There was sleight of hand in Mike Latini’s game Monday as the Smithtown East attack performed some stick trickery.
“He’s like a magician out there, with his great hands and great stick,” Smithtown East coach Jason Lambert said after Latini scored three goals and assisted on another in a 7-5 victory over crosstown rival Smithtown West before a crowd of more than 500 at Smithtown East High School.
Both teams are 4-1 in Suffolk I. “He makes some crazy plays in practice so I’m not super surprised by the things he does in games.”
Latini’s first trick came late in the first quarter when he snatched an attempted clearing pass out of the air in West territory and fed a streaking Connor Desimone for a goal that provided a 3-1 lead. Desimone also had three assists. “I tried to get my body in front of him and put my stick in the passing lane,” Latini said.
Sounds easy but there’s a high degree of difficulty in such a daylight heist with so many bodies in motion. In the third quarter, Latini showed off the moves of a contortionist, reaching back on the dead run to catch a pass that was thrown behind him, twisting his body away from a defender and firing a bullet into the net to give Smithtown East a 6-3 lead with 5:47 left in the period.
“I was going to settle it,” Latini said of his initial plan to put the offense in motion and use some clock. “But I saw I had a good shot so I took it.”
Smithtown East didn’t have that many scoring chances because West’s freshman faceoff whiz Conor Calderone was outstanding, winning 13 of 16 draws. Those extra possessions helped West to a 31-17 advantage in shots, but East had the answer in the cage.
Senior goalie Thomas Harkin made 15 saves, including a critical stop during an extra-man opportunity after West had closed the gap to 4-2 midway through the second quarter. “Our defense was major today,” Harkin said. “They made sure the crease was open and that I could see the shooters. I had a good day seeing the ball.”
Lambert said his senior goalie “has been great all year. He’s seeing the ball and playing with confidence. Our defense played well in front of him today. Thomas has given us a chance to compete in every game.”
But not every game has the intensity of Smithtown East vs. Smithtown West. “These games are always classics and you never know what will happen,” Harkin said.
Or as Latini put it, “These games are the most fun, even if they come in the playoffs. It’s always the big battle of the Bulls.”