Building depth is one step on the way for a co-op boys hockey team. Learning how to win together, that’s another.
Learning to check your sharpened skates on a practice day rather than a game day? It appears McMahon/Norwalk found that one out the hard way on Saturday when they discovered problems with their skate blades in warmup.
“I had seven kids on the ice and 11 kids on the bench trying to figure it out,” coach Scott Raymond said, able to smile about it now, especially after his team won to improve to 7-1-1.
They scrambled. Parents raced home to Norwalk to find whatever skates they could and hustle them back to the Winter Garden in Ridgefield, where the team was facing Wilton. Players tried out different boots for fit.
“A couple of kids were swapping out steel when they weren’t playing,” Raymond said. And Raymond was particularly thankful to Wilton coach Mark Mangino, who let McMahon/Norwalk use the Warriors’ skate-sharpening equipment, something Raymond said doesn’t always happen. “Classy move,” Raymond said.
Amid the chaos, Wilton went up 2-0. McMahon/Norwalk came back to win 7-2.
In 2005-06, the co-op went 13-10-1, made the FCIAC tournament and reached the semifinals of the first Division III tournament. Since then, it had only won seven games in a season once, two years ago, going 7-14.
“I never expected this start,” said Raymond, in his second year as coach.
The schedule gets tougher. The team’s only loss is to FCIAC Division I Ridgefield; the other five Division I FCIAC and the conference’s two Division II teams are still to come, beginning with St. Joseph’s visit to SoNo Ice House on Wednesday night.
Improved depth has let Raymond use three lines and five defensemen. More than in the past, he said, the team is drawing players who also play hockey outside the season.
Senior Max Vitucci is a standout goalie who’s looking to play at the next level. The team graduated only a couple of players, and though it went 2-17-1 last season, six of those losses were by one or two goals.
“We’re winning those games now,” Raymond said. “We’re starting to become a team.”
It can be a tough co-op, he said. Alumni from one school (he played at Norwalk when the teams were separate programs) sometimes aren’t thrilled about mingling with alumni from the others.
“We run into times it gets a bit bumpy, if there was a big basketball game the night before, there’s that attitude,” Raymond said.
But they come together. Players like forwards Jeb Boyrer and Finn Cullen and defenseman Finn Bean (back after sitting out injured last year) have played key roles.
“We’re coaching, we’re teaching them to be winners,” Raymond said, “instead of expecting something else.”
East Catholic trailed 2-0 twice last week. It came back to beat SGWL 8-3 and beat West Haven 5-2.
There is both good and bad in there, Eagles coach Joey Trenholm said. The comebacks are great, but he’d like to see that killer instinct from the start.
The Eagles are 5-5 going into Wednesday night’s game against Glastonbury, a rematch of a Tomahawks win in the second game of the season, one of a handful of losses that Trenholm felt they’ve let get away.
Their only real clinker was a 7-1 loss to Farmington Valley, which at 8-1 looks like one of Division II’s top teams.
“I could go into the locker room and kind of yell and blow up for not showing up,” Trenholm said, “or we could have a real conversation about dealing with adversity, not only in hockey but how you deal with it as you go through life.”
They’ve come back from that with wins in three out of four, the exception being a 2-1 loss to Cheshire and standout Rams goalie Nick Maringola.
“This year, more than in years past, guys are holding each other accountable,” Trenholm said. They’re doing it in practice as well as in games.
A lot of sophomores and juniors are playing, but the seniors in particular remember the 0-20-1 season the Eagles endured two years ago and want to put that behind them.
“The seniors have really stepped up and embraced their role, and figuring out what their role is,” Trenholm said. “For long-term success, everyone has to contribute in his own way.”
There’s experience on defense, and goalie Ethan Utermarck has faced a lot of shots but rarely allowed more than two goals. Forwards Kevin Hartnett and Rowan Masse have chemistry after playing about 30 games together, and Trenholm said they’re still looking for the right complement to round out that top line.
Darien and Greenwich will drive a couple of hours to Rhode Island this weekend to be neighbors again. Saturday at Providence College’s Schneider Arena, the Blue Wave will face Bishop Hendricken (R.I.) at 2 p.m., and Greenwich will meet LaSalle Academy (R.I.) two hours later. On Sunday, they’ll swap opponents at Smithfield (R.I.) Municipal Ice Rink: Greenwich against the Hawks at 3:30, Darien against LaSalle to follow.