There are plenty of teams that would sign up for a season similar to the one the New Canan boys hockey team experienced last winter. The Rams went 13-9-1, won a playoff game and made an appearance in the FCIAC semifinals.
For New Canaan, however, a team which often takes on the "championship or bust" mentality, last season may not have been quite up to par for a program which is so accustomed to winning, often in dominant fashion, and the Rams are looking to get back to the top of the conference and the state.
"As always, we're looking to win an FCIAC and a state championship and just keep working together as a team and keep growing," New Canaan goalie and captain Chris Koennecke said. "It's going to be a process with a lot of new guys, but I think we're really going to come together at the right time this year."
The Rams lost double-digit players from last year's team to graduation, leaving 20th year head coach Bo Hickey to rely on a young, but talented roster with a large sophomore class.
"Our strengths are depth and speed. A strength is that we're young, and a weakness is that we're young," Hickey said. "Young legs, but also young bodies. If we stay healthy, we'll be fine."
The Rams are a mere two days away from opening their season against defending Division-I state champion Notre Dame-West Haven on Wednesday at the Darien Ice Rink at 6 p.m. New Canaan's schedule doesn't get any easier after hosting the champs, as the next two games will be at Hamden and at home against Darien.
According to captain and forward Ben Patch, however, playing tough opponents right from the get-go could be beneficial to the Rams in the long run. New Canaan has already competed in a pair of scrimmages as well as a jamboree against the likes of Darien and Greenwich.
"We won both scrimmages, and in the jamboree we were right there with Darien," Patch said. "It definitely is (a good way to start the season). It wakes us up for what we're looking ahead for."
While his lines are always subject to change, Hickey provided a likely lineup for the first game of the season.
New Canaan's top line will feature Henry Stanton centering Pat Hompe and Puck Richardson. The second line is Jack O'Rourke centering Peter Reinhardt and Luke Amero. The third line is Ben Patch centering Parker Lewis and Davis Bruch. The fourth line is Ryan McMahon centering Zeph West and Cooper Manchuck.
"We have three lines that can play for sure, and that'll definitely be able to help us out," Richardson said. "We definitely have a lot of guys who can put the puck in the back of the net."
New Canaan's likely starting defense pairing will be Steve Mettler and Trent Nader, followed by the tandems of J.P. McMahon and Max Begoon on the second line and Ed O'Rourke and Chris Tohir on the third line.
"Steve Mettler is back. He might be one of the best defensemen in Connecticut," Hickey said. "Trent Nader is another experienced and very good stay-at-home defenseman. J.P. McMahon will see an awful lot of ice time. Everybody's in the mix to be a regular shifter."
Last year's starting goalie Chris Koennecke is back in the fold for his junior season, though he faces some competition from sophomore teammate Theo Christian.
"You wouldn't want to try to live on the difference of the two goalies right now," Hickey said. "There will be a decision made within the first three or four games. But I'm telling you, there is no difference."
Naturally, the Rams have a few games that jump off the schedule, not the least of which is a Dec. 19 contest against Darien. Darien picked up a 2-1 overtime win over New Canaan in the opening round of last year's state tournament, bringing the Rams' season to a halt and fanning the flames of an already intense rivalry.
"Anything against Darien is always a huge game, but also here in our first game playing the defending state champs," Koennecke said. "If we could get a win there, that'd be fantastic."
"These first three games are probably the ones I'm most looking forward to," Richardson said.
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