Stanton's late goal lifts Rams over St. Joe's
SHELTON -- A stick to the groin isn't the typical way a team likes to celebrate after a big win.
But it's what New Canaan (12-3) co-captain Kris Nugent received from Cadet Conor Crouse in the immediate wake of the Rams' 6-5 victory over St. Joseph at the SportsCenter of Connecticut ice rink Saturday night.
A fight nearly broke out on the ice, but cooler heads prevailed and both teams went into the handshake-line formation. Parents from both teams were arguing in the stands and even New Canaan head coach Bo Hickey made his way across the ice to give a brief chat to the St. Joseph (10-3-1) athletic director after the game was over.
It was a dramatic boys ice hockey game with FCIAC seeding on the line. From the first drop of the puck, the tempo was fast and aggressive.
Nugent wasn't the only one on the end of some foul play, either. Rams forward and co-captain Bo McGinnis took two elbows to the chin, one he considered to be a cheap shot. Immediately after the game, McGinnis greeted the Rams' locker room by slamming it open out of frustration for his laceration, which was three inches long.
"The first one happened in the first period. It was just little. No problem," McGinnis said. "The second one was with a minute left in the third, I was on point on the power play, the kid took a couple strides and got me up high and split [my chin] open in two places."
One has to wonder how New Canaan's players would have reacted had the team lost.
But that wasn't the case, as co-captain Andrew Leslie dumped the puck off to fellow co-captain Sam Stanton in a four-on-four situation and 5-5 game that led to the game-winning goal with 2:15 remaining. Tim Robustelli set up Leslie, who had a brief window to find Stanton charge from an angle toward the front of the net.
"All night I kept telling myself, I can't put one in," Stanton said. "I had two or three wide-open chances. But then ... I just came crashing down on the net, Les muscled off a guy and it was just like the goal in the Darien, where Nugent passed the puck, he reacted real quick and got it to me. I just managed to stuff it in between [St. Joseph goalie Zach Carrano's] legs."
New Canaan's players didn't plead innocence in the activities on the ice -- there were only six combined penalties -- but the vibe many of them got was that Darien's players had put on different uniforms and made the trip up to Shelton.
"I thought as the game went on, and the tighter the game got, it started to become more of like a rivalry game," Leslie said. "To me, it felt like we were playing Darien."
Stanton said after the adrenaline came down, it was a matter of making a few good hits to try and see which team would fall first.
"I didn't really think it was going to be as physical or as chippy as it actually was," Stanton said. "The first period saw a lot of good puck movement. ... But once everyone started slowing down and you had to use your body a little more, that's when then chippyness started. We were putting some good hits on them, they were putting some good hits on us."
And Leslie added that frustrations were mounting on the New Canaan bench, but the team held its composure. For that, a victory paid off.
"I think it took a lot for some guys to hold back from throwing a punch," Leslie said. "It was probably one of the key points of the game because we got that power play goal. ... I thought it was huge that the guys collected themselves, held themselves together and didn't retaliate to get a penalty."
New Canaan held a 5-3 lead after Leslie scored off an assist from Nugent with 1:47 remaining in the second period. That goal came on the heels of a St. Joe's goal by Pat Corcoran goal, which came with 2:51 remaining in the period.
Both squads battled back and forth. The scores came in bunches mainly, but McGinniss credited the Cadets for scoring whenever his team made a mistake.
"In a chippy game like that both sides are doing stuff to each team, but I think we dominated both sides of each play," McGiniss said. "I do hand it to them. When they got their opportunities, they put them in. We didn't make too many mistakes, but when we did, they capitalized."
New Canaan outshot St. Joseph 37 to 22, and Rams freshman Tim Nowacki was often challenged in spurts. St. Joe's scored the game's opening goal just 90 seconds after the puck was dropped. Brian Kelly lit the lamp by sneaking the puck through Nowacki's five-hole.
The Rams tied it up at 1 with 9:53 remaining on a glove-high flick shot from Robustelli that was assisted by McGinnis. Robustelli had a clear path coming down the right side of the ice and simply fooled Carrano.
The first period saw two more goals, the first coming from McGinniss after he took a shot from 30 feet out that stayed low to the ice and slipped past Carrano. Jimmy Joe Granito and Tom Krieger set up the bizarre, sudden goal.
Then, with 24.4 remaining in the first, Ryan Perry took a pass from Crouse and beat Nowakci's stick side to even the game at 2 heading into the first intermission.
"The puck bounces different ways every game," Leslie said. "But the most important parts of a period are the two minutes at the beginning and the two minutes at the end. They won the last two minutes of the first two periods, and that's what made it a game."
Granito proved Leslie's words correct, as he gave the Rams a 3-2 lead 26 seconds into the second period after Leslie won the face-off and passed it up to Robustelli, who found Granito for the quick strike. The Rams took a 4-2 lead less than five minutes later on a Chris Koennecke score that was assisted by Stanton.
"As the game progressed, I definitely think we got better," Stanton said. "I just thought we did a good job of handling their onslaught and they couldn't really handle ours."
Afterward, McGinnis spoke about the team's confidence it had to outlast the Cadets.
"I think we're a very mentally tough team," McGinniss said. "In between periods we're saying, `This is our game. There's no way we're letting this go.' I thought all along we'd find a way to win it."
For all the brutish play, Leslie said St. Joe's opted to go with its speed game more frequently than not, and that's what allowed the Rams to take advantage of the fast-break opportunities.
"We were expecting them to be a fast team, and they were," Leslie said. "I think we worked well with that."