By Tris Wykes
Copyright Octopus Athletics 2021
WHITE RIVER JUNCTION – Hartford High hockey player James McReynolds moved to accept his all-tournament team plaque Wednesday night, earned at the Phillip Bouthillier Classic at Wendall Barwood Arena. The junior caught his skate on a teammate’s stick blade and plummeted to the ice after only a stride, but scrambled to his feet with a chagrined smile.
That misstep was about all that went wrong for McReynolds and his Hurricanes, however. The hosts pinned a 4-1 defeat on Lebanon-Stevens-Mount Royal in the event’s title game. Woodstock defeated Burr & Burton, 3-1, in the consolation contest.
McReynolds scored his team’s first two goals and was its obvious star, hustling and bodychecking and drawing the crowd’s collective eye on nearly every shift. His opposite wing and classmate, Ozzie Defelice, and junior center Blaine Gour combined with him to form a dynamic first line.
McReynolds and Defelice “were the two best players on the ice,” said Hartford coach Todd Bebeau. “They possess so much speed and vision and there’s definitely a chemistry between them. Blaine is the perfect complement, because he’s a stay-at-home centerman who protects the puck and wins battles down low and feeds them.
“That line took it to higher level tonight, blocking shots and backchecking and being responsible in all three areas of the ice.”
Add in Hartford’s talented, second line of Ezra Mock, Aidan Boonyaharn and Joseph Barwood and opponents are left off-balance and Hurricanes fans are entertained.
“When those six kids get going, it’s fun to watch,” said Bebeau, whose Vermont Division II team improved to 4-0.
Not for Lebanon, which is down somewhat after losing several of its best players from last season’s NHIAA Division III semifinal squad. The Raiders have a stellar goaltender in Toby Cromwell, but it’s clear the senior will have to steal some games if a repeat of last winter is to occur.
That’s because coach Jim Damren is, like last season, in the process of teaching his troops that the puck moves more quickly when passed than carried. That offense is best created by sharing the biscuit instead of trying to stickhandle through crowds, as the Raiders did repeatedly Wednesday.
First-line center Griffin Auch and second-line pivot Will McGee were guilty of that mistake, along with wing Liam Ouellette and defenseman Jack Clary. Lebanon didn’t have much time on offense and when it did, all too often the puck was quickly turned over and the Raiders were on their heels.
“Plays that teams are making against us early in games, they’re not making later because they’re tired of chasing our guys,” said Bebeau, who gives his forwards his blessing to weave and circle and play a rink-wide possession game instead of a simple dump-and-chase.
“We just wore them down tonight. At times it didn’t generate offense, but it’s frustrating to play when you’re chasing the puck all night long.”
Hartford scored the first period’s lone goal during the fourth minute. Lebanon wing Hunter Christian telegraphed a clearing attempt from the left circle to the opposite wing. The Hurricanes intercepted it high in the slot and McReynolds flipped the puck over Cromwell and under the crossbar not long after.
The Hurricanes went up, 2-0, during the second period’s fourth minute. McReynolds skated across the offensive blue line on the left side, made a sudden and nifty outside-in stickhandling move under the stick of backskating defenseman Luke Greene and beat Cromwell from the circle’s inner edge.
Lebanon (2-1) halved its deficit seven minutes later. Auch glided in on the left wing and fired a shot past defenseman Connor Tierney and off goaltender Davey Bradley that caromed across to Christian, who was churning down the slot. The Stevens High senior sent the rebound trickling across the goal line even as momentum carried him past the cage.
The Hurricanes moved ahead, 3-1, three minutes before the second intermission. Shortly before the tally, Lebanon defenseman Ryan West was faked off his blades. He landed awkwardly, slid into the boards and suffered a left leg injury that ended his night. Brought on in his place was senior reserve Nathan Stark.
Less than a minute later, Hartford’s Ezra Mock won a faceoff to Cromwell’s left. Barwood then fired a shot off the goaltender, beat the Raiders to the rebound and scored from close range, leaving the netminder sprawled on his stomach.
“We had to juggle our (defenseman) pairings,” said Damren, whose team played only once before the tournament but plays again tonight against visiting Berlin-Gorham, the defending NHIAA Division III champion.
“We’ve got a lot of guys back there right now, but they’re either new to high school hockey or haven’t played a whole lot while they’ve been here. We have stuff to work on without a lot of time to work on it.”
Hartford iced the evening with five minutes to play, Lebanon getting caught in an overly-long shift and losing the puck along the boards to Cromwell’s right.
Once again, the Raiders were caught puck watching, Boonyaharn grabbing it between the circles and scooting towards the far post. The Hurricane showed poise in holding the biscuit long enough that Cromwell had to throw himself sideways, then glided another beat past him before firing home a low shot.
“We’re not a dangle team and (the players) haven’t figured it out yet, but they will,” Damren said. “When you’re playing against your own guys in practice, it doesn’t matter. You turn it over in a game like tonight and it’s in the back of your net.”
Lebanon needs to regroup quickly because it begins a stretch of five games in 10 days on Jan. 6. That’s a tall order for a team on which talent and experience drop off sharply after the top two lines and defensive pairings and that features only one goaltender.
“Our guys work hard, but sometimes there’s wasted motion,” Damren said. “We’re not as deep in skill as last year, so our shifts can’t be two minutes long and we have to play smart, not just hard without a purpose.”
Hartford, which held a 24-12 shot advantage, returns to action Wednesday when it hosts Harwood. The Hurricanes visit Stowe on Saturday.
Notes: Hartford took four of the game’s five penalties, including an unsportsmanlike conduct call when Boonyaharn cursed at a referee. “We were undisciplined and we didn’t always play with class and that will be addressed,” Bebeau said… Lebanon has filled its need for another goalie during practices by convincing former Raiders girls forward Kyra Herbert to don the pads. The Plainfield product competed for Manhattanville (N.Y.) College at the NCAA Division III level from 2013-16… West left the arena on crutches and in his trademark cowboy boots… Christian’s younger brother, Tyler, is a Stevens sophomore out for the season after suffering a severe knee injury during football season. The younger sibling, affectionately nicknamed “Tank”, is always seen in shorts and said he doesn’t own any long pants even if he wanted to wear them… Bebeau said Burr & Burton was hampered by absences relating to illness, injury and vacations… Former Hartford player Nathan Robinson is serving as one of the team’s five assistant coaches. One of Lebanon’s assistants, Brad Whitaker, missed Wednesday’s game while on vacation in Puerto Rico… Lebanon’s Auch and Hartford’s Bradley and Tierney were also named to the all-tournament team.
If you found this story worthwhile, please consider donating to support the work that produced it.
Octopus Athletics is an independent site covering sports in the heart of the Upper Valley. Your contributions allow us to bring you news without paywalls or pop-up ads.