One-third the way there
DARIEN -- As the New Canaan High School boys hockey team competes in the FCIAC tournament, the Rams have a little extra motivation beyond the obvious desire to always want to win: avenging last year's quarterfinal-round upset loss.
The Rams made a statement in the quarterfinal round of this year's tourney, blanking Wilton 5-0 on Saturday night at Darien Ice Rink. Sure, the Rams lost just one in-conference game this season and were clear favorites as the tournament's No. 2 seed, while Wilton was seeded seventh, but last year New Canaan was also seeded second when it fell to No. 7 Ridgefield.
"We definitely didn't want that feeling tonight," senior captain Sam Stanton said following the win over Wilton.
Sophomore Dylan Hart was on the team last year and remembers how much the early exit stung -- especially for the upperclassmen who got more ice time than he did as a freshman on an experienced roster of players.
"It was the worst feeling in the world. They were not going to let that happen again," Hart said of those teammates. "This team definitely wants it more than last year's team."
Now, Hart plays a more significant role on the team. He scored the game's second goal in the middle period.
The Rams are accustomed to have a freshman goaltender between the pipes since regular starter Tim Nowacki is a first-year high schooler. But with Nowacki out sick, backup and fellow freshman Chris Koennecke stepped in. The Rams set out to cut down on the number of shots Koennecke would have to face. Mission accomplished as they blocked several shots en route to holding Wilton to just eight shots on goal.
"We wanted to come out sharp and play well in front of Koennecke," Hart said.
Hart pointed to the play of defensemen James McGinniss, Tom Krieger, Ryan Begoon and Brian Tohir in particular, for playing well in this game. But it wasn't just the blue-liners who got the job done in the defensive end. The forwards back-checked with authority and coach Bo Hickey was proud of his wingers and centers for helping out the young goaltender.
"The forwards played really well defensively," the coach said. "They [all of the players] played as well as you could ask kids to play defensively."
The game was tight for two periods, in part because come playoff time everyone is a little tighter in general, Hickey said. It was a 2-0 game heading into the third before the Rams broke the game open with a trio of tallies -- two of which came on power plays.
New Canaan scored in the first period when senior forward Henry Richardson found the net for an unassisted goal. The Rams made it 2-0 in the second when Hart scored his goal, assisted by David Crandall and McGinniss. The score didn't change until the final period.
"We knew that they could play with us. We definitely brought it," Stanton said.
The Rams brought the score-differential up to a more comfortable level in the third. Just 32 seconds into a power play Andrew Leslie and Tim Robustelli assisted Stanton's goal. Henry Cochran put a wrist shot through a screen and into the net at even strength for a 4-0 bulge and the Rams scored another power play tally when, off the faceoff, McGinniss blistered a low shot into the back of the cage. Jake Granito and Nick Campuzano had assists. New Canaan ended the game with a lopsided 44-8 shots on goal advantage.
The Rams earned the right to play third-seeded St. Joseph, which edged No. 6 Darien 3-2 in overtime in quarterfinal action, yesterday at 4 p.m. at Terry Conners Rink in Stamford -- after press time. The team that comes out on top will face the winner of No. 1 Greenwich and No. 4 Ridgefield. Greenwich is the only FCIAC team to defeat the Rams this winter.
New Canaan struggled to beat St. Joseph, 6-5 in the regular season and the Cadets bring lots of offensive fire power to the ice. Still, Hickey, points out, his team is no picnic to face given its depth, speed and skill.
"We're a tough team to play against," Hickey said.
"We like to play a fast, physical game -- move the puck a lot," Hart added. "We have the talent to go as far as we want to go."
The Rams fell 2-1 to Greenwich and defeated Ridgefield 2-0 this season. Regardless of which team they face -- assuming they get past St. Joseph -- the Rams believe they can win the title.
"I definitely think we have a good shot if everybody does what they're supposed to," Stanton said.