By Tris Wykes
Copyright Octopus Athletics 2022
WEST LEBANON – Colin Logan is one of today’s rare high school hockey goaltenders to wear eyeglasses beneath his mask. The Belmont-Gilford backstop couldn’t have enjoyed what he saw Saturday, however, for although the Bulldogs scored first, they were soon overwhelmed by Lebanon-Stevens-Mount Royal, 5-2, at Campion Rink.
The Raiders (4-2) looked listless during a first period in which they surrendered the only goal. Coach Jim Damren’s intermission address conveyed his unhappiness.
“The message imparted was to gain a sense of urgency, to win puck battles and to play physical,” Damren said. “As soon as we started hitting, they shut down. When we got pucks deep and attacked them, they couldn’t handle the pressure very well.
“They turned the puck over and we generated offense off that.”
Lebanon’s Griffin Auch scored two goals and added an assist. The senior center has piled up eight points during his team’s last two games, a span in which junior teammate Will McGee has contributed seven points and junior Cesar Salcedo six points. Not coincidently, that’s the amount of time the trio has skated together.
Auch and McGee are the Raiders’ two best offensive players, but the latter began the season as the second-line center in Damren’s effort to create a pair of balanced, forward lines. He moved McGee up and outside before Lebanon’s last game, at Monadnock-Fall Mountain, and the results were impressive during a 5-0 victory.
Now, the second group, featuring senior Hunter Christian flanked by senior Liam Ouellette and sophomore Paddy Mooney, has the mandate of a checking line: don’t give up any goals and whatever offense you generate is gravy. The coach rarely uses his third line, which saw the ice twice Saturday.
“I don’t want to be one-dimensional, with the first line getting all the goals, but if the second line can buy us 40 seconds and give the first line a breather, then that’s good,” Damren said. “Ouellette was a defenseman last year and Christian is a penalty-killer, so they’re strong defensively.”
McGee has added strength and speed to his bullish on-ice personalty and Salcedo more grit. The Venezuelan native, previously prone to skating on the perimeter and avoiding physical contact, now ventures more frequently into the fray. Auch has streamlined his already-strong game by lessening a tendency to dipsy-doodle and increasingly drives directly to the net.
“Playing Will on the wing frees him up, both offensively and defensively,” Damren said. “I’d like to think our (first-line) guys have enough talent to fight through the attention they’re going to get. We’re playing a lot of teams coming up that we haven’t played before, so I’m not sure what to expect.”
Lebanon’s defense seems more a work in progress. Senior and four-year player Luke Greene is solid and less inclined to engage in unproductive scraps. Diminutive junior Ryan West appears steadier on his blades and has reduced his turnovers. Newcomer and sophomore Jack Clary is an exquisite skater who rushes the puck well to the red line but sometimes becomes indecisive upon crossing the stripe.
The fourth rearguard is junior Andrew Dannehy, who improved dramatically last winter. His progress has stalled somewhat, but assistant coach Nate Damren, the coach’s 22-year old son and a former junior hockey player, is working to teach Dannehy a harder-nosed style.
“I don’t know if Andrew realizes yet that he’s a pretty good-sized kid,” Jim Damren said with a chuckle. “It’s almost like he thinks he’s still a small freshman. He’s a smart kid with the puck on his stick and he just has to realize he’s an upperclassman now, that it’s time to figure it out.”
Belmont-Gilford opened the NHIAA Division III game’s scoring with two minutes remaining in the first period. The Bulldogs won a faceoff to goaltender Toby Cromwell’s right and Owen Guerin curled off the wall and along the top of the circle before ripping a shot through a crowded slot and under the crossbar.
“We weren’t making plays,” Jim Damren said of his troops, who at times acted as if they were stickhandling a live grenade. “Sometimes you have to hold on to the puck and draw pressure to open up the ice. Take a hit to make a play.
“If you hot-potato it, you’re just playing into the other team’s hands, particularly if you might have more talent.”
The hosts pulled into a 1-1 tie with seven minutes remaining in the second period. Auch won a faceoff to Logan’s right, resulting in McGee firing a hard, low shot from the top of the circle and off the goaltender. Salcedo put away the rebound at the far post.
Lebanon went up, 2-1, two minutes later. Auch lost the puck during a hard drive across the slot, but two Bulldogs went with him, leaving the biscuit unattended between the circles. McGee swooped onto it, went in alone on Logan and beat him from 15 feet.
The Raiders capitalized on a power play to score their third goal in a three-minute span. Clary utilized a clear shooting lane from the left side with the visitors pinned in their own end and 26 seconds remaining in the second period.
Auch scored his team’s fourth goal on a powerful, individual effort two minutes into the third period. The senior turned the corner on a defender in the left circle, froze Logan at the near post and cut across the top of the crease before sliding home a soft backhander.
Belmont-Gilford cashed in a short, 2-on-1 rush against Cromwell with seven minutes to play. Auch closed the scoring two minutes later.
Lebanon committed three of the game’s five penalties, including a pair of obvious roughing fouls on Christian.
“He has a football mentality,” Jim Damren said of a Stevens High student who suits up for the gridiron Cardinals. “It’s a good thing as long as he does it the right way. He pulled off some hits when guys got rid of the puck today and he’s being more aware, but we’ve got to stay out of the box.”
Lebanon’s next two games, Monday against John Stark and Wednesday against Hollis-Brookline, are at home. The Raiders would benefit greatly from a pair of victories before playing three consecutive road games and four of their next six contests away from Campion.
With Covid cases showing no signs of decline and 13 scheduled games during the regular season’s final 48 days, Lebanon needs to avoid injury and sickness. Damren said he “beats a drum” to his players about their masking and distancing habits and joked that Cromwell, the squad’s lone goaltender, needs to leave the house only for school, practice and games.
“We talk all the time about getting rest and the mask mandate,” the coach said. “I just keep harping on them and it gets old. I remind them that this is what allows us to have a season, but it’s always tenuous.”
Notes: Belmont-Gilford is 2-1 after having three games postponed… Belmont High’s athletics nickname is the Red Raiders and Gilford’s is the Golden Eagles… Carter Auch, a 2020 Hanover High graduate who played hockey and lacrosse for the Marauders, attended to watch his younger brother, Griffin. The older sibling is taking classes at Southern New Hampshire University and has earned his Realtor’s License, working for Dolan Real Estate out of Sunapee… How about calling Lebanon’s first line the “Good SAM Club”? Outside the sporting world, that’s the name of the world’s largest recreational vehicle association, with more than 2 million members who haul and drive campers of various sizes.
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