Boys’ hockey: Coming off back-to-back losses, Concord looks to right the ship in the playoffs

Concord freshman Jaden Haas celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal late in the third period in the Tide’s 2-1 win over Bow on Jan. 10, 2024.

Concord freshman Jaden Haas celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal late in the third period in the Tide’s 2-1 win over Bow on Jan. 10, 2024. Rich Miyara—NH Sports Photography

Concord junior forward Rowan Arndt prepares to backhand the puck into the back of the net during the Tide's 7-1 win over Pinkerton on Feb. 3, 2024.

Concord junior forward Rowan Arndt prepares to backhand the puck into the back of the net during the Tide's 7-1 win over Pinkerton on Feb. 3, 2024. Chip Griffin—Photos By Chip

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 03-01-2024 9:50 AM

It’s not too common to see Concord boys’ hockey lose back-to-back games. When it happened last week in losses to Keene (2-1) and Hanover (3-2), it was the first time the Crimson Tide program had dropped consecutive contests in seven years.

Coincidentally, the second of the two straight losses during that 2016-17 season was also against Hanover. Concord regrouped thereafter and reached the Division I championship game that postseason where it lost to Bedford in the final.

This time around, head coach Dunc Walsh is hoping for a similar type of reversal heading into the playoffs, albeit perhaps one that ends with a championship win.

The offense and power play struggled during the last week of the season, when the Tide scored just four goals over the last three games. As such, No. 3 Concord’s (14-3-1) taken advantage of the week between games to regroup and refocus ahead of its Division I quarterfinal matchup against No. 11 Exeter (9-10-0) on Saturday at 5:45 p.m. 

“I don’t think it was a bad thing,” Walsh said on Thursday of the two losses. “We’ve had three good days of practice. We’re going to practice Thursday and Friday. At least now we can focus on who we’re playing. They’ll be ready. They’re hungry. Just gotta take it one game at a time as they say.”

Concord is as familiar with the Blue Hawks as a team could be. The two programs faced each other twice during the regular season and during the Brian C. Stone Memorial Hockey Tournament on the last week of December. The Tide won the two regular season games, 2-1 and 5-2, while Exeter won the tournament matchup, 4-3.

More than anything, Walsh said, Concord will need to figure out how to slow down Exeter’s 6’4 senior forward Cam Keaveney.

“Exeter goes with him. I think he’s the best player in the league,” he said. “He dominated the (first-round) game against Bow. He single handedly just took over. And we know about him; we just played him a bunch of times. You just gotta contain him and not let him beat you. He’s so dangerous in open ice.”

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Improving the offense remains central to Concord’s game plan, too. In the past when the Tide seemed to dominate nearly every opponent, it could score off the numerous odd-man rushes generated out of the defensive and neutral zones. This year, it’s taken more physicality in front of the net, something Walsh continues to harp on.

“Most of it comes down to, you gotta get to the net, you gotta get some rebound goals, tips, screens,” he said. “You’re not always going to get clean 2-on-1 goals or on a rush. We just need to do a better job of getting to the front of the net, getting some tough goals. Sometimes you get knocked over to score a goal, and that’s what it’s going to come down to, just a little tougher around the net, a little grittier and find a way to knock in rebounds.”

Scoring on the power play would also help, although an injury to defenseman Joe Shoemaker has hampered their success with the man advantage.

Overall, Walsh said the team’s done a solid job of establishing possession in the offensive zone, they’ve just rushed too often to fire pucks on net instead of waiting for better opportunities to open up.

“I think we just gotta be a little more patient. That’s the biggest thing,” Walsh said. “In the Hanover game, we had a 5-on-3. First two guys who touched the puck are shooting the puck. I always tell them, ‘You have two minutes, so you don’t have to score in the first 20 seconds.’ Just gotta be more patient, take better shots and move it around and try to set it up so we get a real good opportunity with traffic in front.”

The Tide are under no illusion that Saturday’s game will be easy, even if it’s a three seed against an 11 seed. Walsh noted after Concord’s 5-2 win over the Blue Hawks on Feb. 14 that Exeter was far better than its record showed.

And with a program eager to get back to its championship-winning ways after falling in the semifinals last year, Concord is taking nothing for granted.

“It’s a three against 11 seed, and people probably see that and say, ‘That should be an easy win.’ There’s no easy wins now,” Walsh said. “It’s the quarterfinals, and Exeter’s a good team, and their record’s a little deceiving, and our kids know that, so it’s probably good. Our kids will not take them lightly.”