By Dave Ruden
STAMFORD — On the day the Oscar nominations were announced, here’s a candidate for most surprising sentence in the high school winter sports season: Trinity Catholic is the last unbeaten hockey team in the state.
How far have the Crusaders come? Almost exactly a year ago they were 2-10-1 after an 0-5 start. They went 7-3 the rest of the way and earned a state tournament berth.
Trinity has been the talk of the Division II world so far, improving to 7-0 on Wednesday night after scoring four third-period goals in a 6-2 win over Westhill at Terry Conners Rink.
If the record is the most tangible indication of the Crusaders’ rapid development, comments by their coach, Ken Smith, after the game were further proof.
“I’m not really happy,” Smith said. “I’m happy with the W, but I’m not happy with how we got it. We haven’t executed all year, in my view.”
A year ago a win would have been savored no matter how cosmetically unsatisfying. Now Smith is holding his players to a higher standard, because the way the Crusaders perform is going to matter more as the games take on greater importance.
Consider this sentiment by Smith: “Yeah, we’re undefeated. It’s not the prettiest undefeated, but it’s better than a year ago.”
Trinity’s play was sporadic against Westhill until the final period, when they seemed to find the fluidity Smith was seeking.
“There’s no amount of yelling or talking,” Smith said. “The kids have to figure it out, and ultimately they did. Our skill players come to the forefront, and ultimately they did.”
One, Will Egan, scored twice for the Crusaders against Westhill, and was deployed all over the ice. He is one of just four seniors on the roster.
“Will is my captain and our spiritual leader out there,” Smith said. “I can put him on offense, I can put him on defense, which I did at the end of the game. I can rely on him and it’s a good feeling for a coach to have players like that you can rely upon.”
Egan said while outsiders may not have foreseen the Crusaders’ hot start, he and his teammates were not surprised.
“We knew we had a good team,” Egan said. “We know the FCIAC had a lot of better teams in Division I, and in Division II we could do some damage. It’s a lot easier now for sure. Not having to worry about every single game. It’s a lot more fun when you’re winning.”
The other standout has been goaltender Kyle Odierno, whose sensational play continued as he robbed the Vikings on several occasions early Wednesday when the game was close.
“Kyle has just stepped up to another level,” Smith said. “I don’t know if any other goaltender would take minutes from him at this point.”
Trinity is hardly a two-player team. Griffin Northrop had two goals and two assists against Westhill. Colin Bernard finished with a goal and three assists, while Drew Scanlon added a goal and an assist.
“Kyle’s been playing fantastic, that’s one thing,” Egan said of the turnaround. “And we’re scoring. We couldn’t find ways to score last year.”
Just think about this: the hockey team now has twice as many wins as the Crusaders’ boys and girls basketball teams combined.
“A lot more people are showing up for our games consistently,” Egan said.
Smith said if the Crusaders are going to build on their start, more work needs to be done.
“We have to get better defensively, so Kyle doesn’t have to face 30 shots,” said Smith, noting that his team has won despite being outshot in every game. “It’s good news, bad news because our best hockey is yet to come.”