The CIAC ice hockey tournament brackets were released Friday, filling the void on a day when the SCC/SWC championship games were postponed.
With a break in the action until Saturday, hockey fans cans turn their eyes to the upcoming state tournament and the “Road to Ingalls.”
Which area teams pulled a good seeding? Which may have wished for a different path? Here’s how the icescape shapes up for the locals.
Cheshire (9-9-2) will enter the tournament with a week break after not qualifying for the SCC/SWC Division II tournament. Cheshire’s last game was Feb. 24, a 2-1 loss to North Haven.
“We’ve done a really good job of keeping the kids on the ice, keeping them engaged,” said Cheshire coach Anthony Giusto.
Amity (12-8-1) made the SCC/SWC D-II tourney, falling to top-seeded Guilford 6-3 in the semis.
Amity and Cheshire met in the regular season and tied 4-4. Senior captain Liam Killea scored twice for the Rams that night. Seniors James Illnicki and Kyle Letourneau had one goal apiece.
“It’s always tough playing an SCC team that you already played during the year,” said Giusto. “Amity is a fast-paced team, they play hard. They have Jason Csejka, who is a real offensive, dynamic player and they have Tyler Cole in net, who is a good goalie.”
Giusto has been juggling his goalies, Anthony Vignola and Nick Maringola, over the course of the season. Giusto confirmed Maringola will be in net against Amity, with the plan being to stick with him.
“If we make it past the first-round game, I would say that had a lot to do with the goaltending,” said Giusto. “I would expect to stay with the hot hand as we move throughout the tournament.”
Amity started off hot, winning five of its first six before hitting a rough 1-4-1 patch. The Spartans finished winning five of six including an exciting 5-4 win over Fairfield Warde-Ludlowe.
Cheshire started off looking extremely good, winning its first three and outscoring opponents 15-5 before succumbing to a scoring drought in a four-game skid. Big wins over higher seeds South Windsor, Conard, Glastonbury and a tie with No. 1 Farmington Valley proved the Rams can step up in big games.
Killea leads the Rams with 17 points. His eight goals and nine assists are indicative of the team’s scoring touch, or lack thereof. Killea and the Rams find their goals around the crease, grinding and digging for loose pucks. Killea has shown glimpses of having a shot similar to a sniper’s, but his greatest asset is his hockey awareness and hard work on the ice.
Other guys atop the Rams’ scoring board are Ben O’Connor (3 goals, 13 assists), Kyle Letourneau (5/10), and Evan Veivia (7/8).
The Rams have a tough road as a lower seed, but low seeds have proven to have success in tournaments past.
“It’s definitely one game at a time,” said Giusto. “In years past, you probably look at the bracket a little more and see who you are playing down the road, but this year, being the away team and the underdog, we’re going to look at Amity and say, ‘Let’s get by Amity and then we’ll worry about our next opponent.”
This will be the biggest game of the first round given what happened last Saturday.
Hall-Southington’s Drew Booth went down with a career-ending injury in Hall-Soutington’s 1-1 tie with Conard on Feb. 24. The senior captain underwent surgery after suffering two broken eye sockets and a broken nose on a hit from behind.
The West Hartford rivalry already fills The Vet. Add in this storyline and the rink will be buzzing Tuesday.
Even without the added drama, the West Hartford rivalry could be one of the most under-rated rivalries in high school hockey in Connecticut. That means that records do not matter one bit in this game. Toss seeds, statistics and sabermetrics out the window. This game will come down to which team wants to remember they are playing hockey, and not wrestling.
First, the Warrior-Knights (12-7-2) will face the Enfield Co-op in the CCC South championship Saturday at 8 p.m. Conard (11-9-1) lost in the semifinals of the CCC North tournament.
The Warrior-Knights’ leading scorers, Miles Aronow and Mike DiPietro, both have 12 goals and 10 assists. They were unable to get anything going against Conard in the last matchup and will be relied heavily upon to generate scoring in the postseason.
On the blue line, Andrew Mitchell bears a heavy burden. Mitchell was already doing quite well being Booth’s counterpart on defense. He now needs to step up in Booth’s absence.
Richard Mitchell has 11 goals and five assists and was the only Warrior-Knight to score in the last game against Conard. Jake Albert and Nate Zmarlicki, both from Southington, also have offensive talent. Albert has seven goals and 13 assists. Zmarlicki has five goals and five assists.
