GREENWICH — New Canaan boys hockey coach Clark Jones decided to make a couple of changes recently, one of which involved moving senior Justin Wietfeldt from defense to forward.
A look at the results show the strategy has indeed, paid dividends.
After tallying twice in his first game up front in a win against Westhill-Stamford on Monday, Wietfeldt scored two more goals, including the game-winner in a dramatic 3-2 victory over Greenwich on Thursday at Dorothy Hamill Skating Rink.
“He has four goals in two games, since we moved him up to forward,” Jones said of Wietfeldt. “He’s really quick and tenacious on the forecheck and backcheck, so we needed a little bit of that.”
The significant, late-season win upped the Rams’ record to 13-2-2 overall and 8-1 in the FCIAC. The Cardinals are 11-6-1 overall and also have an 8-1 mark in FCIAC play. Darien also has one FCIAC loss, so it’s crowded at the top with the regular season winding down and the conference tournament approaching. Greenwich went into the game ranked No. 4 in the GameTimeCT.com weekly boys hockey poll, New Canaan was ranked fifth.
“I don’t know how they are going to do it (seeding for the FCIAC Tournamen),” Jones said. “We beat Greenwich, Darien beat us and Greenwich beat Darien. But we still have several games left, so we have to take it game-by-game.”
Freshman Shane Mettler, who shifted from his role as a forward to defenseman recently, had a goal and two assists for the Rams. New Canaan, which also posted a 3-2 win against Greenwich on Dec. 16, received 29 saves from freshman goalie Beau Johnson.
The Cardinals, who hadn’t lost a conference game in nearly two months, got 24 saves from sophomore goalie Charlie Zolin and one goal apiece from junior defenseman Ben Bates and senior defenseman Ryan Columbo. Greenwich started its season 1-4, but is 10-2-1 in its last 13 games.
“The effort was there, the kids were playing well, they were playing hard, we just didn’t have much puck luck tonight,” GHS coach Chris Rurak said. “I would rather it happen now, then later in the season. We had a ton of chances.”
The game-winning goal occurred with 4:01 remaining in the third period and New Canaan on a power-play, following a Cardinals cross checking penalty — a play in which Rams senior defenseman Bennet Ong left the game after hitting the boards.
With the Rams applying pressure in the Cardinals’ zone, Wietfeldt scored from close in, making it 3-2. Sophomore Nicholas Megdanis and Mettler each assisted on the go-ahead goal.
“On that play, Nick had it around the net and he kind of fumbled it and threw it in front and I was falling down, so I swung at the puck and it went in right over his pad,” Wietfeldt said.
Greenwich tied the score at 2-2 when Columbo beat Johnson to his stick side with a shot from the slot with 1:34 remaining in the second period.
That is a really hard working team out there,” Columbo said. “We came out, tried our best, dumped the puck in and ran our systems. The outcome wasn’t what we wanted it to be, but I had so much fun out there with my guys. It was a great 11-game win streak for us and sometimes it has to end. This isn’t the end of the world and we are looking forward to the next game and states and FCIACs.”
New Canaan scored the game’s first goal with 10:17 left in the opening period. Receiving a pass from senior defenseman Luc Lampert, Mettler snapped a shot from the left wing that zipped past sophomore goalie Charlie Zolin inside the right post, giving the Rams a 1-0 lead.
Greenwich knotted the score 59 seconds later. Bates controlled the puck off a back pass from sophomore forward Ivan Kovalev and from just below the blue line and took a slap shot that beat Johnson to his stock side, making it 1-1 with 9:28 to go in the first period. The Rams regained the lead at the 10:23 mark of the second period on Wietfeldt’s first of two tallies.
Mettler sent a pass up the ice to a wide open Wietfeldt, who skated in and tallied from the right wing, putting the Rams ahead, 2-1 with 9:10 left in the second period.
“This win was much-needed for us, because we had a tough loss against Darien (a 10-2 defeat) over the weekend,” Wietfeldt said. “This was a great way for us to bounce back going into the postseason.”
Said Rurak: “The mental lapses we’ve been working on all year hurt us. Giving up the breakaway, letting two guys behind our D was a mistake. But we had our chances and we didn’t capitalize, or get the bounces.”
Both goalies were stellar throughout, with Johnson turning away shots in key moments and Zolin doing the same. Zolin registered 25 saves for the Cardinals. Greenwich registered 16 first-period shots, with Wesley Zolin, Kovalev and Liam Matthews pacing the play. Wietfeldt, Carter Ellis and Griffin Dean helped the Rams create chances throughout.
— Matthew Brown (@mattbpix) February 14, 2020
PLAYERS OF THE GAME
Moving to different positions has been a smooth transition for Wietfeldt and Mettler.
“Shane moved to D and all of a sudden he has five points in two games,” Jones said. “I’ve known Shane for a long time and he’s played both and he looks comfortable in the back end.”
“We’ll use this for preparation, it’s a wake-up call for the kids,” Rurak said. “We would rather it happen now, than later.”
Said Wietfeldt: “Right here, we showed that we are one of the top teams in the FCIAC and we are going to be it rolling. We know we can beat any team we play. We have the momentum, the skill and the talent.”