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Trent and Emery Lead Offense, Ittleson Gets Another Shutout in Conard Hockey’s 17th Win

Conard players celebrate their 17th win of the season after a 6-0 shutout of Rocky Hill. Conard vs. Rocky Hill boys hockey. Feb. 24, 2024. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

Conard hosted Rocky Hill at Veterans Memorial Rink in West Hartford on Feb. 24, ending the regular season with 17 wins.

Sports reporting is sponsored by Keating Agency Insurance

Conard’s Aiden Emery and Nolan Trent (6) react after Dylan Smith’s opening goal. Conard vs. Rocky Hill boys hockey. Feb. 24, 2024. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

By Paul Palmer

Nolan Trent had a hand in all six of Conard’s goals (2G-4A), Aiden Emery scored twice, and Blake Ittleson turned aside 25 shots as the Red Wolves shut out Rocky Hill on Saturday 6-0 in the regular final for the boys hockey team.

The win improves Conard to 17-2-1 – and only four other teams in Connecticut have that many wins. Only Suffield has as many in DIII as Conard does, yet the Red Wolves are currently ranked fourth in the division. Interestingly E.O. Smith, a team Conard beat twice this  season, came into Saturday with two more points but a lower winning percentage than the Red Wolves. Points are awarded partially on strength of schedule and on other factors. It sets up what will surely be an interesting and entertaining  State Hockey Tournament that begins on March 4, following conference championship play.

Conard players celebrate in front of the student section after the teams 5th goal against Rocky Hill. Conard vs. Rocky Hill boys hockey. Feb. 24, 2024. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

Saturday’s win puts Conard in a strong position heading into the post-season and keeps their second-longest winning streak of the season going. The Red Wolves opened the season at 10-0 before losing to Hall and New Milford and tying Watertown over a four-game stretch. The last six wins have seen Conard outscore opponents 39-6 and post two shutouts.

The team has already set a new school mark for best record at 17-2-1, and most shutouts with eight. Ittleson has secured shutouts in five of his 13 starts on the season and is among the top two in the state in that category. “I think we have made great strides and are going in the right direction,” said head coach Jason Olson. “We are where we need to be going into the playoffs.”

Against Rocky Hill, the pattern was the same as it has been in many of the Conard wins. They get an early lead, play tight defense, and never take their foot off the gas. The hosts had the better of possession and offensive zone time early in the first against the Terriers, but really didn’t have any dangerous chances on goal. At the other end, Ittleson did not face his first shot on goal until exactly halfway through the opening 15:00.

Blake Ittleson steers the puck into the corner during his shutout against Rocky Hill. Conard vs. Rocky Hill boys hockey. Feb. 24, 2024. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

Conard’s opening goal came on an innocent enough looking play when sophomore defenseman Dylan Smith sent a wrist shot in from the point. It went through traffic and got past goalie Kyle Kundrath. The goal came after more sustained zone pressure by Conard, and it was Trent picking up his first assist of the game on the play. With 2:00 to play in the first, Conard had a bad turnover in its own defensive zone leading to two good scoring chances for Rocky Hill, but Ittleson was there both times to preserve the 1-0 lead after one.

The second period was all Conard as they scored three times – the first of which came before many people were back in their seats after intermission. The Red Wolves won the opening faceoff and sent the puck into the Terriers’ end of the ice. Trent got control and fed Emery who beat Kundrath high to the glove side just :37 in to double the lead.

“We came out strong,” said Trent. “We had more room, time, and space to work.” That time and space nearly resulted in a second goal less than a minute later when a Conard shot from a scrum in front of the Rocky Hill net whistled wide.

