West Haven/SHA coach Erin Blake affectionately refers to Taylor Nowak, Megan Froehlich and Jianna Cohrs as her “Conehead Line,” a nod to the 1980 US men’s hockey team and the movie “Miracle.”
For opposing defense, it’s suffice to say that you can’t stop the Coneheads, you can only hope to contain them.
Nowak and Froehlich, two seniors, and Cohrs, a junior, are key cogs in the West Haven/SHA machine, which has followed an impressive 19-4 campaign last winter with a 9-1 start this season.
“They mesh,” Blake said of her top line. “That’s the one word I always use to describe them. They find each other, they know where each other is, they work hard and they’re not selfish. They are looking to get each other the points. It’s always teamwork with them.”
“We’ve played together for the past three or four years, so we just know where each other are on the ice,” Nowak said. “Having been playing with them for a long time really helps.”
The trio, and West Haven/SHA as a team, delivered its best performance of the season in the team’s only loss, a 6-5 defeat at the hands of defending state champion New Canaan Monday at the Darien Ice House.
The Conehead line was on the ice for all five of its team’s goals, with Froehlich getting a goal and three assists and Nowak and Cohrs each having one goal and one assist. The other two goals were scored by senior defender Brooke McNabola, and were set up by Nowak and Froehlich.
West Haven/SHA twice battled back from two-goal deficits to tie the score, first at 2-2 and then at 5-5 in the third period, before the Rams took the game.
“Win or lose, this is one of the better games we’ve played all season from start to finish,” Blake said. “We really wanted it, they played their hearts out and they left it all out there. (New Canaan coach) Rich (Bulan)’s teams are always great and we gave them a run for their money.”
Nowak reached a career milestone in the game when she scored her 100th goal, giving her 133 points in the past four years.
“She’s just unbelievable,” Blake said of Nowak. “She’s a remarkable kid. She’s top 10 in her class, she reached 100 career points last year and 100 career goals this year, and she’s pretty close to beating the all-time record for boys (at West Haven). She’s a leader on and off the ice, she works hard, and she skates with finesse.
“She makes it look easy and we can always rely on her to put the puck in the net.”
“I was at 99 and in my last game, I tried my hardest to get the 100th goal and I couldn’t do it,” Nowak said. “I think I jinxed myself thinking about it a little too much, so I came into the game staying clear-headed and looking for the win.”
West Haven/SHA, a state semifinalist and the SCC South runner-up last year, is a strong contender in the conference and state this season. It will look to bounce back from its first loss with a game against Guilford on Friday as part of the Connecticut Ice weekend at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, and will face two more FCIAC powers — Darien and Greenwich — before the postseason.
West Haven/SHA, which is 5-0 in the SCC, will square off with Amity/North Haven/Cheshire, which is 4-0 in the SCC, at Astorino Rink in Hamden on Feb. 8, and home at Bennett Rink on Feb. 18. Those two games will go a long way towards determining the league’s top seed.
In the meantime, West Haven/SHA and its Coneheads are playing with confidence and pride after taking New Canaan to the limit.
“New Canaan is a great team and we were in there with them the whole game,” Nowak said. “We’ll be really pumped to play them again in states.”
BULAN HITS 500
In 19 years as the coach of the New Canaan girls ice hockey team, Rich Bulan has rolled a pair of 7s, as in seven FCIAC titles and seven state championships.
On Monday, he added another number to the mix: 500.
The Rams gave their head coach his 500th career coaching victory with a wild 6-5 to win over the West Haven/SHA co-op at the Darien Ice Rink. The game was a roller coaster ride, with sophomore Kaleigh Harden eventually scoring the game-winning goal with 6:24 remaining.
For Bulan, his time in New Canaan has been heaven-sent.
“I’ve been fortunate to do 200, 300, 400 and now 500 in New Canaan,” Bulan said. “Honestly, I’d have it no other way. This has been nothing but great — great kids, great parents, great support throughout the school and the community. This is like a dream come true and it’s added years to my coaching life.”
Bulan’s mark includes a 365-74-5 record in New Canaan — a winning percentage of .831 — and a 135-112-5 record while leading the Westhill boys hockey team. The Rams were 22-1-2 last year, hitting a championship double by winning the FCIAC and state tournaments, and are off to a 9-3-1 start this year.
“He’s such an amazing coach,” Harden said after Monday’s win. “It’s so great that we get to be here for his 500th win, and on senior night.”
“I couldn’t be happier doing it with this group,” Bulan said. “It’s a special group of kids. I’m very blessed to be here; it’s just a great place to be.”
The East Catholic/Glastonbury/South Windsor co-op, also known as ETB, was 2-1 early in the season when it traveled north to Massachusetts to take on Notre Dame Academy-Worcester at the Rockland Ice Rink.
ETB won that game, 3-2, and while that victory does not factor in the state rankings, it had a much more important impact on the team.
“Our win up at Notre Dame Academy, a perennial MIAA contender, converted us into a room full of believers,” ETB coach Frank Usseglio said. “Play good defense, keep the puck out of our net, and we can play with anyone.”
ETB, which stands for Eagles/Tomahawks/Bobcats, the mascots of the three schools in the co-op, currently stands at 6-3-1 overall, including a 4-3-1 record in official state games. It is eighth in the race for one of 12 spots in the state tournament and, if its play of late is any indication, is certainly trending upwards.
Behind 20 saves from senior goalie Caitlyn Caldon and a stellar defensive effort overall, ETB shut out defending state champion New Canaan, 2-0, at the Newington Ice Arena on Sunday. Mary McKiernan scored a first-period goal with assists from Rebecca Chernovetz and Meghan Croyle, and Croyle added a power play goal in the second for all of the scoring.
It was a huge victory against a top contender, which had shut out ETB 4-0 and 5-0 during the past two years.
“Needless to say, any time you can come away with a win against a team like New Canaan, it’s a very good win,” Usseglio said. “Coming into the game, we believed that, though it would certainly not be easy, we could get the job done.”
Caldon (.948 save percentage) played a leading role, and the senior leads a trio of strong goalies for ETB.
Seniors Julia Swanson, an All-State player and Assumption College commit, and Erica Ferri also played shut down defense against the Rams.
“Simply put, the key was we kept them off the scoreboard,” Usseglio said. “We know if they don’t score, they can’t win. Caitlyn Caldon played very well, and our defensive corps also did a good job keeping New Canaan to the outside, which makes the goaltender’s job more manageable.”
Usseglio said the team also had impact performances up front from senior captain Sammy Ostrowski, along with the sophomores Croyle and McKiernan.
ETB still has some big games ahead in the pursuit of CCC and state berths. It hosts Fairfield, a team also in the playoff hunt, on Friday at 7:30 p.m., with games against West Haven/SHA, the Suffield co-op, Darien, Simsbury and Greenwich still on the slate.
ETB will also get a chance to avenge one of its losses with a home game against the Avon co-op on Feb. 21. Avon won the first meeting, 3-2, by scoring twice in the final two minutes. Usseglio said that was a loss which showed how much ETB still needs to grow.
“Our goal is to make the CCC conference tournament and the state tournament and to be playing our best of the season when we get there,” Usseglio said. “The challenge is that there simply aren’t any nights off on our schedule. My hope is that we use this schedule to continue to strengthen our team’s mettle. We want to make sure we are a tough draw for whoever gets us in the state tournament.”