Staples hockey goes as New goes
WESTPORT — As the puck squirted out from the boards and into the neutral zone, a mad scramble in its pursuit drew a rise from the crowd of on-lookers.
Cheers and screams in an attempt to boast the spirits of those on the ice can be heard all throughout the Shelton Rinks as one player beats the rest and skates to the punk.
It was a scene that Staples coach Chris Avena had seen happen many times over the past three years, looking on from the bench as senior captain Sam New blew through everyone before deking out the St. Joseph goalie and scoring his fourth goal of the night.
“It certainly doesn’t hurt to have No. 19 on your team,” Avena said after the Wreckers 8-1 win over Staples on Tuesday night. “The only game he didn’t play we lost 4-0 and we’re 7-0-1 other than that so that pretty much says what he means to us.”
After missing the postseason a year ago, Staples has risen from the ashes to hold the top spot in Division III, thanks in part to the stellar season from New.
Since scoring his 150th career point earlier this season, New has done everything for the Wreckers both on and off the ice. But it has been more than just him that has Staples in the great position, he said.
“Our leaders are tremendous,” New said. “We’ve been there before, a lot of our leaders, we don’t want to peak too early. But we’re having a great year so far.”
Being there before can mean a great deal to a team that is fighting hard to get back to its former glory as many of the seniors, New included, played for a state title two years ago as sophomores.
It has been that fire to get back to the mountain top that has driven his team this season and kept them from complacency, Avena said.
Along with a little help from the Miami Hurricanes defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.
“We have a saying that I actually adopted,” Avena said. “Strength assumed is weakness doubled. We talk about it a lot and once we think we’re really good, that’s when were going to get our butts kicked. We focus on that and we try to keep our foot on the gas and be confident that we can compete.”
Even opponents are understanding that this Staples team brings plenty to the table in its pursuit of a state title, and it begins and end with New.
“Hats off to Staples,” St. Joseph coach Eddy LeMaire said after losing to the Wreckers on Tuesday night. “Sam New is a great hockey player. He dominated today.”
With New leading the way, the Wreckers have performed against teams from outside of Division III this season, against Division II teams this season Staples is 2-1-1.
While being undefeated against Division III and winning their lone game against a Division I team when they took down the Cadets.
Despite the success from New on the ice, it has been his leadership off of it that has impressed his coach the most, Avena said.
“The best part about Sam is that he is maturing and growing as a captain and as a leader,” he said. “That’s what I’m the most proud of him for. That’s really impressive about Sam this year and it carries on the ice. His on ice display is Sam New at his best. He has to considered one of the best players in the state.”
That praise from his coach has been what has separated New from some of the other top players in the state this season, the growth that has risen in a player can be attributed to the highs and lows during his time on the ice for the Wreckers — playing in a state title game, but also understands the pain of missing the postseason.
But in order to get back to the state championship caliber team that New and his teammates want to achieve, there are still plenty of steps left.
Although a major important step has developed with the team after some clutch wins over Trumbull, Norwalk, and St. Joseph.
“We have a lot of confidence in ourselves,” he said. “I think that everyone needs to buy in to everything that we’re doing.”
Staples still has several huge test left in this season despite their strong start. The Wreckers are slated to matchup against five more Division I opponents — including top teams in Ridgefield and Greenwich.
But for right now the season has gone the way that many of the Wrecker faithful had hoped, as the fast defensive attack coupled with the leadership and offensive skills from New on the ice has Staples in prime position to achieve the ultimate goal by seasons end, Avena said.
“We work extremely hard on the defensive end,” he said. “We work really hard on our stick-on-puck skills. We work on our d-zone presence and where we’re supposed to be and it’s really a main focus of ours. It’s nice as a coach when you work hard on something and see it come to fruition.”
As long as No. 19 is leading the way, there is always going to be plenty to smile about for Avena.
ct.com; Twitter: @aronJohnson_