Despite tourney exit, Greenwich High boys hockey team had stellar season

Greenwich High School sophomore Brian Silard works the puck past his Ridgefield opponent during Big Red’s opening round CIAC Div. I playoff game. — Scott Mullin photo

Greenwich High School sophomore Brian Silard works the puck past his Ridgefield opponent during Big Red’s opening round CIAC Div. I playoff game. — Scott Mullin photo

Although the Greenwich High School boys ice hockey team bowed out of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference Division I postseason tournament in the opening round to end its season, the leaps Big Red made in just one season are nothing short of impressive.

“The team grew all year and got better and better,” Greenwich High School head coach Bob Russel said. “Our goal was to make the FCIAC and state tournament and we made both. Obviously we are really disappointed with the result here, but I am really proud of the team’s development this year, proud of how far we came, and I am proud of how we competed tonight. I thought we competed really well.”

After coming off a 3-17 season last year, no expectations were put on the Cardinals this season. However, Big Red exploded onto the scene and not only finished with three times the victories as last year but also qualified for both the state and Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference postseasons.

“With three wins last year and 12 regular-season wins this year, I think it’s amazing how far we’ve come,” Greenwich senior captain William Waesche said. “I could only imagine where the kids are going to go from here on out. We are proud of ourselves and proud of the boys. We sort of saw the program turn around and we hope the best for the future.”

While the Cards were able to keep Ridgefield on its toes throughout most of the game, it was the Tigers that were able to take advantage of scoring opportunities as they came away with the 6-1 victory over Big Red in the CIAC Division I opener.

“You look at the score, see 6-1 and it sounds like they handily defeated us, yet I think that we played one of our best game of the year,” Russel said. “We created a lot of chances. They finished on a lot of their chances. Every time they were in and had a good chance, they put it in the net. I think we are a shade away. Our defense handled the puck well and used each other and we didn’t get trapped in our zone often. We came through the neutral ice well and executed better than we have on the power play.”

Greenwich’s lone goal of the game was scored by Decker Curran, who netted a power play goal with less than a minute to play in the opening period. With the Tigers leading 2-0, Curran took the pass from Matt Lodato and blasted a shot three feet away from the goalie that hit the top corner of the net.

“I am really proud of the guys this year,” Waesche said. “Tonight I don’t think the score reflected our effort at all. We had 18 shots in the second period and pummeled that goalie. He kept them in the game and led them to a win. He didn’t give up any rebounds and forced us to break down.”

Ridgefield spread the wealth around in the game, as six different Tigers found the back of the net. Christopher Morrow, Liam Smith, Vinny Rella, Andrew DeLalla, Jack Tregurtha, and Sam Sarath all tallied goals.

With the game scoreless early on in the first period, Greenwich had several solid looks at the goal. With 11:20 to play, Greenwich was on a 2-on-1 and sophomore Ian Fulton fired a blast that was saved by the RHS goalie. A few minutes later, fellow sophomore Naoya Fukuchi unloaded on a shot from the right side of the net that missed by mere inches.

Again in the second, Big Red had a couple of chances to tie the game. With 11:55 to play in the second, sophomore Tommy Rogan blasted a shot from the blue line and junior Mark Schmeiler, who was a few feet away from the goalie, deflected to the net. However, the Ridgefield goalie made the glove save.

Only 15 seconds later, senior Paul Macken controlled the turnover deep in the Ridgefield zone and drilled a shot, but it was saved.

On a 5-on-3 power play, Macken, Waesche and sophomore Brian Salaried each were within point-blank range and were trying their best to push the puck past the Ridgefield goalie, but to no avail.

The turning point of the game happened a little over a minute later. On the same penalty, Ridgefield moved up ice shorthanded, as Smith fired in the top corner of the net for the goal.

“We generated a lot of chances and it could have easily been 2-2, but the back-breaker was the shorthanded goal they got to make it 3-1,” Russel said. “That changed the nature of the game and it was a momentum killed. They also scored with 12 seconds to go in the period, and that hurt.”

Greenwich was outshot in the game 46-32, while Big Red’s Bryan Archino made 36 saves in net. His counterpart, Ridgefield’s Dustin Rausa, finished with 25 saves.

“It was a really good game and it’s a shame, because I think it would have really gotten exciting if we kept it closer,” Russel said. “I thought they were getting nervous in the second. You get the favorite nervous and that gives you the ability to do something special.”

With the loss, Greenwich finished its season 12-10, while Ridgefield upped its overall record to 19-5.

“I am still really proud of the athletes that we have because they came out and played,” Russel said. “Even in the third period, they continued to come out and play hard on every shift. We battled them as well as I think we can. The score could have indicated that it was closer, but we didn’t put in our chances. We generated 32 shots in the game, and if you told me I would get 32 shots against Ridgefield, I would say that we played a hell of a hockey game.”

Heading into what most people thought would be a rebuilding season, Greenwich was struggling to get into a groove, falling to 2-3 to start the season. That’s when it all started coming together. Starting with a 5-1 win against Iona Prep, Greenwich went on a four-game winning streak and beat Fairfield (4-2), Staples (8-3) and Norwalk (7-1).

To end the season, Big Red won five of its last seven, beating Trumbull (3-2), Wilton (3-1), Westhill (8-3), Stamford (4-0), and East Haven (5-2). Those victories down the stretch helped guarantee that not only would GHS have a winning season but it would also qualify for both state and conference tournaments.

“This was a great season,” Russel said. “We went from three wins to 12 wins and played an awful lot of young guys who are still young this year. They grew a lot over a year. It was hard work to get those 12 wins. Nothing came easy this year, but we got in position to make both tournaments and we have to be very proud of that accomplishment.”

Helping the Cardinals get those 12 wins were senior captains Waesche, Macken and Reed Brady.

“Our senior leadership was strong this year,” Russel said. “Paul, William and Reed did a good job and did anything we needed. We had Will up playing forward for a little while and then moved him back. We had Reed playing defense and moved him up. No matter where we put them, they came out and tried hard.”

In addition to the senior captains, Killiam Rosier, Michael Stroumbakis, Billy Lewis, Jack Corrigan, Harrison Potash, and Michael Green played their final game for Big Red.

“The kids that maybe don’t play as much, but I’ve had around for a few years, I respect them a lot,” Russel said. “All the seniors are terrific kids that come out and work hard every single day. You build a relationship with them and that’s really important and you feel like you are a part of something that they were a part of. I run into these kids later and I don’t remember if they were on the first line or third line or didn’t play. I just remember that they were good kids that showed up for practice all the time and worked hard. I loved having the seniors around.”

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