A year removed from 3-17 season, Cards soar into FCIAC, Div. I tourneys

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Greenwich High School senior captain Reed Brady pushes the puck down the ice during a recent game. — John Ferris Robben photo

Despite a loss during its regular season finale, the Greenwich High School boys ice hockey team is still heading into both the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference and CIAC Division I tournaments on a nice streak.

On Saturday, Big Red grabbed an early 1-0 lead and never looked back, scoring three times in the second period and beating East Haven High School, 5-2. That win extended Greenwich’s win streak to four games and five out of its last six.

During Monday’s game against Trinity Catholic, the Cards once again took the early 1-0 lead, but this time they weren’t able to hold on, as the Crusaders scored three unanswered goals to win 3-1.

“I think being on the ice 12 days in a row was a little too much for the team,” Greenwich High head coach Bob Russel said. “We should have taken a day off, but it definitely wasn’t our best effort tonight. From time to time, you’re going to have these games. The most positive thing is that you win a bunch of games in a row and they start to believe that they are better than they were before. When you lose a game, you’re reminded that you’re better when you do the little things correct and not just because you showed up. I would rather have this type of game today than during the playoffs.”

With the loss to Trinity, Big Red finished the regular season 12-8 overall and 7-5 in the FCIAC. Trinity Catholic upped its overall record to 7-10-1 and was one game away from a CIAC Division II postseason berth, improving to 6-4-1 in the FCIAC.

As of press time, Greenwich was sitting in the fifth spot for the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference postseason. On Wednesday, the Crusaders faced off against Staples High School in their regular season finale. If Trinity tied or beat the Wreckers, they would leap over Greenwich in the standings and take off the fifth spot in the playoffs. GHS would fall to sixth. Results of Trinity’s game against Staples were unavailable at press time.

If Big Red fell to the sixth spot in the FCIAC tournament, they will face off tomorrow night at 5:30 in the opening round against third-seed New Canaan High School. If Staples beat Trinity and Greenwich kept its fifth spot in the conference, they will open FCIACs Saturday night at 5:30 against the No. 4 seed, Ridgefield High School.

“A couple of weeks ago, we were looking at barely getting the eighth spot,” junior Luke Finneran said. “Winning four of our last five games is exciting because we didn’t want to play Darien in the first round. Last year was very disappointing for us. We have a very young team, but we’re still having a great season. To be successful in the playoffs we need to keep on getting shots at the net. We’ve been doing that recently and it shows because of how many goals we’ve been scoring lately.”

No matter where Greenwich finishes in the regular season, senior Jack Corrigan knows his team will play tough.

“We are really excited and there’s a lot of hype,” Corrigan said. “This is the year that we want to make a statement in the playoffs and take it far. We are going to have to work hard during practices and keep on trucking. We need to bring the intensity to the playoffs as well. I have been taking way too many penalties, so I’m working on that. The team as a whole needs to work as a team and not get down on themselves. It’s important for us to stay positive.”

Russel said his team was able to climb up the FCIAC standings and put together that strong end of the season because of hard work and the ability to improve their game every time the Cards hit the ice. While Greenwich’s victory against East Haven was the team’s fourth consecutive victory at the time, Big Red has been dominating teams during that stretch. In addition to the five-goal outburst against East Haven, the Cards scored four goals against Stamford and eight goals against Westhill.

“We are now just a shade off of just getting into the mix with those top four teams,” Russel said. “At the beginning of the season, I told them that if we want to get into FCIACs and states, we need to win those games against the Stamfords and Westhills. What was great was that we won them, but did it in convincing fashion. To come up to East Haven and do the same thing, while up at their rink and during their senior day, was special.”

Greenwich High School senior captain William Waesche darts down the rink during a recent game this season for the GHS boys ice hockey team. — John Ferris Robben photo

Greenwich High School senior captain William Waesche darts down the rink during a recent game this season for the GHS boys ice hockey team. — John Ferris Robben photo

GHS senior captain William Waesche believes the Cardinals are dangerous this postseason because of how everybody’s on the same page.

“We are stronger than ever,” Waesche said. “When it comes to the playoffs, we need to believe in ourselves. Coming into the season, no one thought we were going to be here now. We had a losing record the past few years, but we turned the program around and put it where it needs to be. We have the athleticism and have all the tools we need to be successful. We just need to get on the same page and believe that we can do it.”

