Cheshire ice hockey caps its 50th year with a state championship

HAMDEN – In late January, Cheshire ice hockey honored its 50-year history with a celebration.

Then the Rams went out and made some more history.

Top-seeded Cheshire (24-1-1) capped off its best season ever with a 6-3 victory over the East Haven co-op team in the Division II championship game Monday night at M&T Arena at Quinnipiac.

It was the Rams’ first title since 2011 and coach Anthony Guisto’s first.

“What a great way to finish, in the 50th season,” Guisto said. “It’s been a year of re-writing the record books of Cheshire hockey. The 24-1-1 record is the best ever. Our 16-game win streak is the best ever. The conference championship.

“We just absolutely rewrote the Cheshire hockey record book and what a way to finish it off, with a state championship.”

Senior Biagio Pepe scored four goals for the Rams, while seniors Drew DePodesta and Evan Vasiljevs added one each.

Cheshire’s sophomore goalie Ryan Miller made 28 saves and Cheshire outshot East Haven 37-31.

“It’s been a historic season so far and we’re all very grateful to be a part of it,” Pepe said. “To come together as a team and work as a team and put in four goals – that wasn’t me, that was the team.”

Cheshire lost to East Haven earlier in the season, 5-2, but the result was wiped off the record books after the Yellowjackets had to forfeit 14 games due to the use of an ineligible player.

Still, the Rams did not forget that. Nor their loss in the first round of the tournament last year.

“We preached it to the kids who were freshmen, it was a horrible feeling going out first round last year,” Pepe said. “We knew we had to redeem ourselves this year.”

Pepe scored the first goal with 1:01 left in the first period. The Rams got back-to-back goals in the second – one from DePodesta with 12:42 left and the second from Pepe on a power play almost two minutes later. Vasiljevs made it 4-0 early in the third.

Then things got interesting. East Haven scored two goals in two minutes. Suddenly, it was a two-goal game with 4:22 left and when Lorenzo Difilio added a short-handed goal with 4:03 left to make it 4-3, the East Haven fans got loud in the M&T Arena.

“It got a little exciting at the end,” Guisto said. “But we’ve dealt with it all year – we’ve had leads, we’ve given up leads, we’ve come back at the end of games. I thought those experiences prepared us perfectly for where we are tonight.

“We knew East Haven wasn’t going to go away quietly. It was a more exciting finish than we wanted but it was good way to end.”

Pepe gave the Rams an insurance goal with 2:15 left then scored with a minute left on an empty net after East Haven pulled its goalie.

Guisto told his players to make sure they enjoyed the ride. After the game, the Cheshire players lay on the ice, and made ice angels as the celebration swirled around them. A few wandered back onto the ice long after the game, medals hung around their neck, looking up at the stands, soaking in the moment.

“We set goals along the way: You want to qualify for state tournament, you want to win conference and all that, but every step of the way, you’ve got to enjoy, because it just goes by so fast,” Guisto said. “Before the game today, before we went in the room, I said, ‘Guys, take a deep breath, look around, just enjoy what you’re experiencing right now.’

“I think we’ve really embraced the moment and that shows in the celebration at the end.”