The Hall-Southington hockey team faced a ton of adversity this season, starting with a confusing move up to Division II and then the loss of captain Drew Booth to a traumatic injury.
The Warrior-Knights fought it, but were unable to close out the season on a high note.
“They handled all of that with varying degrees of grace, I guess you can call it,” said coach Brian Cannon. “I think we could have had a better season. I think we gave away a few games and then the kids were a little drained and unfocused after the Drew situation.”
The season came to a conclusion Tuesday afternoon at Veterans Memorial Rink in West Hartford with a 2-1 loss to cross-town rival Conard.
“It was a real tentative first period for both teams, but then everyone went out and played hockey,” said Cannon. “Everybody was on their best behavior.”
Each side’s tentativeness derived from the previous meeting, on Feb. 24, when Booth went down with a career-ending head injury on a hit from behind. Cannon expected both teams to be well-behaved after that.
The Warrior-Knights finished their first regular season up in D-II with an 11-7-2 record that earned them a trip to the CCC South championship game and the first round of the CIAC state tournament before falling to their rivals.
“I wish we could have adapted better in the last two games we played,” said Cannon. “Maybe that would have given us a chance to win them, but we didn’t. We had hoped to win the conference, we would have liked to have made it to Yale, but we just didn’t come in with enough of a game against Conard.”
Cannon expressed his frustration with his team’s elevation to Division II because he felt it took a championship chance away from a team that had made a Cinderella run to the Division III championship game in the 2016-17 season.
“They should’ve never moved us up, but that’s beyond our control,” said Cannon. “We tried to reason with them and keep it objective, but it didn’t happen. One of the main teams that we moved up to accommodate to move down (the Enfield Co-op) is still moving ahead in the state tournament and embarrassed us in the conference final.”
Cannon doesn’t think a drop back down to D-III is in the cards for his team for 2018-19.
“You know, we keep going. It generally seems to be a two-year thing,” said Cannon. “We take our licks this upcoming year and hope to move down after.”
Cannon added that his team had chances for success this season and mismanaged some of those opportunities.
Cannon graduates an enormous 11-man senior class that includes the likes of Miles Aronow, Andrew Mitchell, Graham Kennedy, Jake Albert, and goalies Zach Monti and Harry Freda.
“We’re decimated this year,” said Cannon. “And that’s why we are so disappointed with the move to D-II. We knew this was our year, this was our shot. It just wasn’t to be.”
In total, the Warrior-Knights graduate 105 points. Aronow (23 points), Albert (20) and Booth (18) were the scoring leaders. Albert, from Southington, was a first-year senior.
“I thought he had a real good season,” Cannon said of Albert. “He didn’t put up the numbers that he would’ve liked to, and we could’ve used, but his overall play was excellent. He was a really nice arrival.”
A bigger question mark for Hall-Southington’s future is in the net with the graduation of Monti and Freda.
Cannon laughed at the question and said, “That’s still completely up in the air; I know nothing. I just hope to God all of a sudden one of our forwards doesn’t come out and start having to play goalie. [Mike] DiPietro hinted he could do it.”
DePietro and fellow returner Nate Zmarlicki will be leaned on heavily next year. Two kids who can do a lot when the puck is on their stick, Zmarlicki and DiPietro are going to have to log some serious minutes next season with the major hit to numbers Hall-Southington will be taking.
Players like Bobby Allan and Liam Stone, new arrivals this season, will be expected to turn a page and be leaders next season, all in a span of eight months.
“Bobby got regular time all year,” said Cannon. “He had some big goals. He had a long stretch of playing well. He was a pleasant surprise and he has a nice upside. Same with Liam.”
Cannon said Stone’s ability to integrate into an established defensive core made a difference and impressed him.
With the amount of quality players on the roster, it truly is a wonder how the Warrior-Knights did not string together more wins and earn a higher seed in the state tournament, especially when you take into consideration that Hall-Southington was 5-3-1 against D-II opponents and playing fairly considerable number of competitive games.
“We do tend to play up and down to our competition,” said Cannon. “Then we go out against teams who aren’t having a particularly strong year and we’re psyching ourselves out and just barely winning or losing games we should handily win.”
The future of Hall-Southington lacks the immediate brightness of other area teams, and yet there is a light of positivity. As Hall-Southington took the ice with Conard Tuesday afternoon, Booth was back at the rink, tolerating whatever pain his body was in a week after surgery, to support his team.
“It was an awful nice thing to have him get to the rink the other day because I really didn’t think he would be up to it,” said Cannon. “You look at the character of that kid, and I guess I should’ve never doubted he’d be at the rink. He’s fighting.”