The Conard boys hockey team hosted New Milford on Saturday at Veterans Memorial Rink in West Hartford.
Sports reporting is sponsored by Keating Agency
By Paul Palmer
Things started out so well for this season for the Conard boys hockey team, it seemed they might run the table.
After starting the season with 10 straight wins, the Red Wolves have hit a bump in the road. Just 1:41 into Saturday’s matchup with New Milford, they were down 1-0 and chased the game from there, never quite catching it and suffering their second loss of the season 5-4.
Conard has now gone 1-2-1 in its last 4 games. “When you get 10 straight wins you get some confidence and maybe some arrogance,” said head coach Jason Olson. “We’ve hit a point here where we are having to play tough teams, and that’s a good thing.”
The Green Wave was the top seed in last year’s state tournament before bowing out in its first game. This season, they are ranked No. 7 in Division III, and came in Saturday at 8-5, but on a three-game win streak. They scored the opening goal when Roman Quinn threw a long range wrister at the net that alluded Brendan Murphy in goal.
Torin McGoldrick nearly tied things for Conard just under 2 minutes later, but his wrister was handled by goalie Sean Hoyt. Most of the period saw Conard fail to put together any sustained attack and fail to control things with their usual solid passing.
Senior Aiden Emery tied things up with a strong individual effort with just over 7 minutes to play in the first. With Conard down a man, Emery used his speed to pickup a loose puck and race into the attacking zone, beating Hoyt. “We don’t go if he doesn’t go,” Olson said of Emery.
It didn’t take long for New Milford to answer as Nick Solomon banged in a rebound of Bryce Schopfer’s shot that was stopped by Murphy. Each side continued to pick up minor penalties, eliminating the chance for either side to develop any flow in the first.
The first minute of the second period showed that both sides were going to step up their game. Just :10 in, Jack Eisenberg had a chance from right in from that Hoyt stopped, and 40 seconds later John King clanked one off the left post of Murphy. One minute later, the Green Wave’s Graham Mitchell took a lead pass from William Neeb, raced forward, and scored on a high wrist shot for a 3-1 lead.
“We started a little slow,” Olson said. “When you fall behind you start not making the plays you should.” New Milford had the Conard net under siege for a part of the second but Murphy was making saves with his glove, blocker, and pads to give his team a chance to stage a comeback.
Once again sloppy play set in and both sides began to take penalties – including setting up both 4-on-3 and 4-on-4 situations. Playing at 4-on-4, New Milford’s Solomon picked up the puck and split the Conard defense. Murphy made the original pad saves, but Quinn was there to bang in the rebound and Conard found itself down 4-1 and looking like they were out of things.
Once again it was Emery who would come to the rescue and restore some hope for the Red Wolves. This time he and Dylan Smith worked a nice pass play and Emery made no mistake with his shot with 2:50 to play. The Red Wolves were playing with more energy and hustle throughout the later part of the second, but it was a bit of luck that helped them score the next goal. With the puck in the New Milford zone, senior Nick Paolitto let go a lower wrister from just inside the blue line. It managed to deflect off a defender caught up in a pack in front of Hoyt’s goal and with just :25 to play it was just a one-goal game at 4-3.
Both teams played some of their best hockey in the third, but good defense and more penalties kept the score knotted until there was just 6:54 to go. McGoldrick slid the puck back to the blue line where Tyler West controlled it, took one stride, and scored to tie things at 4-4 and set off a wild celebration for Conard.
But that celebration – and the tie – was short lived. Thirty-four seconds to be exact. Trevor Sweet’s shot from the right shot was blockered away by Murphy, but fell right to the unmarked Zach Thompson who made no mistake and put the puck in the net for the 5-4 lead.
Conard began pressing the offense and with just under 3 minutes to go had a golden chance to tie things, but with a pile in the crease and Hoyt’s sightline blocked, a Conard shot went harmlessly high over the goal and into the glass.
With just 1:03 to play and Conard controlling the puck in its offensive zone, Nolan Trent was called for tripping, putting New Milford on the man advantage. Olson pulled his goalie Murphy with :50 to play to even the sides and Conard did have the better of zone time, but New Milford was content to simply dump the puck the length of the ice and take the icing faceoffs in their own end to run out the clock and take the 5-4 win.
“We haven’t had to chase the lead much this year and we just did not have a good start,” said Olson after the game that saw his team record go to 11-2-1.
Conard has been playing without second line center Brady Narus who is out with a hand injury, but Olson does not make any excuses and is not panicked by the recent stretch of play by his team. “We can fix it. I don’t like to lose but I don’t think it hurts to lose to the kind of team you will face if you wanted to go places,” Olson said. “We will just realign our focus and be ready.”
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