By Tris Wykes

Copyright Octopus Athletics 2021

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION – The Hartford High and Lebanon-Stevens-Mount Royal boys hockey teams scrimmaged for 50 minutes Wednesday at Barwood Arena, staging something like Old Home Days on ice.

Residents of the two towns populate most of the Upper Valley Storm youth hockey program, so although some hard hits were dished out, the foes were mostly familiar and the chirping good-natured. Injured Raiders forward Tyler “Tank” Christian, working a bench door, and Hurricanes goaltender Davey Bradley spent much of the third period in banter.

Hartford’s Ozzie DeFelice (16) and James McReynolds (15) skate through center ice against Lebanon’s Gabe Ouellette (9), Luke Greene (11) and Andrew Dannehy (22). Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

“They’re coming for you! Look out!” shouted Christian to his former teammate.

Replied Bradley: “I’m not worried.”

Hartford coach Todd Bebeau enjoyed his players’ enjoyment.

“This was fun tonight,” said the 24th-year coach, whose team overcame an early deficit for an unofficial, 2-1 victory. “They were competing but they were being social, too. Lebanon’s a north-south hockey team and they always play hard, so this was good for us. 

Lebanon goaltender Toby Cromwell stops a shot behind Hartford’s Nick Daniels. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

“I think we were off a little bit and fought the puck and chased the puck because we didn’t handle it much. We played a little better towards the end.”

One of the evening’s inconspicuous storylines had to do with backup goaltenders. Bradley’s a sophomore and is followed on the depth chart by junior and third-year hockey player Sean Kelliher, who played Wednesday’s final minutes. The Hurricanes also have freshman Frankie Cushing in reserve.

“Sean’s story is great,” said Bebeau, whose team lured the football player onto the ice in 2019 when it had only one netminder. “He’s gone from not being able to skate to making technical saves.”

Jim Damren, Lebanon’s fifth-year coach, might need details on how to similarly press-gang a student into service. That’s because while he has standout senior Toby Cromwell in the crease, no other Raider has ever played with puffed-up pads. Heck, the program doesn’t even have another set it can toss onto a skater in an emergency.

Lebanon’s Liam Ouelette celebrates with the Raiders bench after scoring. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

Lebanon senior Sebastian Yates played goaltender throughout youth hockey and was the Raiders’ third option there during the past three seasons, but has elected to wrestle as a senior. There were rumors of an experienced Stevens backstop coming out, but he’s apparently having surgery in the near future and another potential backup didn’t appear at tryouts.

Damren recalls the program having as many as four puck-stoppers not that long ago. He said he’s not quite sure what will happen if Cromwell can’t play, but said the Raiders could play without anyone in the blue paint.

“We might have to go with six skaters,” the coach said. “You don’t have to play with a goalie.”

Lebanon reached the NHIAA Division III semifinals last winter, where it appeared headed to victory with a three-goal lead before collapsing against eventual champion Berlin. Lost to graduation were standout forwards Andrew Duany and Aidan Yates and defenseman Jake Kriplin, along with backup goaltender Hunter Robb.

Lebanon’s Jack Clary spills Hartford’s Blaine Gour. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

Returnees of note include senior Griffin Auch, juniors Will McGee and Cesar Salcedo and sophomore Paddy Mooney, all forwards, and defenders Luke Greene, a senior, and Andrew Dannehy, a junior. New rearguards include sophomores James Barnett and Jack Clary, the latter a touted addition from the club ranks.

Hartford, knocked out of the 2021 Vermont Division II playoffs in the opening round, graduated forwards Jacob Dwinell, Bentley Boonyaharn and A.J. DeBois. The Hurricanes return top-six forwards and juniors James McReynolds, Blaine Gour, Ozzie DeFelice and Joseph Barwood and sophomore Ezra Mock. McReynolds notched Wednesday’s winning goal with 15 minutes to play.

Senior forward Aidan Boonyaharn, a potential dynamo who made a sudden exit from the roster midway through last season, is back but seemed muted against Lebanon. The Hurricanes’ top three defensemen should be senior Simon Spaulding, junior Connor Tierney and sophomore Lochlan Park.

Bebeau thought his best players Wednesday, however, were his third and fourth forward lines. The third line is comprised of freshmen Nick Daniels and Nolan Morlock and senior Gordon Willey. The fourth is made up of sophomores Jaden Poirier and Nate Clark and freshman Logan Caffrey.

Hartford’s Blaine Gour (2) challenges Lebnaon’s Ryan West (24). Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

“Every time they were out there they had offensive-zone presence with the puck,” Bebeau said of those trios. “They kept the game simple and were consistent.

“The core of the team is back and they played at a high level of youth hockey, so we have high expectations this year. I think we have good depth and team speed and we’re going to get better throughout the year.”

Notes: Lebanon’s goal came from senior Liam Ouelette during the third minute and Bradley thwarted a Mooney breakaway five minutes later. Mock scored 14 minutes before “halftime”… Damren’s sons played in the Hanover Wild youth hockey organization and he coached there and was once its president. He recalled benching his lone goaltender for missing practice one season, playing a game’s first period with six skaters and winning, 2-1… Christian underwent major knee surgery following a football injury three months ago and said he’ll be sidelined from athletics at least through the spring… Joining his father on the Raiders bench this season is 22-year old Nate Damren, who’s coaching the defensemen. The former Lebanon player now works as a paraeducator at the Lyme School, where his mother is the nurse, but said the fulltime teaching bug has yet to bite him… One of Wednesday’s two referees was former Hartford goaltender Billy Mann.

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Lebanon goaltender Toby Cromwell and referee Billy Mann chat during a stoppage. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.