By Tris Wykes

Copyright Octopus Athletics 2022

WEST LEBANON – The Lebanon-Stevens-Mount Royal boys hockey team committed only two penalties during Wednesday’s NHIAA Division III clash with Hollis Brookline-Derryfield. Nonetheless, the Raiders were shorthanded all game. 

Lebanon’s roster was already smaller than in past seasons and features only one goaltender. Now, take away two of the team’s top four defensemen and a reserve forward because of Covid issues. Saddle the goalie with a sore leg and toss in a stretch during which a first-line forward was out, and the hosts’ 7-3 victory didn’t quite seem to add up.

Lebanon High’s Will McGee, left, celebrates a goal with Nathan Stark (23) and Cesar Salcedo (10). Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

The short answer: visiting goaltender Cavan Quinn suffered one of those nights parents cite when refusing to allow their children to become backstops. The visiting netminder struggled from start to finish at tracking and smothering the puck and Lebanon made him and his team pay.

Will McGee posted a hat trick and an assist, Cesar Salcedo had two goals and an assist and Griffin Auch had a goal and two assists, giving him a combined 14 points during the last four games. Senior defenseman Nathan Stark, seeing the first regular shifts of his varsity career, added his first high school goal and an assist. 

Lebanon dressed only 16 of the allowable 20 players but handed the Warriors (4-1) their first loss during a chippy contest filled with back-and-forth comments and taunts. Despite their numbers and playing their fifth game in two weeks, the Raiders nonetheless looked sharp and energetic and their supporters must be starting to dream of another playoff run like that which carried their boys to the 2021 state semifinals.

Lebanon High’s Liam Ouellette hustles through the neutral zone. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

“We’re playing pretty good hockey right now and the guys are doing what we’re asking,” said fifth-year coach Jim Damren, whose team improved to 6-2 overall and 5-1 in division play. “We’re juggling things but we only had two penalties and I feel like 5-on-5, we can play with anybody. 

“Killing penalties depletes your resources and energy so much that we have to make sure we stay disciplined.”

Damren didn’t want to discuss Cromwell’s health in detail, but the big senior hasn’t quite been himself of late. When fully healthy and on his game, the onetime junior-league draft pick is one of the division’s best backstops. Wednesday, he surrendered several atypically plump rebounds and didn’t look fully comfortable moving around his crease.

Lebanon High’s Andrew Dannehy (22) and Hollis Brookline-Derryfield’s Jesse Gertz collide in front of the penalty boxes. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

For as well as Lebanon is playing overall, the loss of the 6-foot-3 Cromwell for even a short stretch could torpedo the season. The Raiders have no backup and would be forced to either use six skaters or put potentially ill-fitting pads on a netminding novice, which would raise safety issues.

“He’s got a nagging issue going on and we’ve played a bunch of games in a row,” Damren said. “But I think he’s fine.”

Despite the low numbers, Damren chose to sit Salcedo for a few shifts early in the third period. The first-line right wing took a hard hit late in the second stanza and wasn’t happy with its intent, shouting and throwing his gloves upon returning to the bench, then exchanging slashes and angry words with a few Warriors before the period’s end.

Lebanon High’s Will McGee, right, and Cesar Salcedo celebrate the latter’s third goal. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

“He took a big shot and felt like he got hit high,” Damren said. “We had to give him a little break and make sure he cooled down and didn’t do anything to hurt the team.”

The third period several times felt like it was on the verge of tipping out of control. The Warriors were frustrated and there was hacking and whacking aplenty. Lebanon’s ability to avoid being sucked into extracurricular activity showed significant maturity from past seasons.

“It’s important to all of us that we stay in the game mentally,” said the Raiders’ Liam Ouellette. “There was a lot of talk in the locker room after the second period about staying out of the penalty box. You’re no good to us there.”

One reason for the hosts’ poise was the focus of its two other first-line players, center Auch and left wing McGee. Both have stepped up their performances from last season, a needed boost after the graduation of top-notch forwards Andrew Duany and Aidan Yates. 

Lebanon High’s Griffin Auch pushes the puck through a trio of Warriors. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

While Auch most often showcases stick skills and shooting, McGee has become a prototype power forward, imposing his will in battles for loose pucks and position.

“They work really well together and complement each other and they’re smart players who find each other,” Damren said. “Good things are happening for them because they work really hard.”

Lebanon’s first goal came during the fifth minute, Quinn stopping Stark’s initial, long shot before losing track of the puck behind him and inadvertently kicking it across the line as the Raiders’ Paddy Mooney dove into the crease.

McGee posted the hosts’ second tally six minutes later, again taking advantage of Quinn’s confusion as to the puck’s location in the blue paint. The Warriors halved their deficit 52 seconds before the second intermission, Paul Vachon spinning 180 degrees in the high slot before rifling a shot under the crossbar.

Lebanon High goaltender Toby Cromwell stopped 18 shots. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

McGee scored his second goal two minutes into the second period, receiving a pass in the slot, powering through the clutches and slashes of two defenders and shooting over Quinn. 

Hollis Brookline used a quick pass out of the left corner to Isaac Windsor atop the slot for a one-time shot and a goal nine minutes later. However, Auch cruised through the right circle and picked the far, upper corner on Quinn 33 seconds before the second intermission. 

The visitors capitalized on an Andrew Dannehy turnover behind the Raiders net six minutes into the final stanza. Again, a quick pass, this time out of the right corner, caught Lebanon unaware in front, Vachon scoring to cut the score to 4-3.

Lebanon High’s Jack Clary, left, and his teammates celebrate a goal. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

The hosts scored the next three goals during a 3-minute, 10-second span and each was a slow-motion train wreck for Hollis Brookline. Coach Joel Sanborn called time out after his opponents’ sixth strike but it didn’t do much good. To their credit, the Warriors rallied around Quinn with an unbroken string of head pats, leg taps and encouraging words.

Lebanon’s own sense of camaraderie is an ingredient in its success.

“These guys genuinely like each other and pull for each other no matter their role,” Damren said. “They clearly spend time with each other outside of the rink.”

Said Ouellette: “That stuff is important and we spend a lot of time together during the season. It’s a second family.”

Lebanon High’s Paddy Mooney, left, crosses sticks with opponent Jacob Roy. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

Notes: Joining the team for his first game was freshman forward Dom Wahl, who had previously been ineligible and who is wearing No. 17… Providing medical oversight was EMT and 2020 Lebanon High graduate Will Forman, who played defense for the Raiders as a student. Now enrolled at Colgate University, the Plainfield resident works for a Claremont-based ambulance service while home on break. He is similarly involved with the local emergency services department while at school in Hamilton, N.Y… Lebanon’s next game is scheduled for 2 p.m. Monday at Kennett, which Damren said has a roster featuring 15 freshmen. Early forecasts that day show a 90 percent chance of snow… Ouellette’s older brother, Tristan, played for the Raiders and attended the game. There are five kids in their family, Tristan being the oldest and their 7-year old sister being the youngest… Sophomore Maddox Castro took a few shifts with the first line in Salcedo’s absence.

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Lebanon High’s Gabe Ouellette (9) and Easton Wykes pursue the puck in the corner. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.