WEST HARTFORD — Two years ago, the Hall-Southington boys hockey team played for a state championship. In two years, it may once again contend.
For now, the Warrior-Knights are a team paying for past success with an eye on the future.
“We have a whole new set of guys, so we’ve had to sort of restart from the beginning,” said senior captain Mike DiPietro, who leads this year’s team in scoring and was part of Hall-Southington’s run to the 2017 Division III state title game as a sophomore.
“We still have the determination to get back to the playoffs (like the past two years), although it just hasn’t started off so well. We are just so young.”
Whether good or bad, youth is indeed on the side of the Warrior-Knights.
Looking above and beyond the ice inside Veterans Memorial Ice Rink on Wednesday night, the future of Hall-Southington could be seen. While not dressed, a host of underclassmen were in charge of video and stats as the Warrior-Knights (2-7) were beaten 3-1 by a more experienced WMRP team (7-2).
Another eight freshmen were dressed on the Warrior-Knights’ bench, but didn’t play. Nine sophomores suited up. As a result, Hall-Southington head coach Brian Cannon can’t help but look forward with optimism.
“We are just going to have to see how the younger guys develop, because they are out there at practice every day,” Cannon said. “They aren’t all getting time, but they are good young players and we use them if we can.
“They’re going to be good players; they have skill,” Cannon added. “They just aren’t ready for this yet. They are all just young kids. I think they’ll benefit even if they didn’t dress this year.”
Given its overall lack of experience, Hall-Southington has counted on solid minutes out of senior Sam Kursman, who has been a reliable defenseman after missing his junior season with a broken collarbone.
Another senior defenseman, Ethan Penn, was one of the juniors last year who saw ice time.
“The thing we are fighting is we only have four kids on this year’s team that played on a regular shifts last season,” Cannon said. “And two, maybe three, who got sporadic shifts.”
Freshman Cody Brew, who assisted on sophomore Christian Mohr’s goal Wednesday night, has impressed Cannon. So has sophomore Duncan Hollander, who has been moved to forward.
“We’ve got a couple underclassmen that are holding their own,” Cannon said. “We are going to keep some good players, but losing ‘Dip’ is going to hurt. There are a few guys (we are going to lose) who are going to hurt, because they are playing solid shifts right now.”
While DiPietro’s 15 points (8 goals and 7 assists) lead Hall-Southington, sophomore Bobby Allan is certainly a player Cannon will look to build around. Allan has 12 points on 9 goals and 3 assists so far this season, including a hat trick against Woodstock Academy, the team that beat the Warrior-Knights in the 2017 D-III final.
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Allan attends Southington High School and played on Hall-Southington’s first line last year as a freshman. The forward brings a wealth of experience, having played for travel teams in Avon and New Haven and with the CT Capitals.
“I think we can build on this season, it’s just a matter of us going by the systems that our coaches teach,” Allan said. “We’ll be fine. The young guys are getting used to how we run things here and I really think they’ll be fine when they get their playing time. And we’ll be fine next year.
“We just have to play the way we play, no matter the competition level. Just keeping what our coaches tell us to do in our head and play our game.”
The other sophomore whose seen plenty of ice time was thrown into the fire a few weeks before the season started: goalie Noah Behrens-Gould.
Cannon calls Behrens-Could a “penny from heaven,” considering Hall-Southington was without a goalie up until Behrens-Gould called Cannon and offered his services. Cannon was ready to bring in a girl off the Southington girls co-op hockey team until Behrens-Gould contacted him.
“We weren’t sure what was going to happen (in goal) if Noah didn’t come through,” said Cannon. “He’s had some good performances and some not-so-good performances, but it’s also the team playing in front of him. There is only so much that kid can do.”
Behrens-Gould, who attends to Hall High School, joined the Warrior-Knights after leaving his Cromwell-based travel team to try high school hockey for the first time. He entered Wednesday’s loss with an 87.0 save percentage and has allowed just over four goals a game.
“I was definitely thrown in there, but once you’re in the net, age isn’t an excuse,” said Behrens-Gould. “It was crazy that first game, but the defense in front of me has definitely been better than past teams I’ve been on.”
“Definitely playing on this team, at a high level, I have no choice but to improve,” Behrens-Gould added.
Behrens-Gould just happens to be replacing Zach Monti, a two-time All-Record-Journal selection. Monti is one of 11 seniors who graduated off Hall-Southington last season. Monti’s final game was a 2-1 loss to Conard in the Division II playoffs.
“We lost a lot of players (the past two years),” senior defenseman and captain Chris Gambardella of Southington said. “Our goalie situation at the start of the season was obviously not what you want, but you have to do the best you can. (Noah’s) been a lot better than I thought he’d be. Coming out, I thought he’d be a little bit shaky, but he’s stood his own.”
As for this year’s playoff chances? Wednesday night’s loss to WMRP was Hall-Southington’s third straight and a return to the Division II playoffs is up in the air at this point. The Warrior-Knights need eight wins to automatically qualify for the state tournament, which means they need to win six of their remaining 11 games.
“I don’t know if we are going to get there. We’ve just done too much against ourselves,” Cannon said. “And that’s the thing, for the most part: We’ve just beaten ourselves.
“I don’t know if I can say anyone has really beat us — maybe Farmington (6-3 loss) and (the first meeting with) Wethersfield (a 7-2 loss). So, who knows? Maybe we make the tournament, maybe we don’t. Maybe we don’t deserve to.”
Moving up to Division II for the 2017-18 season after its run to the 2017 D-III state final is also something working against this year’s inexperienced Hall-Southington squad. While competitive — the Warrior-Knights have lost three one-goal games this season — the competition has certainly contributed to the lack of success.
“I’d just like to see us play better,” Cannon said. “As far as our record, it’s always tough to predict. We usually shoot for .500. Last year, we expected more than .500. This year, we gotta pray for .500, and it’s not looking good.
“But, hey, here we are in Division II. We’ve toughened up our schedule and, as it turns out, it might not have been the year to do that. But it’s very difficult to predict where we’ll be year to year because we never know what’s coming in.”
Cannon, however, has gotten a glimpse into the future. And he has to like what he’s seen so far.