Senior center Vincent Venuti leads a balanced South River offense that is hitting its stride just in time to defend its conference title. (Photo courtesy of Madeleine Pedersen)

Top to bottom, Vincent Venuti said this year’s South River ice hockey team is more talented than the squads that won the past two Maryland Student Hockey League Eastern Conference championships.

They were playing like it at the beginning of the season — but not in a good way, he said.

“I think we came into the season thinking we could roll over teams pretty easily,” the senior center said. “Kids were showing up to the game not mentally prepared and it showed up on the ice.”

In a 2-1 loss to Arundel on Dec. 16, their wakeup call arrived. After a night of bickering on the bench, bad penalties and lackadaisical play, the players went into a quiet locker room and realized they had to regroup. With a roster loaded with finesse players — including five of its top six forwards from last season — that meant getting gritty.

South River (5-1-3) responded to that loss by putting together its best stretch of the season. The Edgewater school beat Dulaney, 3-1, on Jan. 3 and defeated Anne Arundel County rival Broadneck, 5-2, on Friday to win its third consecutive game.

“We were all kind of thinking we might be a little better than we are,” senior Ty Kaplow said. “That brought us back into reality, we buckled down after that and realized we had to play a lot harder and do what we needed to do.”

“Dirty goals” have been the key to the offense’s recent success, Kaplow said. Players are crashing the net, cashing in on second-chance opportunities and screening the opposing goalie for their teammates. They are winning 50-50 battles and are getting rid of the puck faster, rather than trying to take it through the defense.

The result has been a balanced offense with production from four lines. Venuti, a 5-foot-5 center, leads South River in points with only 10, while Andrew Martin and Ethan Frantz have a team-high five goals.

Backed by an experienced defense and senior goalie Zach Baxter between the pipes, the Seahawks were able to get by early in the season despite shaky offensive play.

But with an Eastern Conference three-peat on the line, and the MSHL playoffs fast approaching, the offense is heating up at the right time.

“This team needs to work together in order to achieve what we want to achieve,” Kaplow said, “and I think we’re really doing that this year.”

The Big number: 1:01

Time into the third period when David Stephens scored the go-ahead goal in Marriotts Ridge’s 2-1 win over Atholton. The junior scored both goals in Friday’s victory and has nine on the season for the unbeaten Mustangs.

Player of the week

The St. Albans defense

The Bulldogs surrendered seven shots on goal in an 11-0 win over Good Counsel on Tuesday as senior goaltender Ethan Roth posted his second straight shutout.

Washington-Lee goaltender Ely Constantine, center, made 34 saves in the Generals' 3-2 win over West Potomac on Friday night. (Photo courtesy of Chris Vargas)
Generals take upper hand in budding rivalry

A month after a three-goal loss to West Potomac, Washington-Lee approached the rematch last Friday with caution. Wingers stayed high above the circles on offense and defensemen packed in tight when the Wolverines had the puck.

As the last line of defense, goalie Ely Constantine fueled a 3-2 upset win in the Capital Scholastic Hockey League with 34 saves.

“We’ve seen West Potomac outclass other teams, so we decided to give them shots from far out,” senior Spencer Brown said. “Shooting from the point, they’re not going to rack up those 10-0 wins, which is what we wanted to avoid.”

West Potomac (7-1) entered the game with all seven wins by at least three goals, so the Wolverines faced an unfamiliar deficit when Washington-Lee (4-2-1) took a two-goal lead midway through the third period on senior Ben Stanley’s second tally of the game.

With 97 seconds left, West Potomac cut the deficit in half and pulled the goalie for a final assault. But Constantine, a freshman, finished the job with a pair of stops in the final minute.

“I mean, he just made some ridiculous saves. We hit the post a couple times and got the looks we needed to put up a handful of goals,” West Potomac senior Jordan Tenenbaum said. “Washington-Lee is our biggest rival considering they’ve been such a tough team to play against.”

Last season, West Potomac lost its third game of the year to the Generals before ripping off 10 straight wins to repeat as CSHL champions. Washington-Lee missed out on a rubber match by losing in the semifinal.

Both teams hope to earn a third showdown in the playoffs for the young league’s budding rivalry.

“It’s a fun experience being able to take down the best team in the league,” Brown said. “It would be better if we can do it in the playoffs.”

The Post Top 10

Gonzaga beat St. Mary’s Ryken and Good Counsel last week by a combined score of 19-1. . . . DeMatha returned from a 16-day break and surrendered three second-period goals in a 3-2 loss to Landon. . . . Broad Run owned the third period in a 9-6 win over Yorktown on Friday and will not play again until Feb. 3. . . . Marriotts Ridge beat Atholton, 2-1 , on Friday to remain unbeaten. . . . Wootton scored five first-period goals in Friday’s 8-4 win over Whitman. . . . Georgetown Prep lost 5-2 to Calvert Hall.

1. Gonzaga (10-4) Last week: 2

2. DeMatha (15-3-1) LW: 1

3. Churchill (11-2-2) LW: 4

4. Stone Bridge (5-0) LW: 3

5. Broad Run (6-0-1) LW: 5

6. St. Albans (6-2-1) LW: 6

7 . Marriotts Ridge (10-0) LW: 8

8. Wootton (8-3) LW: NR

9. Landon (4-3) LW: NR

10. Glenelg (7-2) LW: NR

Dropped out: No. 7 Georgetown Prep (5-6), No. 9 Whitman (8-3-1), No. 10 O’Connell

On the bubble: Madison (6-0), Atholton (6-1), South River (5-1-3)

Records through Tuesday.