The Red Wolves are on a 12-game win streak after beating the crosstown West Hartford rival Titans.
By Paul Palmer
Nolan Trent scored twice and added an assist as the Conard Red Wolves completed the season-sweep of Hall with a 5-2 boys hockey win on Saturday.
Conard won the first matchup back on Dec. 26 by a score of 7-4. The Red Wolves have not lost since an opening game defeat by Newington, who they will play on Wednesday. “When we played that first game, we hadn’t had a scrimmage,” head coach Jason Olson said of the upcoming rematch. “We’ve come a long way and are expecting a good game.”
Saturday’s matinee between the Titans and Red Wolves was played before a nearly full house at Veterans Rink. The Titans dominated the opening shift but could not capitalize. Conard got an early chance when Trent burst down the right wing, cut into the center of the ice and got a shot off that Hall goalie Aeden Mallett was able to stop and cover. Moments later Mallett – who had some brilliant saves on a day when he was under almost constant pressure – stretched his leg out and blocked Jack Eisenberg’s attempted wrap around. “He gave everything he had,” said Hall coach Colin O’Connor of his senior goalie. “He wanted that game more than anyone on the ice.”
Hall would take advantage of a power play in the first period to score the game’s opening goal. With Conard playing with four skaters after a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty, the Titans got good pressure on the Conard net. Owen Miller knocked the puck past goalie Evan Ittleson in the first shot on goal for the Titans. “We were excited to get that first goal,” said O’Connor. “Our power play has been one of our stronger things.”
They would hold that lead for about 7:30 until the Red Wolves pressure paid off. Eisenberg threw the puck out of the corner, into the middle of the ice where Jack Hodgson scored his second goal of the season to tie things up. Conard would finish the period with the man advantage but could not take the lead. The Titans were outshot 12-1 after the opening 15 minutes.
Less than two minutes into the middle period, Conard went back on the power play after Hall took a tripping penalty in its own zone. It didn’t take long – just 53 seconds – for the Red Wolves to take advantage. Gavin McGowan found Aiden Emery in the slot and he fired a rising wrister through traffic over Mallett’s glove.
McGowan’s pass was a thing of beauty as he picked up the puck along the boards, saw Emery alone and delivered the perfect pass. For Emery, it was his 17th goal of the season.
Conard went back on the power play less than a minute later, but the Titans managed to kill it off. Hall picked up the physical part of their game delivering some big hits in the second, something that surprised Conard. “We didn’t expect all the physicality, but we adjusted,” said Trent.
Conard would score its third straight goal of the game when Trent intercepted a pass in the Hall zone and found teammate Torin McGoldrick. The freshman’s shot beat Mallett to the glove side for his 11th on the season, giving Conard a 3-1 lead at 8:14 of the second.
Hall would fight back and apply some of their best pressure of the game. Hudson Hollander was stopped by Ittleson on a rebound and then it was Hollander finding Owen Campbell in the slot. He managed to get off a shot that Ittleson blocked over the bar with his shoulder.
The junior goalie – though not as busy as Mallett – had to make one more big save to keep the two-goal lead. This time it was Miller tipping a pass from Hollander that Ittleson took in the midsection and covered the puck for the faceoff. For the period it was Conard with the 9-3 shot advantage, and a 21-4 advantage over two. If not for Mallett’s strong play, the Hall deficit could have been much bigger.
Olson said it took his team a little time to get its game together, and the second was a better period for them. “We settled in,” he said. “It’s Hall and Conard, a big crowd, but we had a week to prepare. We’ve taken a different approach to the games. I tell them they know what to do, so just enjoy it. It allows them to play their game without worrying about making mistakes.”
Hall would start the third period a man down as Hollander was whistled for a crosscheck with 4 seconds left in the second period. Mallett had a big stick save on Trent from right in front of the goal. The junior forward would get his revenge just 1:26 into the period. “
I cut into the middle trying to get deep, it hit off a Hall player and went in,” is how Trent described his first of the game. The goal put the Titans in a three-goal hole with just under 13:30 to play. “You never want to give a team 10 minutes between periods to rest and draw up a power play,” said Hall’s coach O’Connor. “They found the opportunity. I think if we killed that off, that would have changed the game.”
With just 5:30 to play, Hall managed to get one back on a great individual effort from Declan Stone. He picked up the puck in the Conard zone, deeked around two Red Wolves players before beating Ittleson to cut the lead to 4-2. That was as close as the Titans would get as Trent would pick up his second goal of the game – an empty netter – with 30.3 to play to close out the score at 5-2. Hall would be outshot 26-17 on the day.
“Our depth is a big advantage,” Olson said after the game. “We are able to consistently roll out three lines and sometimes a fourth. Our core group of defensemen dominate every time they are on the ice.”
The Titans are now 7-3 on the season with two of those losses coming to Conard. The loss Saturday snapped a four-game win streak. “I think it will sting a little today,” O’Connor said of the loss. “My biggest thing is to learn from it and move past it.” The coach said he sees his team heading in the right direction and having a good chance of making a run in the post-season.
One of the unique things about a Conard-Hall matchup, in any sport, is that most of the players are friends with each other. Having played youth sports as teammates and opponents several posed for pictures together after the game and the handshake line. “During the split season we all play together,” said Trent. “But on a day like today, you have to take it seriously.”
Conard should maintain its No. 1 ranking in Division III of the CIAC poll. The Red Wolves hold a 14-point lead over Newington – the team that beat them in last year’s state final. Hall sits safely in seventh place after the loss.
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