Editor’s Note: Wallingford’s Joe Boyle covered ice hockey for the Record-Journal this winter and was very instrumental in the All-RJ teams getting off the line.
Joe went to Sheehan, played hockey there and continued to play the sport at the club level at Southern Connecticut State University.
If you’ve been following his coverage this winter, you already know Joe knows his stuff. He went to several games a week, sometimes two in one day, and provided the best hockey coverage we’ve had in a while. He certainly picked a quality All-RJ team. Joe selected Jarod Florian of Southington, Hunter Boileau and Chris Blanchard of Lyman Hall, and Jake Verneris, Griffin Cunningham and Billy McKinley of Cheshire. A few days later, pretty much all those guys showed up on the All-State teams.
Still, it wasn’t an easy call. Here’s Joe on his final call and the others who were high in the mix.
• Sr. G Jake Verneris, Cheshire
Verneris was a standout goalie this season not only in the SCC/SWC Division II, as exemplified by his SCC goalie of the year award, but in all of Division II. The Rams may have exited earlier than expected from the state tournament, but their ascension through the ranks was driven by Jake’s play in net.
Verneris had 467 saves on 514 shots on net. That’s a save percentage of .909. His goals against average was 2.53.
Verneris has all the tools that make a good goalie. His maturity was that of the seasoned veteran he was, having started as a junior.
He oozed confidence in between the pipes and backed up with shear athletic ability in the crease. Verneris was the most consistent player on the ice for the Rams this season and had the confidence of head coach Anthony Giusto to back that up.
The Record-Journal coverage area featured a very deep goalie class, but Verneris rises above the pack to start on our team.
• Sr. D Griffin Cunningham, Cheshire
A main strength for the Rams this season was the back end of the ice and the low number of goals they allowed. A main reason for this was obviously Jake Verneris, but without Griffin Cunningham patrolling in front of him, the goalie may have been left out to dry on numerous occasions.
Cunningham, the captain of the Rams this season, was not only the leader on the blue line, but all over the ice. Cunningham has a large frame and boasts a very excellent slap shot. He’s a very strong skater and has a high hockey IQ that puts him in the right place at the right time. A lot of Cheshire’s wins this season came by just a single goal and much of that was due to the pairing of Verneris and Cunningham.
The senior defender had a plus-14 ranking. He scored two goals and assisted on 13 others for 15 points.
Above all, Cunningham also knew how to lead his team in the big moments. With one shot or one big hit, Cunningham rallied the troops and got his team moving again out of a slump. He is the quintessential leader on and off the ice, which is what every team needs.
• Jr. D Chris Blanchard, Lyman Hall
Another team bounced earlier from the state tournament than it would have liked was the Lyman Hall Co-op Trojans. They’re a scrappy young team whose best assets have at least one more year left before graduation.
One of those assets is Blanchard.
Chris is a very strong skater and he doesn’t lose steam. He played about 35 of the 45 minutes of every game, and then more if they went to overtime. He routinely went into the corners and ground it out with the opposing team’s best skaters.
More importantly, he took the attention off of his teammates. Blanchard was the main target for opposing teams to shut down and, because of this, he drew a lot of penalties and got inside opponents’ heads.
If Blanchard was left uncovered, he often scored, as shown in the team’s 7-1 trouncing of Tri-Town in the first round of the Division III state to tournament, when Blanchard scored two goals. He finished with nine goals and nine assists and a plus-11 rating. He put 101 shots on goal.
Blanchard is fast, has good hands and is a smart all-around player. We are putting him at defense, but he did make appearances under center for the Trojans and could have probably played goalie if Zach O’Toole and Finley VanHouten went down. The kid is that good.
• Sr. F Jarod Florian, Southington
Hall-Southington had a very exciting season. The Warrior Knights performed above expectations considering they were young and made up of a large sophomore class.
