Northwest Catholic hockey advanced all the way to the Division I state semifinals in 2019. The Lions won 17 regular season games, the CCC North championship and were seeded second in the tournament that year. They lost to Notre Dame-West Haven by a goal and fell just short of a championship game berth.
Last year, they won just seven games in the regular season and squeaked into the Division I state tournament as the No. 13 seed, but they never played as the tournament was canceled due to COVID-19.
Now in this shortened, unorthodox winter season, the Lions look like a winning team again. The Lions (4-1) led wire-to-wire to beat South Windsor 6-2 on Monday at South Windsor Arena.
“I knew we were going to get better and better,” coach Dan Melanson said. “I had a very young team last year, really talented young kids coming over. ... Last year was a little rebuilding part.”
The Lions are still young. Melanson starts two freshmen on defense and has two freshmen on his first two lines. While he described the Lions as a “very talented young team,” he credited seniors Connor Melanson and Griffin Macary for being leaders.
Melanson and Macary are in quite different roles this year, though.
Melanson scored his first career hat trick Monday, all in the second period. Macary, who was expected to be one of the team’s key starters this season, broke a leg in the preseason but remains close to the team.
“That was very devastating,” Connor Melanson said. “The first week it was devastating to see a kid that I have been so close with lose his season, because he loves this sport. Honestly, it’s really fueled our motivation, because every time we step on this ice, we know we’re playing for him. Everything we do out there is for him. We want to show him how hard we work. We want to make him proud.”
Said Dan Melanson: “He’s even more vocal now. It’s great to have him around.”
Northwest Catholic, which handed the Bobcats (4-2) their first loss of the season two weeks ago, scored the game’s first three goals Monday. Bobby Lachance scored with 5:11 to go in the first period. Melanson scored twice in a four-minute span to start the second period to give the Lions a 3-0 lead before South Windsor’s Chase Mawhinney scored with 3:30 to go in the period.
Melanson scored his third goal a minute-and-a-half later to build back the three-goal lead.
Sean O’Connor scored for the Bobcats with 11:53 to go in the third period to make it 4-2. But Dillon Hutton and Evin Curtiss scored in a 41-second span with five minutes remaining to keep the Bobcats at bay.
“We got a couple goal cushion so we changed things up a little bit,” Dan Melanson said. “Then they came right back. We had a bunch of penalties, gave them some good chances there. They capitalized. We went back at it. I said, ‘Listen, it’s close. We can’t do this.’”
The Lions played South Windsor for the second time Monday. They’ve also played Simsbury (3-2 overtime loss), East Catholic (6-4 win) and Farmington Valley (3-0 win). They’ll play the latter three teams each once again this season. They’re slated to play Glastonbury twice.
Teams will play just a regionalized 12-game schedule prior to a conference tournament in which there’s a good chance they’ll see the same teams again.
“We already played [South Windsor] once. We played them today. We might play them again at the end of the season,” Connor Melanson said. “We’re getting very familiar. You can notice who’s the best out there, who are the better players.”
Shawn McFarland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.