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Week 2: Centaurs win close one at home vs. Prout

Not all games will be as easy as the previous two were prior to Wednesday for the Woodstock Academy boys hockey team.

The Centaurs put up 25 goals on the board in wins over Branford and the Suffield-Granby-Windsor Locks cooperative program.

They came back down to earth a bit on Wednesday as Woodstock Academy had to battle for a 3-2 victory over the Prout School Crusaders from Wakefield, R.I. at the Jahn Ice Rink at Pomfret School.

“I think having beaten teams with a goal differential of 28-1 over the first three games  gave us a little false sense of our team. It was great to have this test early in the season because what this game showed this team is that game in and game out, if we want to win a state championship, this is the kind of competition we will face,” Woodstock Academy coach Mark Smolak said.

The Centaurs were outshot 36-15 and found themselves quickly behind the eight ball when Crusader sophomore left wing Caleb Burnett found the net just 54 seconds into the game.

It didn’t faze Woodstock Academy sophomore goalie Dante Sousa.

“The boys after that came down, scored a goal and tied it 1-1 and I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to fight for them if they’re going to fight for me,” Sousa said.

Indeed, just 1 minute, 33 seconds later, Woodstock Academy would get the equalizer when Max Larkin took a shot that rebounded behind the net. He wheeled it back around and got it on to the stick of Jayden Fuller who poked it home.

“That’s what I wanted to see,” Smolak said. “It was the first time that we were playing with a deficit and we were able to respond quickly. They made what was probably an ill-advised line change, Max was able to chip the puck in, went after it, caused chaos and their defenseman panicked and got rid of the puck. Max was able to dish it in front to a wide-open net.”

The Centaurs took the lead in the second period on another fortunate break.

Playing short-handed, the Centaurs were battling in their own defensive end when the puck suddenly was deflected to the top of the blue line where Maxx Corradi was stationed. He got out ahead of the Prout defense and beat Crusader goalie Angelo Evangelista 1-on-1.

“We were sacrificing bodies, getting in front of pucks, on shots from the point and it takes a bounce and went our way, sometimes it doesn’t, that one did,” Smolak said.

Despite being under pressure much of the game, Sousa was steadfast in goal as he made 33 saves and held up the slim one-goal lead until the Centaurs were able to expand upon it.

The sophomore kind of enjoyed the close game.

“A tight game gets the crowd rowdy. More competition, better competition and (the win) shows what we are as a team,” Sousa said.

Junior Noah Sampson provided Sousa with a little buffer.

He scored the Centaurs third goal of the game, his eighth of the season, to put the Centaurs up 3-1 with 6:43 to play in regulation.

Woodstock Academy needed the goal.

The Crusaders pulled their goalie in the waning moments and it paid dividends.

Center Aidan Forcier, off a pass from defenseman Nick Gamba, reduced it to a 1-goal game when he scored with 17 seconds left.

Prout also got another shot off just before the buzzer.

“It got tipped with like three seconds left, thankfully the post was in my favor,” Sousa said with a smile.

It was not the best effort by the Centaurs.

“We didn’t execute the game plan coming in as well as we anticipated. They dominated puck possession in our zone for 2 ½ periods and the three goals that we got were the result of us moving our feet and getting in hard on the forecheck, causing chaos in front of the net. That’s what we want to do throughout the game and, unfortunately, we weren’t able to. We did so three times and, luckily for us, the three times that we did, we got the goals,” Smolak said.

It had been two tremendous offensive efforts in a row previously for the Woodstock Academy boys hockey team.

In their second game of the season, they rolled to an 11-1 win in Branford.

The Centaurs bettered that effort on Monday with a 14-0 win over the Suffield-Granby-Windsor Locks co-op.

"It's really good to get the season off to a good start; scoring a lot of goals, having great team chemistry, working on the fundamentals and just winning," Woodstock Academy junior Noah Sampson said.

The center on the Centaurs top line has been at the center of the early-season success.

"It was a fun two games," Sampson said with a smile.

"We're clicking," Smolak added following the win over the Wildcats.

But Sampson, obviously, is not the only one scoring. Against the Wildcats, 10 different Centaurs tallied.

"One of the things we have is good depth," Smolak said. "That's what we're pushing, everyone has a role on this team. One thing that I wanted the kids to know going in, was that this is the role that you have, It's what I expect of you, what I want you to do and if you play to that style, you're going to contribute."

Corradi and Larkin each added a pair of goals and a pair of assists while Troy Daviau, Ryan Wallace, and Donnie Sousa added a goal and two assists each.

Brady O'Brien and Ian Sherman each scored their first career varsity goals.

The offense also did something else.

It kept the puck out of its own end as the Centaurs outshot the Wildcats, 62-14.

"Going into (Monday's) game, I was studying the graphs that we have of the shot distribution of each line and, yeah, we're dominating the house, like I said last time, but more I'm realizing the blue line is also dominating the house and we weren't taking advantage of that. The one thing I wanted from every line was them crashing the slot, getting opportunities and getting in front of the net for rebounds and we did that (Monday)," Smolak said.

Winning the first four games of the season is much better than a year ago when the Centaurs began 2-3.

“We’re trying to be more consistent out of the gate, it feels great, it feels awesome. The kids are enjoying this consistency but the schedule is going to get more difficult. We faced some difficult teams early last year and, hopefully, we can avoid the ups-and-downs. There is a lot of buy-in in that (locker) room for what we’re trying to do. I think the kids know that they have a chance to do something special this year,” Smolak said.

After the win over Prout, the Centaurs get a break.

They don’t take to the ice again until Dec. 30 when they travel to Enfield to play Tri-Town in a Nutmeg Conference game.

“We have three practices coming up. It’s a little give-and-take. We had three games and one practice and one of the things that we saw was our compete and our ability to get in on the forecheck. Those are things that we will look at in practice; winning the 1-on-1 battles, being physical, and getting in hard on the forecheck,” Smolak said.