DANBURY – The best offense is a good defense? For the newly-formed Joel Barlow/Weston/Abbott Tech co-op hockey team, the saying is reversed.
“This year, it’s definitely the best defense is a good offense,” JBWA coach Bob Stearns said at a practice this week.
You can’t blame the fifth year coach of the co-op for having a change of philosophy this year.
JBWA leads the state with 7.8 goals per game as of Jan. 24 and is ranked second in goals scored, with 70. Guilford has scored 78 goals this season, but has played in 12 games. JBWA has played in nine.
No. 1 Ridgefield (5.3) and Hand (5.0) are the only other teams in the state to average five-or-more goals per game.
“I really have not seen anything quite like this,” Stearns said.
Last season, prior to the addition of Weston and Abbott Tech student-athletes, Joel Barlow scored 48 goals total (2.4 goals a game) and the season before they scored 60 goals (3 goals a game).
Where did the scoring surge come from?
The answer is easy: Weston.
When Weston High School joined Barlow in a co-op alongside Abbott Tech before the school year, senior forward Travis Nussbaum joined the program. The senior played for the Southern Stars and the Jr. Rangers last year as Weston did not have a team.
A couple of months later, when Weston sophomore Daniel McKiernan found out his junior team wasn’t going to be playing in the winter — allowing him to compete in CIAC — he also decided to join.
The two, along with returning forward Andrew Powell, have not only kickstarted the offense, but have formed the Bird of Prey, who have feasted on opposing goalies all season.
“I have benefited with Daniel and he’s magnificent,” Stearns said. “He, Travis and Andrew Powell, the three of them have a lot of speed, a lot of hockey knowledge and some very good shooting abilities.”
McKiernan leads the team with 23 goals, Nussbaum is second with 17 and Powell is third with 14.
McKiernan also leads the team with 38 points (goals and assists), Powell is second with 29 and Nussbaum is third with 28.
Together the three account for 77 percent of the team’s goals, which is something that has surprised them… but only a little bit.
“Not going to lie, I had a feeling,” Nussbaum said. “I knew Powell was already here. I knew he was their big goal scorer and I knew where me and D-Mac came from, like I knew the team’s we’ve been playing on.
“I had a feeling we would be able to score a good amount. I wasn’t expecting it to be this much. But I thought we would be able to have some scoring come out of that.”
Powell is a Barlow student and has played for the program for three years.
Over the past two seasons, Powell, a two-time CHSCA All-State selection, has been the player opposing defenses have focused on stopping.
Now, he is reaping the benefits of defenses focusing on McKiernan, his linemate.
“I used to be the player that would take it up the ice and be looking behind me for outlets, and now I’m kind of more of the trail back, be Dan’s support if he does lose the puck or needs an outlet,” Powell said. “It’s changed my role in a sense, but I think we have been able to mesh off each other pretty well.”
The co-op is having fun. Through the nine games JBWA is 6-3 and is a win away from matching Barlow’s seven victories over the last two seasons.
“It’s always a good environment, especially when we’re all scoring that much,” McKiernan said. “In between periods, you can see us skating off the ice, jamming out to the music, just having a good time. That’s what hockey is, it’s supposed to be fun.”
Even before they together for the season, the Barlow players learned what McKiernan and Nussbaum would bring to the team.
After playing in their fall league, the Barlow players held one last practice and invited their future teammates to participate in a player’s scrimmage.
The group was split in two, with McKiernan on Powell’s team and Nussbaum on the other. Powell and McKiernan quickly teamed up for an impressive score off the crossbar.
“The first play, me and D-Mac started out there together and I dropped a pass back to him and he took it and went bar down and I was like ‘Oh God here we go. Let’s go.’ I was hyped,” Powell said.
The three rarely play on the same line. On the power play, McKiernan and Nussbaum will play forward, while Powell runs point. But when they do play together, it has gone well.
“We have so much fun out there,” Nussbaum said. “When the three of us are out there together, it’s kind of like we can score at will. We can go through any team, I think, in the state and we can score. If we’re out there, us three together.”
Despite all the scoring, the Falcons have allowed 4.9 goals a game. But the team still feels that because of its prolific scoring, it can make a run in the Division III tournament.
“I think the story is: Yeah, we are going to score a lot,” Stearns said. “Let’s see who can try and stop us.”
|Team||Total Goals||Goals per game|
|Lyman Hall co-op||48||4.8|
|Team||Total Goals||Goals per game|