By Paul Silverfarb
The weather couldn’t have been more enjoyable for this year’s outdoor hockey game that pitted Greenwich High School against Darien in the second annual Winter Classic.
And with the help from goalie Ben Nash and goals from Matt Davey, Wesley Zolin and Thatcher Danielson, it was the Cardinals that left the Greenwich Skating Club happy for the second consecutive season by winning the contest 3-0.
“It’s early in the year and only our third game. We have an idea of what we have and now the chemistry is starting to evolve,” said GHS head coach Chris Rurak. “Our first game we really didn’t play that well and in the second game we picked it up. Tonight was a statement game for us because we are going unnoticed and we want to let everybody know that we are a good team. ”
With the victory, Greenwich moved to 2-0-1 on the young season.
“It’s awesome and one of the best hockey experiences I have had in my life,” said Nash, who made 23 saves in the winning effort. “To have the community come out to see me play is incredible. The Winter Classic is an unforgettable experience. The ice was better than expected, considering the weather conditions. It’s a huge rival to Darien and I believe they were ranked above us before this game, so it was awesome to come out and beat them.
For the players, as well as coaches and fans in attendance, this contest has been one to circle on the calendar. It’s not every day that a game that counts is played outdoors and that’s not lost on all that packed the Greenwich Skating Club.
“It’s amazing,” said Rurak. “I look forward to it every year. We were joking around earlier in that, for me, the only other atmosphere that matches this is at Yale. It’s really special to play here.”
“The atmosphere is so much fun to play in,” said senior defenseman Nic Pelletier-Martinelli. “In front of all our fans in Greenwich and with all my buddies from school, it was just so much fun. I’m so happy to be back.”
After a slow first period in which both teams were settling in and getting a feel for the smaller rink size and different shadows from playing outside and under the lights, Greenwich kept the attack going in the second period and finally broke through with 11:25 showing on the clock.
While firing shots at the Darien goalie Henri Pfeifle early and often to start the second period, Davey blasted a shot to the left of the goalie that bounced off his pads. Getting a stick on the puck was Zolin, who grabbed the rebound to the right of the Pfeifle and fired a shot that found the back of the net for the 1-0 lead.
Those two were back at it with less than five minutes to play in the second period. Zolin had control of the puck and darted towards the Darien zone. He then dished the puck to Davey, who was to the right of Zolin and it was Davey that completed the one-timer for the goal and 2-0 lead.
“We drove the message home between the first and second periods that we have to be diligent getting the puck in deep,” Rurak said. “Just make it easy. It doesn’t have to be pretty. Just get the puck deep. Once we started doing that, then we were allowed to put pressure their defense and we can capitalize.”
On the power play early in the third period, it was Big Red that was able to capitalize on a Darien tripping penalty and extend the lead to 3-0. With 11:44 to play in the contest Danielson took the puck from coast t0 coast and uncorked a shot to the left corner of the net for the goal.
While the offense was firing on all cylinder, the play of Nash between the pipes was lights out and crucial for Big Red’s victory.
“Defense was huge,” Nash said. “On the smaller ice, it’s a more physical game. So defense was doing a good job on the bodies.”
Rurak said that Nash isn’t known for making those flashy saves and that’s perfectly fine for the head coach.
“On the breakaway he comes way out and challenges,” Rurak said. “He’s always just in the right spot and he plays his angles really well for a smaller goalie. He’s fundamentally sound, is always square to the shooter and square to the puck and doesn’t let many rebounds go.”
And Nash was able to get some help from defenders Andrew Frost, Ryan Columbo, Dylan Madden and returning senior Nic Pelletier-Martinelli. After missing the team’s first two games of the year while paying junior hockey with the Junior Rangers, Pelletier-Martinelli decided to return to GHS and finish out his high school career as a member of the Cardinals.
“He’s a big defenseman and he rounds out our defensive core,” Rurak said. “Now I have four solid guys that I can roll. Before he was there we had three solid defenders, but we were trying to find our fourth. Now we can build other guys around him. He can also cover for mistakes that other guys make. He’s a big body, a big presence, a good skater, has a great hockey I.Q. and lets us control the pace of the game.”
And he made his first game of the year quite memorable.
“I felt like my senior year I just didn’t want to give up my senior year playing with my buddies and playing for our school,” said Pelletier-Martinelli. “I know that we have a really strong team this year and we have a chance to go back to where we were last year and win this time.”
Although Greenwich came away with the 3-0 victory and played their best game to date, Rurak knows the season is young and that the Winter Classic is all about the experience of playing outdoor hockey and showing off the sport.
“Of course we wanted to win the game and it’s nice to win, but the experience we get to give these kids is unparalleled to any other high school hockey experience you can get,” Rurak said. “There’s really no winners and losers and it really doesn’t hurt anybody in the standings. It counts, but it doesn’t hurt a team if they lose and doesn’t help a team if they win. It’s too early in the season. It’s all about having a good time and showcasing high school hockey.”
“This game was a huge momentum boost for practice,” said Nash. “We’re going to work a lot harder now. We got our eyes on the FCIAC and state titles. We’re rolling and ready to go.”