By Tris Wykes
WEST LEBANON – The Lebanon-Stevens-Mount Royal boys hockey team lost some games last season it deserved to win. Monday at Campion Rink, the Raiders exited into the falling snow with a 3-1 victory over Berlin-Gorham that could well have been a tie or a loss.
Rejecting that outcome was Lebanon goaltender Toby Cromwell, who made roughly 25 saves. The Raiders don’t have a statistician this season, but numbers weren’t needed to realize the lanky, 6-foot-3 backstop made a big difference for his 1-1 team.
“We expect that from him and he has the capability of stealing games and winning games for us,” Lebanon coach Jim Damren said of a player who was drafted by a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team last summer. “He was tested a few times, but he makes it look pretty effortless when he’s on and seeing the pucks.
“He’s big and he’s square to the puck and he doesn’t give them a whole lot to shoot at. Even when he’s on down on his knees, he’s covering the net.”
Cromwell was staked to a 1-0 lead after just 41 seconds when senior Aidan Yates received a Cesar Salcedo pass and scored on the game’s first shot. Yates, Lebanon’s second-leading scorer as a sophomore, returned to the Raiders (1-1) this season after playing junior hockey in Maine last winter.
“He’s fast with the puck on his stick,” Damren said. “Some guys are flat-out fast, but you put the puck on their stick and they’re pretty average.”
Said LSMR captain Andrew Duany: “He’s developed a lot. He’s always been a fast player and fun to watch, but juniors brought him up to a whole new level.”
The Raiders went up, 2-0, fewer than two minutes later and on their third shot when Will McGee scored with assists to Yates and Jake Kriplin. Lebanon was wary after having blown a similar lead during an opening loss at Belmont-Gilford last Friday.
“We learned a bit from last week and moved the puck quicker and played a little smarter,” Damren said. “We took what was available to us as opposed to try to do too much. We have a lot of skilled guys and we have a tendency to be too individualistic.
“For the most part we moved the puck well and got pucks deep and pressured (Berlin’s) defensemen and we created (offense) off that.”
The Mountaineers (3-1) halved their deficit three minutes before the first intermission and on a power play created when Raiders defenseman Liam Ouelette interfered with an opponent attempting to slide past him on the forecheck. LSMR’s penalty-killing unit dissolved into chaos and the visitors fired one past Cromwell after the netminder had made several previous stops.
“It doesn’t do you any good to be standing next to the guy in front, you have to tie his stick up,” Damren said. “It was a freshman that was covering and there’s a learning curve. For a lot of these kids, it’s an adjustment coming into the program and playing at a higher level.”
The final period’s latter half was a long one for the hosts, who spent much of it on their side of the ice. Cromwell wasn’t spectacular but always seemed to get an elbow or a toe or a piece of his stick on shots that got through.
His biggest save of the night might occurred with 25 seconds remaining and his team having just iced the puck. The Mountaineers won a faceoff to Cromwell’s right and got off a hard shot labeled for the far corner, but the netminder sent it wide with his left shoulder.
“He’s almost always in the right position,” Damren said. “He’s a very well-trained, disciplined goalie. He’s cerebral in that he thinks about the position and he talks about it and even if he doesn’t get a shot, he knows why. He’s not somebody who’s guessing out there.”
Duany scored the final goal into an empty net, allowing the senior to breath more freely.
“They called a (late) time out and it was 2-1 and I was talking to Griffin Auch,” Duany recalled. “I said man, I hate the last two minutes of a game. He said ‘What are you talking about? I love the last two minutes, it’s so much fun!’
“The adrenaline boost is thrilling in that situation, but it’s also anxiety-inducing.”
LSMR, a first-year member of NHIAA’s Division III, is scheduled to host Keene on Wednesday and visit the Blackbirds, newly promoted to Division I, on Saturday. Keene has yet to play a game but a rivalry developed between the squads last winter, when the Raiders upset the Blackbirds late in the regular season and narrowly lost a Division II playoff game to them on the road.
Notes: The hosts played without wing Paddy Mooney, who was out sick. The freshman skated on the first line with Duany and Auch during the team’s first game… Raiders Liam and Gabe Ouelette arrived for the game in the blue dress shirts and khaki pants that comprise Mount Royal Academy’s daily uniform… LSMR players warmed up in street clothes in an alley alongside Campion Rink, jogging and performing various calisthenics to the beat of rap music emanating from a handheld speaker… Brothers and Stevens High students and football players Hunter and Tyler “Tank” Christian are seeing significant game time so far, hustling and providing physical, third-line play. Hunter, a junior, is listed at 5-5 and 180 pounds and Tyler, a freshman, comes in at 5-8 and 215.
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