A slow start wasn’t enough to slow down Rye’s hockey team on Feb. 19, as a physically relentless Garnets team was able to shake off some early rust to earn a convincing 6-2 win over Byram Hills in the Division II quarterfinal round.
The victory, which puts the Garnets just one game away from a shot at a Section I title, was further proof of Rye’s resilience, a trait they’ve shown in spades all season long.
The visiting Bobcats struck first on Tuesday afternoon, netting an early power play goal to take a 1-0 lead just six minutes into regulation. But with just under three minutes to play in the first period, Declan Lavelle evened the score at 1-1.
Despite the score, however, Rye head coach Peter Thomas felt that his team—which outshot the Bobcats 11-3 in the stanza— was simply readjusting to the speed of the varsity game in the first 15 minutes. The Garnets had not played since Feb. 9, Thomas explained, so it was only natural that it would take some time for his skaters to find their rhythm.
“It’s tough because we had been off for almost two weeks, and even though we had been practicing, that’s a long layoff,” Thomas told the Review. “I think we were a little bit flat to start off, but I knew we had the ability to break through.”
The Garnets did just that in the second period, scoring four unanswered goals to essentially put the game out of reach. In addition to a Lavelle hat trick, Rye also got a big game from sophomore Liam Hurley, who had two goals and two assists on the afternoon. Annabelle Thomas made eight saves, and six different Garnets tallied assists in total.
But it was Lavelle’s physical play—more than his goal-scoring—that Peter Thomas believed ultimately set the tone for the Garnet win. Rye routinely outmuscled Byram Hills for the puck, the head coach pointed out, and it was the junior captain leading the charge.
“It’s been a huge part of what Declan brings to the table and one of the things we were lacking early on,” Thomas said. “He’s been out there playing that physical, grind-it-out hockey and a lot of guys see that and it’s become a part of what we’ve done.”
That enthusiasm for physical play helped lift Rye out of a terrible midseason slump which saw the Garnets go winless in nine consecutive contests. After turning things around, Rye finished the season with a 9-8-2 record and secured the No. 3 seed in the Division II playoffs.
“This is a stronger group than we may have had in years past, and they have shown the ability to overcome adversity,” Thomas said. “During that rough stretch in the middle, we may not have been getting rewarded with wins, but we saw the guys improving each night.”
The Garnets biggest test is still ahead of them, however. On Feb. 21, Rye will take on top-seeded Pelham at the Ice Hutch in the playoff semifinals. The two teams played to a 2-2 draw on Jan. 30 and will look to reignite their rivalry with a trip to the section finals on the line.
“There’s no secret to Pelham’s success; they give all-out effort on every shift,’ Thomas said. “We need to be willing to match that and exceed it, and also take care of the puck on our own end.”