In net, Zach Monti and Harry Freda split time in the last meeting with Conard due to Senior Night, but it is safe to assume that the goalie who starts on Tuesday will be expected to finish.
Monti has had the bulk of the starts with an 8-5-1 record. Freda is 3-2-1. Monti has a .922 save percentage, Freda a .915. Both goals against averages hover around 1.60.
Conard is the higher seed, but Hall-Southington didn’t have all that different a regular season record. The Warrior-Knights also have a rallying cause in Booth.
This is one that we’ve seen before. Sheehan (17-4) and Hand (5-16) just met Wednesday in the SCC/SWC D-III semi-finals, with the Titans prevailed 6-2.
Alex Ficorilli and Joe Romano had two goals each. Nick Gonsalves and Anthony Romano added goals of their own. Hand’s goals were scored by Paul Gagliardi and Michael McKeon.
Sheehan coach Dave Festa wasn’t happy with his team’s performance Wednesday, but the Titans were able to leave Milford Ice Pavilion with a ticket to Saturday’s championship date with Brookfield-Bethel-Danbury at Bennett Rink at 3 p.m.
“If you play a bad game and are still able to come away with the victory, that certainly is something you can hang your hat on,” said Festa. “There were still some things that were very good. Being able to reset going into the third period and shut them down. We were able to not let them score and put a couple more away in the period. (That) was huge.”
With a quick two-day turn around, recovery and rest will be a focus for the Titans, who will transition from the SCC/SWC championship to the state tournament.
“Obviously, you can’t do anything about Mother Nature,” Festa said Friday. “We did get an extra day off to recover from Wednesday, which is good. We had a good practice last night, so I think going in and resetting ourselves we are really looking forward to the state game once we finish with the SCC championship.”
Sheehan’s leading scorers and talk of the team were the freshmen Romano brothers. Joe finished the regular season with 25 goals and 15 assists. His twin brother Anthony had 12 goals and 26 assists.
Add in the blue line offense generated by Gonsalves (six goals, 12 assists) and Ficorilli (8/9), the Sheehan offense can be cycled up high or low in the zone, forcing teams to be spread out and consider all of the options.
“I think we’re going to stick to our game plan,” said Festa. “Executing the fundamentals is what we are really focusing on.”
Goalie Tyler Robertson appears to be closing in on a full recovery from a leg injury. On Wednesday, he made 23 saves on 25 shots, including several through traffic and on quality Hand chances.
Looking down the road and strictly assuming higher seeds will win, Sheehan’s road will have to go through No. 5 Eastern CT and No. 1 Staples before getting to the state championship game. Sheehan did not meet Staples this year, but did lose to Eastern CT 3-1, including an empty-net goal.
“This is anyone’s tournament,” said Festa. “I think if anyone can put together a four-game winning streak, any team can take it this year. This is the great thing of ‘March Madness,’ if you will. Any team could win it this year.”
Let us not forget: Festa guaranteed an Ingalls berth for the Titans way back in early December.
The Trojans are coming off of their biggest upset loss of the year. Seeded No. 1 in the SCC/SWC D-III tourney, they lost to No. 4 BBD in the semifinals, 4-3, in a shootout.
On the bright side, the Trojans get an extended break going into the state tournament. And pulling the No. 6 seed guarantees they do not see either of the top two seeds before the semifinal round. It does require an expected meeting with No. 3 Tri-Town.
First, the 14-7 Trojans need to deal with 7-13 Norwalk-McMahon. The two co-ops met in the regular season. The Trojans won 7-2 behind a hat trick by Scott Bradley, a four-point performance by Kyle Roberts and two-point games from T.J. Arduini and Matt Pettit.
Roberts led the Record-Journal area with 61 points this season on 31 goals and 30 assists. Bradley was second with 54 points (28/26). They both scored in the shootout against BBD.
That huge upset loss for the Trojans may have been the wakeup call they needed. The Trojans haven’t had too many scares like that this season. Wednesday’s loss may open their eyes to the fact that on any given night, any team can win.
With the new insight, and the small break, expect the Trojans to come out hungry.
Norwalk-McMahon’s biggest wins this year were over Trumbull, St. Joseph and Westhill-Stamford. Being in the FCIAC, Norwalk-McMahon is no stranger to playing against higher division teams. The co-op could easily be a D-III sleeper.
And yes, if the Trojans and Sheehan were to climb through the tournament successfully, they would meet at Ingalls to battle it out for the Division III state championship.