Greenwich High boys hockey eager to start battling the best in the FCIAC

The Greenwich High School boys ice hockey team will start play in the FCIAC Tuesday at Stamford. — Avery Belicka photo

The Greenwich High School boys ice hockey team will start play in the FCIAC Tuesday at Stamford. — Avery Belicka photo

It’s been a rough start for the Greenwich High School boys ice hockey team.

Playing some of the best competition around to start the season, the Cardinals find themselves still searching to tighten up their play on the ice, as well as their first victory of the season.

However, that doesn’t mean Big Red has its doubts on the season. Far from it.

In fact, head coach Bob Russel and the rest of the Cardinals are highly confident that a new year will bring a slew of victories and an appearance in both the FCIAC and CIAC Division I tournaments.

“We deliberately built a really hard schedule to start the season,” Russel said. “Most of these games were tough. These games expose all our weaknesses. They help us see what we have to do to play at this level. It also wakes everybody up to the level that we are going to have to play this year. We have a pile of first-year players on the roster and a bunch of sophomores.”

Greenwich will enter the start of conference play with an 0-4 record, falling to West Haven 5-3 to start the season. Against FCIAC foe New Canaan, the Rams beat Greenwich in the non-conference match-up, 4-1. After Christmas, Big Red hosted East Haven High School and was shut out 6-0.

“These games helps the players realize how quickly the games are,” Russel said. “They are much quicker at this level than our kids want it to be right now. When it’s quicker, they run around and leave their zone early. Some times you have to slow it down in your end, make sure you come out together and keep it simple. It’s a building process.”

On Monday, Greenwich concluded its non-conference start of the season with a road game against Notre Dame-West Haven.

Big Red held a 2-1 lead against the Green Knights but it was unable to stick, as Notre Dame scored three in the third to win 5-3. For GHS, Matt Lodato, Ben Prately and Ian Fulton netted goals.

Mark Schmeiler, Tommy Feda and Fulton each tallied assists for the Cardinals.

GHS junior goalie Bryan Archino finished with 39 saves on the day, while the team’s offense was only able to fire 19 shots at the Notre Dame net.

“We need to come out harder than the other teams we play,” junior Matt Lodato said. “Getting the first goal would help out a lot. We’ve been down in our first three games and that kind of makes things harder to get back into games.”

Helping lead the Cardinals this year will be senior co-captains Schmeiler and Luke Finneran.

“As a team we have to get stronger,” Finneran said. “We need to be well-conditioned because we are running a few lines. I think we are still a playoff team. We’ve played probably three of the top teams in the state. It’s always hard to start the season against tough teams, but it’s good for us. When we play our conference schedule, I think those tough games at the start will only help us.”

Finneran will be on the team’s first line at right wing, while Schmeiler won’t be far behind, playing along Finneran at left wing.

“They have both been around the program for a few years and are pretty experienced,” Russel said. “When you’re going through a tough stretch like this, it’s important that everybody realizes that it’s not what happens, it’s how you deal with it. It’s easy for everybody to support each other and be happy when things are going well, but when things are tougher, you need the leadership that Luke and Mark bring. If the captains continue to work hard, the rest of the team will fall in line.”

In addition to the two captains, juniors Lodato, Feda and Fulton will be pacing Big Red’s offense. Fulton and Lodato play the center position, while Feda will play left wing.

“I think we should definitely win a bunch of games coming up,” Lodato said. “We need to get a couple of those road games and then bring it home and continue winning here. We need to work a little harder and skate a little more to get in shape. Getting on top early and running up on teams will be very important.”

Also helping out will be twins Montana and Makenzie Larson, both juniors. Montana Larson will be at right wing, while his brother will play the left wing position.

Greenwich will also get contributions from sophomore Kristian Cunningham at center, as well as sophomore right-winger Calvin McKinney and sophomore left winger Michael Mozian.

“We need to become a counterattack team that plays well in our zone, clears well and takes advantage of mistakes from other teams,” Russel said. “To get a sustained attack in the opposing team’s zone means we need to have strong, fast players. We are getting there.”

Defensively, two familiar faces will lead Big Red, as juniors Kevin Piotrzowski and Tommy Rogan will once again be back and will see significant ice time.

“They are the most experienced guys back there and will be carrying the bulk of the load,” Russel said. “We have to play well defensively and in our zone particularly. We can’t give up second chance shots.”

In net, Archino has been a very busy net minder for Big Red. Last year Archino came up huge during Greenwich’s run towards the Division I postseason and this year Russel has the same high expectations.

“Archino has been playing really well for us and I think he will be a key to our success,” Russel said. “However, I think at some point, we have to get some of our other goalies like Nick (Buzzuto) and Dan (Gazaille) some playing time. We want to figure out what we have there because some times putting the whole load on one guy could be a lot.”

For Russel, getting his team to play better in its own zone is a top priority. So far this season, the GHS head coach has notice his team would get to the puck and battle for possession, however it was the opposition that came away with the puck and controlled play.

“I don’t care what happens, but we do that we won’t win a lot of games,” Russel said. “Someone else is forced to come and help battle for possession but good team will win the possession and then find the open player. Playing good position in your zone and making sure players are in their shooting lanes with their sticks on the ice is a key. It’s really basic, but you have to try and get to the puck first and win the battle for the puck.”

Offensively, Big Red will be looking be a lot more patient with the puck.

“When you’re behind, you seem to think you need to hurry up, but some time you need to be patient and as you move out together, we need to have guys accelerating when they come down through the neutral ice,” Russel said. “It gives up a better opportunity to get a guy at full speed at the right time. We need to pass harder, we have to have flatter passes and move through the lanes quicker so we could hit somebody moving and get a shot on goal.”

Another improvement that Russel has been working on with Big Red is its ability to control the neutral ice.

“Even when we come up with a reasonable fore-check, it looks like we can’t sustain puck control,” Russel said. “If you can’t sustain it, the best thing to do is relinquish it, come back and try to be really strong in the neutral ice and try to force them to go through five guys. Maybe that will slow down the opposition and force a turnover.”

However, a new year brings a new chance for the Cards.

Starting Tuesday night at 8:10 p.m. against Stamford High School, Greenwich will start play in the highly competitive Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference.

“We need to bring the intensity to every game,” Finneran said. “We are getting bits and pieces, but the moments we let down, the other team scores. We need to play three periods of hard hockey to help us win.”

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