Both teams showcased strong defense in the battle of crosstown West Hartford rivals Saturday at Veterans Memorial Ice Rink.
By Ronni Newton
The Conard and Hall boys hockey teams met for the second time this season Saturday, and with the rink packed with energetic student sections all were treated to a close battle until the final period, ending in a 4-1 victory for the Chieftains.
“I think we started off a little slow, a little tentative,” Conard coach Jason Olson said. “But they figured it out between the first and second period and we were a different team for two and three and they competed all the way to the end. It was a good win. Hall really competed today and we had to step up and we did.”
Conard scored first, playing one man down with 12:24 left in the first period when Gavin McGowan (No. 24), unassisted, got one by Hall goalie Aeden Mallett.
With 2:49 left in the period, Ben Gerken eluded Conard goalie Graydon Selstad on an assist from teammate Jared Stevens, and the game was tied at the break.
“I think the first period they were all over us,” Olson said. “Our goalie was phenomenal for us in the first period. … He bailed us out.”
Nothing else managed to get by Selstad, who logged 19 saves.
While three shots got by Mallett – Conard’s last point was an open-net goal – he saved 33 of 36, Hall coach Colin O’Connor said.
“Aeden in net, he’s stepped up constantly,” O’Connor said. “CJ Cohen played one of his best games of the season tonight,” O’Connor said of his defenseman. “I thought it was a good team effort. All of our forwards really did a good job up there trying to push the pace.”
Olson said his team was really rolling by the third period, realizing they were 15 minutes away from a big win.
He praised the efforts Saturday Aiden Emery, returning to the Conard line-up after being injured, who scored twice. “He looks great,” Olson said.
The Red C, Conard’s student cheering section, exploded when Harrison Sweeney saw his teammate open, and flipped the puck from the corner to Emery with 5:59 left in the second. Emery also scored Conard’s third goal, catching Hall’s defense off guard with a powerful shot with 6:19 left to play.
The final goal, with 7.2 seconds left in the game, was knocked into the empty net on a breakaway by Conard freshman Brady Narus.
McGowan, a defenseman, also had an impressive outing, scoring Conard’s first goal. “He’s been a rock for us back there. He doesn’t get enough credit,” Olson said.
“I thought that we were really evenly matched,” O’Connor said. He said his team seemed to be picking up momentum starting off the third, “and then we started taking penalties. In hockey, penalties will kill momentum very quickly.”
In the first meeting of the teams, a 5-0 Conard win, Hall was playing on tired legs in their third game in four days, O’Connor said. The previous two games had both gone into OT.
“We’re an inexperienced team and we are pushing heavily in those games and we wore down. Today we were ready to go,” he said, and they were hoping to surprise Conard and were faster than expected to start. The penalties pushed their legs again.
Hall is in its first season on its own, after the co-op with Southington ended last winter. While 13 players returned from last year, only six had varsity experience. One of the team captains was out on Saturday.
Conard (8-8-2) plays Masuk on Monday back at Veterans, followed by E.O. Smith. They’re looking past that to conference finals and then the CIAC Division III State Tournament.
Hall (6-10-0) has four more games left in the regular season (two against the new Southington Co-op, Westhill-Stamford, and Enfield Co-op). Two wins would cement their participation in the Division III tournament, and O’Connor is hopeful about post-season opportunities.
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