Last season on ice was a thrill, with two Record-Journal teams making it to the final four of the CIAC tournament. Both Lyman Hall-Haddam Killingworth-Coginchaug and Hall-Southington made it to Ingalls, location of the final two rounds of the state tournament.
This season, there is a chance that the area teams may once again make it to the frozen four of the Connecticut state tournament. Here’s the way all four shape up for the 2017-18 campaign.
Sheehan will be touting a freshman class that adds eight new players to the roster. Several of those players could be making an instant impact.
“We have freshman coming in and i think that’s one of the biggest things,” said Sheehan coach Dave Festa. “There are names that could potentially see some ice this year.”
A few of the freshmen mentioned by Festa were his son, Luke Festa, as well as Joey Richo, Anthony Romano, Joseph Romano and Brendan Connery.
Along with new blood being injected into the Titans’ system, Festa is changing up some of his coaching styles this year and departing from techniques he utilized in the past. He is trying new things with the practice schedules to shake it up for the team and himself.
“It’s really kind of a new look at it,” said Festa. “Coach is always learning and looking at new ways. Some things are starting off practices right off the bat with a high tempo, small-area game. It gets the heart pumping and gets the kids engaged. You can see in the first few practices that the tempo is there.
“There is certainly a different feel to the team already,” Festa continued. “There’s that eagerness and that confidence moving forward.”
The Titans return a lot of firepower with Jake Festa and Tyler Jackson. There’s also sophomore Dayton Allderige, who surprised as a freshman with his speed and work-ethic. Junior goalie Tyler Robertson enters his third year between the pipes for the Titans and his coaches are confident with what they see. Robertson has matured every season. Expect a big leap now that he is an upperclassman and a team leader.
On the blue line, captains Alex Ficcorelli and Nick Gonsalves lead a unit that will have a lot of action flowing through it. With a lot of leadership on the blue line, don’t be surprised if Festa lets the reins go a little and allows the defense to take on a more offensive role.
Where will the Titans end the season? Festa guaranteed a trip to the final four of the CIAC Division III tournament. However, it is hard to look past the fact that the Titans have posted just six wins in each of their last two seasons.
The Titans will surpass the six-win mark they have been stuck on the past two seasons. If they are a real contender for a tournament finalist spot is yet to be seen.
This is head coach Rich Minnix’s first year without last season’s All-Staters and Record-Journal co-Players of the Year Chris Blanchard and Hunter Boileau in his arsenal. It is bittersweet for the fifth-year coach.
“It feels like a big divorce, to be honest,” said Minnix. “We’ve been married for four years. Blanchard was here today practicing and Boileau was here Saturday. It’s great to have them around.”
Blanchard and Boileau returning for practices is an indicator of the culture that Minnix has built in his time with the Lyman Hall-Haddam-Killingworth-Coginchaug co-op, but now there will be two new big names for the Trojans. Scott Bradley and Kyle Roberts are no longer supporting characters. They are the show. Their names on the marquee.
“Guys like Scott and Kyle are going to take the reins,” said Minnix. “They’re a pleasure to have. It’s the same thing with them and they are going to bring the same things Boileau and Blanchard brought.”
Bradley is on pace to break the 100-point marker this season and Roberts will for surely surpass Boileau’s scoring stats when all is said and done. The future of the Trojans looks bright.
The co-op returns a lot of key players who stepped up last season in the wake of injuries. Sophomore Matt Petit is coming off an exciting freshman campaign. Sophomore Connor Chordas and junior Jared Sullivan will be expected to improve upon last season’s performance and fulfill plenty needs on the blue line.
The co-op had a showing of 27 skaters this season, in large part due to the success Minnix has had in his time with the Trojans. There is a lot to be excited about with this Trojans team. Don’t be surprised if there is a Wallingford showdown deep in the CIAC tournament this year.