Julian Schneider of Conard heads into the offensive zone. Conard vs. Rocky Hill boys hockey. Feb. 24, 2024. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

Once again Rocky Hill responded, but the Conard defense and Ittleson was up to the task. Just over four minutes into the period, Trent would pick up the first of his goals on the afternoon. Rocky Hill failed to connect on a pass in the offensive zone and the puck slid down the ice. Trent turned on the speed, caught up to the puck at a sharp angle to the right of the goal, and let go the shot that squeezed through Kundrath’s pads. “To have four or five fast puck moving defensemen I think separates us from some other teams,” said Olson.

That “D” corps battled again two minutes later when the Terriers had some good looks at goal but could not score. Ittleson made one stop off the crest of his sweater but could not cover the rebound. A second chance shot was snared by his glove and the defense made sure there were no more chances.

Aiden Emery wins the offensive zone faceoff against Rocky Hill’s Peyton Hasler. Conard vs. Rocky Hill boys hockey. Feb. 24, 2024. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

Emery would get the game’s next goal with 6:34 to play in the middle period. Once again it was Trent feeding him and Emery let go a snapshot that beat Kundrath and ended his day in net. “They are our strength,” said the senior Emery of the defensive group at Conard that was pitching a shutout at one end and scoring goals and handing out assists at the other. “They played really well today and up front we really trust them.”

Conard was able to build a 4-0 lead after two thanks in part to hard work. In the faceoff circle they won 23 of 36 draws.

As the final 15 minutes began, Rocky Hill put on some good pressure. Ittleson made a pad save on a blue line slapper from defenseman Olaf Talar and just over a minute later, Conard’s backchecking was broke up a Rocky Hill 2-on-1 opportunity. The Terriers went on the powerplay at 4:18 and their best chance to score came once more from Talar at the point, but once again, Ittleson calmly flashed out the left pad and pushed the shot out of danger into the corner where the puck could be cleared away.

Aiden Emery’s second goal of the game came on this third period shot. Conard vs. Rocky Hill boys hockey. Feb. 24, 2024. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

With six minutes to go Trent would pick up his second of the game as he came off the bench for a shift. Rocky Hill was pressing on the attack, and no one saw Trent hop over the boards, except his teammate William Moynihan. He let go of a pass that Trent picked up at the blue line and he skated in alone  for the goal. “I saw them with the puck and I just slipped behind their defender,” Trent said of the play.

Playing with a five-goal lead with under five minutes to go, all that was left for Conard was getting the shutout – and they made that way more difficult than it had to be. Liam Alver took a high sticking penalty at 10:51 and teammate Rune Moyer was whistled for a trip at 11:30 and suddenly, Rocky Hill had a 5-on-3 advantage for 1:22. They also decided to pull the goalie to make it 6-on-3 to get better chances.

While they did control the puck, the Terriers could not find a way to get through the Conard defense and with 10 seconds to go in Moyer’s penalty, Ittleson made a save, and Conard cleared the puck. Once again it was Trent getting there and he found Henry Tamaccio in front of the unguarded cage for the empty-netter sixth goal.

Aiden Emery (facing camera), Nolan Trent (6) and Dylan Smith (15) celebrate a Conard goal. Conard vs. Rocky Hill boys hockey. Feb. 24, 2024. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

“It feels good,” said Emery of the win. Conard’s leading goal scorer is also feeling good about where the team is now. “We’ve found our groove after that bump in the road and it is  the right time to do it,” Emery said after the win. He was also quick to credit the hard work of all his teammates at both ends of the ice.

His coach knows that Emery is a difference maker and will play a key role on offense in the post-season. “He is a game changer,” Olson said of the senior captain. “Teams have to plan for him and he still finds a way to produce. He just makes everyone around him better.”

Conard returns to the ice at Veterans Memorial Ice Rink on Wednesday night when they will host a semifinal matchup in the two-round CCC Conference Hockey Tournament.

Henry Tamaccio follows through on his shot in the first period. Conard vs. Rocky Hill boys hockey. Feb. 24, 2024. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

Julian Schneider reacts after his shot went wide. Conard vs. Rocky Hill boys hockey. Feb. 24, 2024. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

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