STAMFORD — Harry Stanton is prominent in the discussion about the FCIAC’s most valuable hockey player this season.
That was evident again on Saturday afternoon, when he finished with a goal and an assist, helping New Canaan High School to a come-from-behind 5-2 win over Darien at Terry Conners Rink for its third league title in five years.
But Stanton’s greatest contribution to the victory did not take place on the ice. It occurred in a Spanish class at the school before the season even started.
“He said to me do you want to play hockey this year, and I said I’ll give it a go,” said Mac Wright, the Rams’ goaltender, after he was named the most valuable player following a spectacular performance. “I don’t know how long I’ll last with my hip.”
Wright suffered a severe hip injury early in his sophomore season. He said he could not walk for a few days after it happened. He missed the rest of that year and all of his junior year.
And, Wright admitted, if not for Stanton, he would have been in the stands along with a huge student section watching Saturday’s game.
Assuming the Rams would have made it there without him.
“I can’t say enough how much we appreciate Mac in these big games,” said Jack O’Rourke, who finished with two goals and two assists and was the unofficial MVP runner-up. “I don’t think we win any of these big games. The beginning of the season we didn’t even know if he was going to be playing, and he’s been solid ever since then.”
Darien (19-3-1), the top seed and tournament favorite, dominated the first period, but all it had to show was a Tommy Watters’ goal at 3:12 that caromed off Wright’s back and into the net.
Wright was stellar, making 10 saves and keeping the deficit at a manageable level.
“We wouldn’t have gotten here if we didn’t have him play a little bit against Ridgefield,” said New Canaan coach Bo Hickey, referring to a 3-2 semifinal win in overtime. “He’s been steady all year. He’s hung tough.”
While Wright was doing his part, Hickey was not pleased with the rest of the Rams’ effort.
“We were kind of stuck in sand for a while so we straightened that out between periods,” Hickey said. “As soon as we straightened them out we got on the board a couple of times.”
Asked if his message was delivered in harsh tones,” Hickey smiled.
“I didn’t threaten anybody,” he said. “Well maybe I did one.”
Added O’Rourke, “He was trying to get us back in our game and inspire us, like he always does. He’s a yeller sometimes. He’s mostly positive. How we were going to win this game, not what we were doing wrong.”
How the third-seeded Rams (18-4-1) were going to win the game was with goals 20 seconds apart in the second period. The first was scored by Peter Reinhardt just five seconds into a power play.
“That power play really was the turning point of the game, and we just started going harder on the forecheck and put pressure on them,” O’Rourke said. “That created all of our goals.”
O’Rourke followed quickly with a one-time shot in front of the net, giving the Rams a lead they would not relinquish.
Suddenly, that quicksand looked more like a luge course.
Drew Morris’ goal 13 seconds into the final period gave the Rams a 3-1 lead, but Watters set up Owen Koorbusch to cut the deficit to 3-2 with 7:54 remaining.
But the Blue Wave got little time to carve a momentum change. Stanton scored and then O’Rourke lifted a shot into an empty net.
“It feels good to score against Darien,” O’Rourke said. “All year they’ve been the favorites in the rankings. They have a phenomenal goalie, Michael Colon, and we came into this game not knowing how we were going to score. All of our goals were basically off of good passes.”
Hickey is as blunt as any coach in the state, but sometimes you can learn more from his expressions than words. His feelings for this team were evident on the ice during the postgame celebration.
“It’s always a thrill,” Hickey said. “You saw it tonight. A great crowd, everyone had boisterous people on both sides, the kids are pumped up. Just a great effort. That’s all.”
Fittingly, the last player off the ice was Wright.
Asked to assess his play, Wright said, “It went by too fast. It’s all a blur. I saved one with my head so maybe that’s why I don’t remember.”
Reminded about that Spanish class conversation, Wright said, “If it wasn’t for Harry, I definitely wouldn’t have played. I guess he gets the MVP then.”