Gone is the offensive firepower of Ammar Chaudry, Matt Federico and even Vin Solla. Returning players like Liam Killea and Sawyer Hackett will be important for the Rams this season, but coach Anthony Giusto is looking at this season as a “development season” for his younger players.
“I still think we have the right mix of kids to play our style of hockey and our style of hockey is to pressure the puck and get in on the forecheck hard,” said Giusto. “We stil have the skill. If we had a drop off in skill, I would scale that pressure back.”
The biggest challenge this year will be integrating several freshmen and sophomores into the varsity lineup that lacks many upperclassmen.
“We have to get stronger and faster because we have a lot of freshmen and sophomores who aren’t as big or aren’t as fast,” said Giusto. “The quicker they get the speed and playing our style of hockey, the better they are going to be in the long run.”
Giusto hopes those young guys can adjust quickly and be ready this year, but acknowledges that not every player matures at the same rate. He is prepared to have some late bloomers.
“Realistically, I look at it as a two-year plan with this team,” said Giusto. “Some of the bumps in the road this year and some of the learning curves we are going to go through is going to benefit us next year when those kids are in those same spots.”
“Development” and “young” are Giusto’s key words for this season. The thing is, a development year for the Cheshire hockey program could still possibly produce a run in the CIAC tournament. Cheshire has the benefit of having a strong hockey tradition and being the lone area high school teamthat pulls from a significantly sized town.
Seniors like Killea and Hackett shouldn’t be concerned with a dropoff happening their senior year because Cheshire’s newcomers have a chance to make a real splash.
Giusto expects freshman Niklas Vasiljevs to be a big scorer for his team and one of the leaders. On the blue line, returners Hackett, Illnicki and O’Connor lock down the first three slots; slots four through six are still being battled out, giving newcomers plenty of minutes on the defensive side of the game.
Between the pipes, it is senior Anthony Vignola’s net to lose. Gnawing at the bit for some time is newcomer and sophomore Nick Maringola. Maringola looks technically sound and is a mature presence in the net. Vignola is much more raw in his technique, but still effective. Vignola has also paid his dues and waited for his turn to get a chance at the net.
The Rams have a ton of upside. It will be exciting to see how well the young talent grows. Next season will be when the Rams will put on a show.
Last season’s CIAC Division III runner-up has been elevated to Division II after head coach Brian Cannon’s request to repeal the move did not go through.
“We had most of the schedule built before the repeal process had finished,” said Cannon. “At the time our schedule was being made, we had no idea where we were going to be.”
The move up a division is over and done. There is no use crying over it. That is the attitude that Cannon has toward the matter and, with a bulk of last year’s team returning, the Warrior-Knights still look like they could be a contender.
“We are an old team,” said Cannon. “This year we knew we would be pretty good this year, no doubt.”
Cannon’s confidence comes from the fact that he returns players like Miles Aronow, Drew Booth and Zach Monti, who are all hungry after coming so close to a state championship last season. Add in returners Nate Zmarlicki and Mike Dipietro, and the Warrior-Knights returning core is strong.
“We’ll know better how they’re going to compete in action once we get out against Sheehan,” said Cannon prior to the team’s scrimmage against the Titans on Decemer 10. The Warrior-Knights won that battle 3-2.
“We’ve seen it on and off at practice. At times, they’ve looked competitive and, at other times, they have looked pretty lackadaisical out there,” said Cannon. “We’ve only skated a few times so far, so it is hard to get a real gauge on it.”
Hall-Southington returns a large contingentfrom last season’s team. Add in several newcomers from junior hockey thanks to the team’s move to CIAC Division II, as well as last season’s championship run, and the crew looks well-stocked to make a splash at the higher division.
There are no goaltending concerns with Monti and Harry Freda battling back and forth for the top spot. Offensively, Hall-Southington returns of big time players in Dipietro, Aronow, Jacob Mohr and Will Carpenter.
Hall-Southington has a tougher road when tournament time comes around, but a successful season at the higher division will be much sweeter for the Warrior-Knights.