Rams give Black Knights a black eye
DARIEN -- Every scouting report probably has his name mentioned as a "weak spot," or something to that effect.
After all, he's just a freshman goalie. "Get to him enough and we'll score a few goals," coaches are likely to tell their players. He's young, still adapting to varsity-level play, after all.
The problem is, opposing teams can't seem to get to Rams goalie Tim Nowacki. In fact, the chances are few and far between.
That was the case again Monday night at Darien Ice Rink, when the Rams boys hockey team blanked Stamford 5-0 to extend their winning streak to eight games and improve to 15-3 overall. Nowacki turned back 14 Stamford shots, only four of which came off of Black Knight power-play opportunities.
"The defense kept the shots to a minimal amount on the power play and made it pretty easy," Nowacki said.
The Rams, again, took the puck away from an opponent like an angry bully in search of some lunch money.
"Our big, tough defenseman are good kids," Rams head coach Bo Hickey said. "There's not a lot of room in front of our net with the size we've got. The biggest asset is, we put out three, sometimes four lines and we can do that with anybody in the state."
Nowacki said he's been able to adjust to playing comfortably because the elder statesmen on the team have been breaking him in and making him feel like part of the team with each game. It helps the initiation process when you can put up shutout after shutout.
"I'm starting to really ease into it now," Nowacki said. "The defense has done a great job helping me settle in, especially in some of the bigger games."
Kris Nugent, who scored a goal with 1.4 seconds remaining in the first period and had assists on goals No. 4 and 5, said Nowacki's stout play has become one of those things that's such a common occurrence, the team expects high-level play from the 14-year-old at this point.
"Tim played solid in the net again, as always," Nugent said. "That made it easy for us to keep in the puck in their zone and pop a few in. We kept it rolling from there."
Nowacki and the rest of the New Canaan defense has put up seven shutouts and won two other games in which only one goal was allowed.
"The guys are really great about helping out and that kind of thing," Nowacki said. "They've made it very easy for me and make me feel comfortable out there. ... It helps a lot and makes me feel good."
Strong play in the crease wasn't always such a sure thing. The Rams began the season back in mid-December with a 5-2 loss against Notre Dame-West Haven. Not a lot of teams dress freshman goalies, let alone can play two of them; Chris Koennecke is the other option between the pipes for the Rams.
Early on, however, Hickey got glimpses of what Nowacki could do. The 2-1 win over Darien on the day after Christmas was when he realized Nowacki was playing like a junior or senior rather than a freshman.
"As a coach, you like to get those games on the road some place," Hickey said. "In [the Darien game] I thought he would knuckle under a little. But it didn't bother -- didn't faze him -- at all. "
Against Stamford (6-10), New Canaan came out fast. The Black Knights seemed off balance from the get-go. Bo McGinniss lit the lamp first, scoring with 2:35 remaining in the first period when he took a pass from Tim Robustelli and slapped it from a 45-degree angle near the blue line and right next to the Black Knights' bench. Stamford goalie Jon Tenca was fooled by the throttled shot. Andrew Leslie was also credited for an assist.
McGinniss then assisted on Nugent's goal later in the period.
The Rams took a 3-0 lead after Henry Corcoran fed Ryan Begoon, who then quickly passed off to a leaking Sam Stanton. The Rams senior forward flew down the alley and wristed his shot high on Tenca's stick side. Tenca didn't stand a chance.
The goal was impressive because it showed how well-oiled this team has become. Hickey praised how strong his team's depth is and how crucial the past few years of learning have been to achieving a three-loss season to date.
"A lot of these kids I've had for four years, and it's not like we've had lean years, but now we're a little better than 16 and 5, or 13 and whatever," Hickey said. "The kids can play. We've got a lot of hustle and a lot of depth that causes a lot of problems."
Stanton scored his second goal courtesy of Corcoran and Nugent. It came with 11:09 remaining in the third period. Then Corcoran tickled the twine, as Stanton and Nugent set him up with 1:34 remaining to cap off the five-goal performance.
Tenca was hit with a barrage of shots all game, but the Rams did most of the shooting in the first period.
The Stamford goalie had 19 of the 38 swats come his way in the first 15 minutes.
A few scuffles happened here and there, but nothing too serious. Stamford appeared to be just another tiny obstacle in this team's way to the FCIAC playoffs.
There were 13 penalties between the teams -- New Canaan committed eight of them.
Perhaps it's the confidence in this Rams' overall depth, but accruing penalties hasn't affected this veteran team this year. They've played physically. They've won physically. Nugent says, why change the strategy now?
"It's now really starting to pay off here," Nugent said. "We're well-conditioned and looking forward to the playoffs. Now, we have our legs under us."
New Canaan is 10-1 in the FCIAC and leads St. Joseph by five points. The team has just three games remaining -- Wilton, Westhill and Xavier -- and with one more win the team would clinch the top seed.