The Ithaca Little Red boys hockey team has less than one-third of the number of seniors it had last year, going from 13 to just four. After a 1-4 start to the season, it seemed that this would be a rebuilding year for the team. However, Ithaca has kicked into high gear, going 8-1-1 since then and earning the 15th spot in the state rankings.
Already, the team has improved upon its 7-10-2 finish a year ago. Prior to the start of the season, defenseman Dennis Kang told Tompkins Weekly that the team was “fired up to be the underdogs.” They’ve captured that spirit, and it’s led to the success they’ve found.
Head coach Paul Zarach knew that the team had great potential and credits the run of wins to a simplification of their style of play.
“The one thing that’s been constant through the stretch that we’ve had is that the kids are following the gameplan,” Zarach said. “They’re working hard and not trying to do too much. They’re playing as a five-person unit every time they’re on the ice. They’re having fun, too. That really makes it more enjoyable, when you’re having fun and winning.”
In addition to the no-frills hockey, the Little Red have shown grit and tenacity in the face of difficult situations. Zarach recalled one of those moments from a 3-3 draw against Shenendehowa on Jan. 18.
“We were down late 3-1 and could’ve easily packed it in and accepted the loss,” Zarach said. “But we fought back and tied the game up with 20 seconds left.”
The comeback was a huge boost of confidence for a team that had just seen its seven-game win streak come to an end the night before. Zarach stated that he saw the players’ level of expectations for themselves when they were visibly upset in the locker room following that 4-2 loss to Saratoga on Jan. 17.
That loss has fueled them since, winning 6-2 against Liverpool in their most recent game. There was a solid mix of offense, with six different players finding the back of the net. Although, one player in particular has been standing out amongst the bunch, and that is Colden Goodrow.
In this 10-game stretch, Goodrow, a junior, has scored an astounding 13 times. That includes a run of five-straight multi-goal games. Zarach discussed the impact he’s had.
“He’s just doing a really good job of getting the pucks to the net and finishing his chances,” Zarach said. “If you look at his stats from last year, he had two goals. Look what he’s already done this year. He’s really grown and taken his game to the next level.”
Another impact performer has been senior goaltender Evan Mielbrecht. While he may be a senior, this is his first year at the varsity level. Mielbrecht was thrust into the starting role after an injury to the originally planned goalie, William Gephart, before the season.
Mielbrecht started nine of the team’s last 10 games, allowing more than three goals in just one of them. The team’s underdog story is encapsulated strongest in the success of the first-year starter.
“He played on our JV team for a couple of years,” Zarach said. “We were very happy to see him come back for his senior year. He’s getting better each game. He’s really working hard in practice and getting better. Those moments where we’re scrambling in the d-zone, he’s come up with some pretty impressive saves over the course of the stretch of games.”
With success comes deserving recognition. For the first time since 2015, Ithaca finds itself in the state rankings, coming in at 15th.
“It was a surprise,” Zarach said. “It just shows that people are starting to take notice of these guys. Now they’re going to have a target on their back because people are going to want to come in and beat us because we’re ranked now. You’re only as good as your last game. The kids know we have to bring it every night.”
Zarach went as far to say that the 8-1-1 stretch means nothing if the team doesn’t continue to play at that level. To maintain the team’s performance, Zarach has pinpointed areas of improvement.
“We just need to continue to work on our defense and our special teams,” he said. “Our power play’s been carrying us for the majority of the season in critical points. They just have to continue to be creative and try different things and get shots on goal. Our penalty killing just needs to continue to block the shots. If we can continue to do the little things to get better the next few months, who knows how far we can take this?”
The Little Red receive an automatic spot in the state tournament due to their status as the lone Section IV boys hockey team. They’ll see how far they can go starting on March 7 at the Harbor Center in Buffalo. For now, though, the regular season, and hopefully the success, continues on Friday, Jan. 31, on the road against Clinton.
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