Tonawanda News — When North Tonawanda boys hockey coach Alan Zybtek was putting together his top line at the beginning of the season, he knew he had a solid blueprint for a successful top tier line with experienced players.
He had an elusive player in forward Marty Clarke and an all-around physical player in Sam Rydzewski. But Zybtek was missing a finesse type player; a kid that had a powerful and accurate shot that could finish plays.
But the search did not last long. After the first week of practice, Zybtek found his man.
“I saw that (Curtis Vivian) could shoot the puck well and that he could be a sniper for me, plus his speed goes right along with (Clarke) and (Rydzewski's),” Zybtek said. “So with the three of them, I knew they would be pretty good together.”
The three have gelled nicely this season as a premier line for the Lumberjacks (10-4-1 Federation Hockey), as the team sits in third place of the Division III standings, just a point out of a three-way tie with Kenmore West (11-5 Federation Hockey) and Lew-Port (10-3-2 Federation Hockey) for first place. NT also has a mutual understanding of what the goal of the team is: to play smart hockey.
About 15 minutes before the whistle blows for the start of practice, the 'Gold' line — the name Zybtek gave the top line this season — practices passing the puck between one another and setting up their offensive zone attack.
They make a series of passes before one of them rips a shot into the net. They reload as many times as they can trying to perfect their craft.
"It just seems like we love the game of hockey as a whole," Rydzewski said. "And I think that helps us connect better. You know exactly what you need to do and (you do it).”
Clarke added that it's nice to be on a line where everyone knows where they are supposed to be at all times.
So far this season the line has combined for 33 of NT’s 48 goals. Statistically, Rydzewski leads the team in points with 25, followed by Clarke with 22 and Vivian with 19.
Vivian leads the team with 15 goals and has lived up to the sniper roll, putting away setup passes from assist leader Clarke, who has 15 on the season.
"We've talked about before how (our goalie) is the backbone of this team," Zybtek said. "He keeps the games close and these guys, I always try to challenge them and talk to them before games saying 'we need you guys to finish and get those goals so we can ride the saves that Kyle Painter is making in these tight games"
Painter also agreed with Zybtek about the production of the line and making his job easier this season.
"It's a lot better than last year definitely," Painter said. "From last year passing was rough and there wasn't a lot of flow. But this season, now when you've got a line like that, you can kind of count on them winning a faceoff or getting the puck up and down the ice quicker and getting it out of the zone better. All in all the flow of the passing is a lot better."
The Jacks continue their season today against St. Mary's at the Hockey Outlet in North Tonawanda. Puck drop is set for 8:35 p.m.Follow @tonanewssports on Twitter for complete high school sports coverage.