Back on opening night, after his Simsbury team had defeated defending state champion New Canaan 3-2, coach Paul Melanson was clear that he had faith in both of his goalies, who had split time in that game.
“They’re two great goalies and I trust both of them,” Melanson said. “They’re competing with each other but also supporting each other to be better.”
What could be a difficult situation for some teams has developed into a strength for the state’s first-place team.
Junior Tori LaCroix and sophomore Kaitlyn O’Brien have excelled for No. 1 Simsbury, helping the Trojans post six shutouts while allowing just 22 goals in 18 games. Simsbury (15-1-2) has allowed more than two goals just twice – first in a 3-1 loss to Darien and then in a 7-4 win over West Haven/SHA – and the Trojans’ defense appears to be among the strongest in the state with the postseason approaching.
The dynamic between the two goalies has helped.
“It has been one of mutual respect,” Melanson said. “And they are competing with each other in a positive way where each pushes themselves to improve each practice.”
This isn’t a situation with one goalie playing against the top powers and the other mopping up against the rest.
Most recently, LaCroix made 25 saves in a 1-0 shutout against No. 3 Greenwich on Feb. 11, and 21 saves in a scoreless tie with New Canaan on Monday.
The defense in front of the goalies has played a large role in their success, with senior Mackenzie Lynch starring alongside a sophomore corps of Molly Walsh, Ashleigh Dumont, Anna Kahl, Piper Golden-Jarrell and Lucy Humphreys.
Melanson hasn’t decided who will start against different opponents for the postseason, but it’s clear Simsbury is in good hands in either case.
“It is a comfort knowing that if one isn’t feeling well or having an off night, the other can step right in,” Melanson said.
The New Canaan vs. Darien ice hockey rivalry has provided many memorable moments over the years. Next winter, they may be taking a road trip together.
According to New Canaan coach Rich Bulan, the Rams and Blue Wave are hoping to set up a weekend in Rhode Island with games against La Salle Academy and Barrington. The two teams rank at the top of Rhode Island’s Div. I standings, La Salle (16-5 overall, 14-0 RI) at No. 1, and Barrington (14-3-1, 11-3) at No. 2.
Bulan said Darien coach Jamie Tropsa came up with the idea and the teams will try to find a suitable weekend for the games.
“We’re trying to work something out – Jamie had a great suggestion and we all got on board — us and Darien going up there next year for a weekend,” Bulan said. “Darien owes Barrington a game and I owe La Salle a game, so both teams could go there together on a Friday and play both teams on Friday and Saturday.”
Darien hosted Barrington on Jan. 26 and the teams played to a 3-3 tie, with Barrington rallying from a three-goal deficit. New Canaan shut out La Salle, 2-0, on Saturday at the Darien Ice House.
With many girls ice hockey teams setting up more out-of-state games, a possible weekend series in Rhode Island could be another great showcase.
“We’ve all gotten to the point, not only in boys hockey but with the girls too — it’s so much better for our programs and ice hockey in the state to play these teams,” Bulan said. “Playing those games against those teams makes my team so much better.”
ETB A-OK WITH CALDON
For the second time in two weeks, the state featured a 60-save performance from one of the area’s top goaltenders.
Senior Caitlyn Caldon of the East Catholic/Glastonbury/South Windsor (ETB) co-op racked up 60 stops against 61 shots during a 1-1 tie with Greenwich at Hamill Rink on Saturday, a game which featured two teams bound for the state tournament.
The lone goal Greenwich scored came after Caldon had been knocked down and her helmet came off. Lying on the ice, Caldon covered her face for protection as the Cardinals scored.
A transfer, Caldon has been quite a find for ETB this season. She owns a .943 save percentage, a 1.63 goals against average, and has several impressive games against top teams, including 40 saves in a 3-1 loss to Darien, 35 saves in a 1-1 tie against Amity, and 20 saves in a 2-0 shutout of New Canaan.
“She really has become quite a goaltender in her senior season,” coach Frank Usseglio said. “She handles the puck better than any tender I have ever had before, high school or club. She is like a third defenseman at times.”
EPKE AT 100
Guilford sophomore Maddie Epke had the season’s most spectacular offensive performance when she had five goals and two assists in a come-from-behind 7-6 overtime victory against West Haven/SHA at Webster Bank Arena on Jan. 24.
Last Thursday, she added another career highlight when she reached the 100-point threshold during an 8-2 win over the Daniel Hand co-op at East Haven’s Veterans Rink.
Epke had a hat trick and one assist in the game, and has rapidly reached triple-digits in points, with two-plus years still to come.
The milestone also came one day after she scored five times in an 8-4 victory against Hamden.
One more note about Guilford: It’s next game is a rematch of the dramatic win over West Haven/SHA, as the two teams will clash at 6:30 p.m., Friday, at Bennett Rink.