck, he had to get creative.
So he slid the puck through the defender’s skates.
And spun around him.
All in one move.
“That’s an ESPN highlight right there,” Harackiewicz said. “Special players do that; he’s a special player.”
But practice helps, DiPaola says.
“We do one-on-one’s in practice and I always go up against Aaron Lassen, who’s the best defenseman on our team,” he said. “I knew what I was going to do before I even touched the puck.”
The ensuing goal is where he shifted strategies on the fly. The move launched he and Rai into a two-on-one break. DiPaola looked to Rai but didn’t think he’d be able to slip the puck to him without it ending up in his skates. So he took the shot himself, snapping it into the back of the net for the 2-0 Newington lead and 99 career points.
“It just shows the kind of leader he is,” Harackiewicz said. “He wasn’t going to be denied this game. I think the team followed.”
Lassen got Newington started with a power play goal on a shot through traffic from the point with 3:26 left. Alexander Borselle and Roberts would both get assists on that tally.
But Thomas Schneider struck in the second period, and Riley Zimmerman added another in the third to knot the score. Then, came the 5-minute major.
“You gotta keep ‘em calm,” Harackiewicz said. “You can’t do anything about the penalty. You can’t start running around. Be calm and do the job you know how to do.”