Hartford boys hockey defeated by top-ranked Rice

Ezra Mock

Ezra Mock Last Name—BigZig Photography

Nunu Mayer

Nunu Mayer Last Name—BigZig Photography

By TRIS WYKES

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 01-22-2024 9:48 AM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION, Vt. — Like a driver rolling onto a highway and quickly merging into the far left lane, the Hartford High boys hockey team found itself in a high-speed zone Saturday against Rice at Barwood Arena.

The Green Knights, top-ranked in Vermont Division I, arrived in a rented coach bus but took flight upon game time, roaring up and down the ice en route to a 5-2 victory over the Division II Hurricanes.

The Hurricanes (8-1-2) have played four Division I opponents thus far and finish the regular season against seven such foes in nine contests.

“Hold on to your hats,” said Hartford coach Todd Bebeau. “But we’ll be fine. The kids played their hearts out today and the most important thing to me was we never gave up.”

Hartford reached the Division II finals two years ago and the semifinals last winter with something of a star-studded cast. This season’s Hurricanes are more anonymous but perhaps more cohesive. Chemistry matters and Bebeau believes his current squad has it in spades.

“There would have been (Hartford) teams in the past that would have started to take runs at the other team or argue with each other,” he said. “But these kids get it and they realize each time they step on the ice is a chance to improve.

“We all need to recognize that Rice was just better than us. And that’s ok.”

The Green Knights deployed talented lines and outshot the hosts, 31-11. Rice goaltender Giles Heilman was forced to make only three saves while Hartford freshman Nunu Mayer made 21.

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The visitors scored on the game’s first shot and after only 51 seconds. Hartford surrendered a 2-on-1 rush with Ollie Mobley passing from the left to Tyler Russo on the right, the latter banging home a one-time swipe.

Rice took 11 shots during the second period’s first six minutes but the Hurricanes endured and produced a 1-1 tie with seven minutes remaining in the stanza. Logan Cafferty’s shot from the slot was saved but Ezra Mock scored at the right post after a short scramble.

The Green Knights (8-1-2) went up again a minute before the second intermission. Makenzie Owens tipped in a J.D. Raleigh blast from the left point at the near post, giving the visitors 22 of the game’s first 30 shots.

Rice used a two-goal blitz during a five-second span to put the game away. Russo tipped in another Raleigh slap shot from the point and the subsequent faceoff resulted in Luke Senesac racing down the left side and beating Mayer inside the far post for a 4-1 lead.

Hartford’s Nick Daniels cut his team’s deficit to two when his low shot from a sharp angle in the left corner slid under Heilman’s leg. Soon after, a Mock shot rang the right post. Rice’s Conor Reilly cashed in a breakaway with a minute to play to close the scoring.

“Their transition game, it was bam, bam, bam and out of their zone,” Bebeau said. “Ours was at times fumble, bumble the puck and overhandle it. This was a game where you can’t stickhandle through three or four people. The puck needs to move.”

Said Mock: “That’s probably the fastest pace we’re going to play this year. We got better as a team and we took a lot away from today, but we have a lot to learn.

“Having to match a team that rolls three lines is tough for us since depth isn’t in our favor this year.”

Bebeau and Mock emphasized they’d rather lose to a top team than rout an inferior opponent, as was often the case in recent years.

The Vermont Principals Association restructured its members’ schedules for this winter, with better Division II squads facing Division I foes more often. Come playoff tournament time, however, eligibility reverts to school enrollment as the deciding factor.

“We get more out of a three-goal loss than by blowing teams out,” said Mock, whose team hosts Spaulding (4-5-2) on Wednesday. “You don’t get comfortable and become sloppy.”

Life in the fast lane requires meticulous play.

Notes: Mock was honored before the game for having previously notched his 100th high school point. The senior said he’s investigating the possibility of a post-graduate year at a prep school… One of the night’s best body checks occurred when Hartford’s Nate Clark and one of the referees collided in the moments before the start of the third period. Each wound up prone in front of the Hurricanes bench, but fortunately without injuries… Blaine Gour, a 2023 Hartford graduate, now skates for the University of Michigan-Flint’s Division III club team. He had eight goals and 10 assists in his first 25 games.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.