Although Greenwich has been scoring a plethora of goals lately, the team’s defense has been just as important.

“There is no sense of panic and we don’t have guys that are throwing things away, icing the puck or ramming it up the boards,” Russel said. “We are under control. Waesche just forces his will a lot of the time and if there was a battle on the boards, he wasn’t going to lose it.”

In addition to Waesche, Russel said, sophomore Tommy Rogan, Corrigan, senior captain Reed Brady, sophomore Kevin Piotrzkowsi, senior Andrew Mitchell, and goalie Bryan Archino have all stepped up their game on defense.

During Greenwich’s victory against East Haven, it was the attack and defense that stepped up.

In what Russel called one of his team’s most impressive performances of the year, Big Red played a dominating game of hockey from start to finish and beat East Haven 5-2.

“Today was as good of an effort as we’ve had all year,” Russel said. “Everybody was competing today and we were really patient with the puck. We got great performances all around. The defense was patient and used their partners, we controlled the puck when we should have and we came out without any sustained pressure on them. When they did get shots on net, we cleared well, [Bryan] Archino had a good game and we controlled rebounds.”

After sophomore Brian Silard got Big Red on the board first, with a goal less than two minutes into the game, Greenwich exploded onto the scene in the second period. Midway through the second and the score knotted at 1-1, the Cards found themselves shorthanded; however, that was fine for sophomore Decker Curran. After the puck was fired to the net and the East Haven goalie wasn’t able to corral the bound, Curren sprinted up the center of the rink and met up with the puck just inside the blue line. From there, two quick moves by Curran and Big Red grabbed the 2-1 lead with 4:09 left.

A few minutes later, Greenwich capitalized on a 5-on-3 power play, as sophomore Alex Bastone grabbed the puck after GHS worked it around the front of the net and fired the goal. Greenwich iced the game with 11.6 seconds to play in the second, as Paul Macken got the pass from Silard and blasted the shot in the back of the net for the 4-1 advantage.

The Cards added another goal on the power play during the third period to finish the scoring for the team. Bryan Archino was strong in net for Big Red, finishing with 21 saves for the Cardinals. As a team, Greenwich finished with 37 shots on goal.

“We had a good first period, but the second period we knew we had to step it up if we were going to come out on top in the end,” Corrigan said. “We did that in the period. We crashed the net hard and got the shots on goal.”

Although Big Red was flying high after its game against East Haven, it ran out of gas in the regular season finale against Trinity Catholic.

“We had a good start and the penalty shot really could have propelled us in the right direction, but I thought we were a little lazy and slow,” Russel said. “We didn’t get to the pucks. I think we have more speed than Trinity, but I think they are bigger and stronger along the boards. They won the battles. We actually played better when we were behind. We started to show some effort.”

Just as Big Red has done throughout the latter part of the season, it were able to set the tone early and strike first. With 12:42 left in the first period, sophomores Tommy Feda and Kevin Piotrkowski worked the puck in front of the net. Naoya Fukuchi came in on the play and fired the point-blank shot in the back of the net to give GHS a 1-0 lead.

The lead lasted into the second period; however, three consecutive penalties on Greenwich spelled doom for the team’s lead. On the third power play of the period, Trinity knotted the game at 1-1.

Again, the Crusaders struck gold on the power play midway through the third period.

“Penalties wear you down and we took way too many today,” Russel said. “All the players you hope to generate offense with get tired having to kill penalties. It’s exhausting. However, we were able to make some big saves during that time.”

The Crusaders extended the lead to 3-1 with 1:04 to play on an empty net goal.

For Greenwich, just getting to where they are right now is an incredible accomplishment. Although they were in a bunch of games they played, Big Red finished the regular season last year with a 3-17 record. Netting four times the victories only a year later is a great source of pride for Russel and the rest of the Cardinals.

“I am extremely proud of this team,” Corrigan said. “Last year we had a bunch of hard losses, but this year we were able to come together as a team. We have a lot of young guys, but we were able to bond and play as a team. That has a huge effect on our record this year.”

I knew that last year we had a good group of young kids,” Russel said. “It was hard last year because we were losing, but we were all doing the right things. When we jumped into this year, all those sophomores that are now juniors are much better and all had a year’s experience. This year is incredibly satisfying for all these guys. They fought hard last year, but were a goal short, we didn’t have the patience and didn’t have the skill set. Now we do, and it’s showing.”

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