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Week 5: Sousa saves win for Woodstock Academy

Woodstock Academy boys hockey coach Mark Smolak’s heart skipped a beat in the second period of the Centaurs game with Bishop Hendricken on Saturday at the Jahn ice Rink at Pomfret School.

Woodstock Academy goalie Dante Sousa had slumped to the ice during a stoppage in play.

The sophomore had been under intense pressure throughout the game and he had been up to the task, making 35 saves up to that point.

“It was my hamstring,” Sousa said afterward. “I had tried to push off and my heel caught the ice and my knee just kept going.”

But there was no way that he was coming out.

“I had to finish the game,” Sousa said.

Sousa stayed in but in between periods, Smolak summoned Sousa’s father to the locker room to make the decision as to whether or not the young goalie could continue to play.

“I went in to check on him and heard what was going on and told him,’Buddy, long term, we need you. This is a game, an important game, but we need you in March’. He basically told me that he was not coming out of the game and I said ‘Let’s talk to your Dad.’ It was his decision because I was worried about (Dante’s) health and whatever his decision was, was going to be the one. Dad said ‘Keep him in.’

We did,” Smolak said.

Sousa remained steadfast throughout the remainder of the game as he finished with 55 saves, including one in the closing seconds, to lift Woodstock Academy to a 2-1 win over the Hawks.

The win raised the Centaurs record to 8-1.

“That’s an understatement,” Smolak said with a laugh when asked about Sousa standing on his head for the team. “He was called upon to really set the tone. He was hyper-focused (Friday). He knew a week ago, he was getting this start and he told me every day that he was ready and focused. He was really in the zone (Saturday).”

Smolak’s team needed that kind of performance as it struggled to maintain any kind of attack against Bishop Hendricken (6-2-1).

If time of possession was kept in hockey, it would have been lopsided in favor of the Hawks. As it was, the shot totals were, with Bishop Hendricken taking 56 shots to the Centaurs 12.

“We couldn’t generate any offensive chances but when we did, we capitalized. Because of (Sousa’s) goaltending, we had the opportunity to win,” the Woodstock Academy coach said.

Sousa wasn’t perfect.

He did allow a goal 8 minutes, 56 seconds into the contest when junior defenseman Griffin Crain was able to poke the puck past Sousa.

But the Centaurs answered before the end of the period.

Just four minutes after Crain’s goal, freshman Brady Lecuyer tied it with his third goal of the season off an assist from sophomore defender Jayden Fuller.

But the athlete who made the play work was senior Andrew Newton.

“He’s been moving up the lineup, down the lineup, and the biggest we want from him is to be the playoff Newton from last year; moving his feet, getting hard on the forecheck, taking the body and creating chances with his physicality. We stressed that to him (Saturday) and against North Haven the game before and against North Haven, he had a great game. We rewarded him for that (Saturday) and that whole goal was him chipping it in, banging bodies and being able to be a menace down on the forecheck,” Smolak said.

The Centaurs would get Sousa all he needed to work with in the second period when freshman defender Ian Sherman teed one up at the blue line and sent it on to Troy Daviau’s stick and into the Bishop Hendricken net.

It was the second goal of the season for Daviau.

“(Sherman) took a look when he got the puck at the blue line, looked to see what his options were and it was really quick. He looked at the net, saw the lane, saw (Daviau’s) stick on the ice and he threw it toward it. Troy was in a good spot. Bishop Hendricken has a higher skilled team than us, we know that and everyone in the (locker) room understood that. We knew to win that we had to crash the net, get bodies in front, and make their goalie uncomfortable. We didn’t do it as consistently as we wanted, but when we did it, we scored,” Smolak said.

And they let Sousa do the rest.

It was the sophomore’s second 50-plus save outing in his career for the Centaurs.

The previous one, however, came in a losing effort so this one was much more satisfying and memorable.

“We all knew coming into this game what (Bishop Hendricken) was. That’s why we were extra-focused coming into the game and gave it our all,” Sousa said. “It was a very important win. It gives us nine points and that helps us in (the CIAC Division II) rankings a lot.”

The Centaurs started off on the right note earlier in the week against North Haven.

Woodstock Academy scored the first goal of the night against its fellow CIAC Division II contender.

Unfortunately, the Nighthawks took over after that and remained undefeated with a 5-1 win over the Centaurs at the Northford Ice Rink.

The Centaurs incurred a roughing penalty eight minutes into the first period.

Instead of that hampering them, it fired them up.

Sophomore Maxx Corradi took a pass from linemate Donnie Sousa 1:20 into the penalty and shuffled it into the North Haven net for the shorthanded tally. It was his 12th goal of the season.

The advantage didn't last long.

Just 2:16 after Corradi's goal, North Haven center Alex Petersen tied the game.

Then, with just 2:11 left in the opening period, left wing Tommy Guidone put the Nighthawks ahead to stay.

“It wasn’t a horrible first period for us, people might say it was, but watching the film, we were hanging in and were competitive with them and were making plays,” Smolak said.

The first goal, according to Smolak, surprised the Centaurs a bit but it was the second goal that was the backbreaker.

Petersen gave North Haven (7-0) a little breathing room with his second goal of the game in the second period.

The Nighthawks put it away in the third when both Owen Quick and Bryce Mastriano tallied for the hosts.

“(Woodstock Academy senior goalie Kaiden) Keddy stood tall. I know it was a 5-1, but it was close throughout the game because of how Keddy was playing for us,” Smolak said. “They had a couple of lucky bounces and that’s what happened. I wanted to see us respond (against Bishop Hendricken) because it would have been easy for us to say, we just lost to the No.3 team in (Division II) in Connecticut and now, we’re playing one of the top Rhode Island schools and we could have immediately given up. No one did.”