With all that inexperience, the team needed a good captain to lead the way. Jarod Florian was the answer. Florian answered the call with 28 points this season — 20 goals and eight assists — and he led the Warrior-Knights to a postseason berth.
Florian wasn’t the biggest player on the ice, but his talent allowed him to rise above the rest. He is a smart player with a hard shot and above-average speed.
Florian went down in the latter half of the season with a leg injury and missed the team’s final regular-season game against E.O Smith-Tolland as well as the CCC South tournament semifinals before returning and scoring a hat trick in the first round of the Division III state tournament to trump Joel Barlow 4-3. That is the type of impact Florian had all season and throughout his career. He rose to the occasion and made the big plays when his team needed them.
Florian will surely be missed by the Warrior-Knights.
• Jr. F Hunter Boileau, Lyman Hall
Hunter Boileau is another young guy coming out of the Lyman Hall Co-op with talent. Boileau has shear brute force and skills when coming up into the zone.
He was one of the hardest guys to knock off the puck in all of Division III. If an opponent tried to check Boileau, said opponent would end up being the one on the ice as Hunter skated into the zone.
Boileau was named SCC/SWC Division III skater of the year and a big reason for that was his prolific scoring. He had 24 goals and 12 assists, a plus-11 rating and 120 shots on goal. Boileau was also a big momentum guy, delivering a big hit or big goal exactly when his team needed it.
Boileau also has above-average hands and found open ice anywhere he was. He is the offensive thunder stick to the Lyman Hall Co-op offense and thus finds his role on the Record-Journal team.
• Jr. F Billy McKinley, Cheshire
To round out the inaugural R-J team, we have Billy McKinley from Cheshire. We would probably stick Billy at center because of his masterful performance this season at the dot.
McKinley led a low-scoring offense in Cheshire with 13 goals and 17 assists, and was part of a very strong first line at one point with Sanjay Monagna (24 points) and Matt Federico (10 points) before Federico went down with a leg injury that curtailed the success of the line.
You can stick either Montagna or McKinley on this team, but McKinley having one more point and being a strong center takes the cake. McKinley has high expectations for next season and the potential to not only be a leader for the Rams, but an offensive leader for all of Division II. McKinley was a silent killer for the Rams this season and will definitely make waves in high school hockey next season.
As for Honorable Mentions, there were many. As mentioned above, the final forward spot was a toss-up between McKinley and Sanjay Montagna, but we went with the center of the line. Matt Federico definitely deserves to be mentioned in this group, but a shortened season hurt his productivity.
As for other Cheshire Rams, Evan Zovas was another key contributor on back end with Cunningham. If we looked at clutch performances, it is hard to ignore Conrad Reynolds, who scored overtime goals to get Cheshire into the SCC tournament over Guilford and then into the SCC Division II championship game with a semifinal goal over North Haven.
For the Lyman Hall/Haddam-Killingworth/Coginchaug co-op, Jack O’Brien impressed in just a 12-game stint after serving the CIAC’s 10-game transfer rule. (He came over from Xavier.) O’Brien’s work included a hat trick in the first round of state tournament. Freshman Kyle Roberts flew under the radar this season for the Trojans and Scott Bradley had a masterful sophomore campaign.
For Sheehan, both Nick Candido and Danny Hennessey had strong senior seasons, but could not make a big enough imprint to make the cut. Ben Naser had another good season and can only improve going into his senior year.
Finally, Hall-Southington had key contributors in both Caelan Booth and Jeremy Fortin, but with only five skating spots to fill, tough decisions need to be made.
Also, the goalie position was hard to decide. Zach O’Toole of the LH co-op was a leader on and off the ice and a very mentally strong goalie. Hall-Southington featured three strong goalies in Adam Faust, Zach Monti and Harry Freda. They worked well together and split time over the course of the season.
Sheehan freshman Tyler Robertson showed flashes of brilliance in his first year. He still can improve a lot and will need to if Sheehan hopes to bounce back.