By Tris Wykes

WEST LEBANON – The high-wire act known as the Lebanon-Stevens-Mount Royal boys hockey team continued its winning ways Wednesday, pinning a 3-0 defeat on visiting Keene that was closer than the score would indicate. 

Aidan Yates’ goal 1 minute 35 seconds before the first intermission stood up through the second stanza and most of the third. Sophomore Cesar Salcedo potted his first varsity tally with 3:28 to play and classmate Will McGee, who assisted on the first two tallies, scored himself two minutes later. Toby Cromwell made 23 saves for the hosts, who face a rematch at Keene on Saturday.

Keene High’s Peter Haas gloves the puck in front of Casey Mooers (19) and Lebanon-Stevens-Mount Royal’s Hunter Christian (14).

The Division I Blackbirds played their first game because of previous Covid-19 complications. The NHIAA Division III Raiders lost their season opener by a goal last week before edging Berlin, 3-1, with an empty-net goal. Scrapping and hustling while staying out of the penalty box has been a winning formula for coach Jim Damren’s team.

“The kids are starting to figure out you don’t have to do too much,” Damren said. “Just make the simple play and don’t turn the puck over.”

LSMR has committed too many penalties during recent years but this season’s group, while certainly not pushovers, focuses more on playmaking than pounding opponents. 

“We’re not an incredibly physical team anyways, so we don’t get in a lot of situations where we’re going to take penalties,” Damren said. “We don’t necessarily need to be more physical, because sometimes playing that way crosses a line and you run into issues. Right now, we’re playing smart hockey and staying out of the box.”

Fouls also materialize when teams aren’t confident in their goaltending. That subconscious sense that you can’t allow shots or rushes at your net leads to anxiety that produces holding, slashing, interference and other infractions. Cromwell, a 6-foot-3, 160-pound junior, gives his teammates reassurance that contributes to overall poise. That’s crucial for a defensive corps that’s breaking in three first-year regulars.

Lebanon-Stevens-Mount Royal’s Andrew Duany (12) skates past Keene’s Colin Grench. Griffin Auch is at left.

“They weren’t panicking with the puck and that’s half the battle,” Damren said of his blueliners. “The younger guys have more time than they think, so if they’re not rushing things and are willing to take a hit to make a play, they have the opportunity to make a good outlet pass or send it high off the glass.

“Toby’s one of the best goalies in the state, no matter what division. He’s smart and communicates with the guys and keeps them calm.”

Cromwell said seven consecutive weeks of practice without games threw him off. After feeling disjoined during the Raiders’ opener, however, he’s rounding into form.

“It’s more a mental thing with me,” he said. “Being behind my guys on defense, getting used to how they play. We’re doing a really good job of getting the puck deep and chasing after it.”

Yates, a senior who has two goals and two assists in three games after returning from a season away at junior hockey, opened Wednesday’s scoring with a shot from the right side of the slot. Assists went to McGee and Jake Kriplin. 

The hosts’ second goal saw McGee drive into the left side of the offensive zone and diagonally through the right circle. The wing heard a trailing Salcedo shout from behind and left a drop pass that his teammate buried inside the near post for his first varsity goal. Another sophomore, Andrew Danehy, picked up the second assist. 

“Cesar’s a kid who hasn’t been playing hockey that long,” Damren said of Salcedo, who moved from Venezuela to Florida before debuting in the sport as a middle schooler. “He’s a good skater but in terms of the game itself, he doesn’t have a ton of experience. He’ll be a much better player by the end of his high school career.”

Lebanon-Stevens-Mount Royal’s Cesar Salcedo (10) breaks through center ice.

McGee, who has two goals and three assists, closed the scoring when he reputedly dug at a loose puck near the left post, eventually poking it past Keene netminder Taylor Panek, who was on his hands and knees. 

LSMR, which held a 23-17 shot advantage, has three games in four days next week. The Raiders host Kearsarge-Plymouth on Wednesday and Monadnock on Thursday before playing at Monadnock on Saturday.

“We’re starting to get used to playing games,” Damren said. “These guys are working hard and this month is the whole season.”

Notes: Damren said Keene coach Chris McIntosh told him the Blackbirds were without several players. Keene was shut out in West Lebanon late last season while missing several skaters because of illness, but beat the visiting Raiders by a goal in the Division II playoffs… The portable speaker the Raiders lug around for music was playing George Michael’s 1984 pop ballard “Careless Wisper” after the game. It usually blares rap during pregame, parking-lot warmup calisthenics… No visiting fans are allowed at Saturday’s game, Damren said… McGee is the son of former Lebanon standout Dan McGee. Will’s sister, Gwen, is a freshman hockey player at Kimball Union Academy… Outside teams visiting Campion Rink are learning what the locals have known for weeks: if you’ve been wearing a winter cap and go to get your temperature read by snuggling your forehead up to the machine in the facility’s lobby, the numbers may well be off. In such instances, the subject must then stand around hatless for a minute or two before producing an accurate reading… Venezuela has a national ice hockey team but it is not recognized by the International Ice Hockey Foundation. It has competed against other South American countries during U.S. tournaments, however, going a combined 3-6 during 2018 and 2019 against the likes of Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Colombia. 

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Lebanon-Stevens-Mount Royal freshman Tyler Christian rests during the first intermission.