MERIDEN — It was a fun second year covering high school hockey and it all comes down to my second annual All-Record Journal team.
All four area teams qualified for states and two of them made it all the way to the semifinals, allowing this Sheehan grad to make it to Ingalls Rink for the first time in his hockey career, albeit four years too late.
Hall-Southington made it all the way to the CIAC Division III championship before falling to Woodstock Academy, which had beaten Lyman Hall/Haddam-Killingworth/Coginchaug in the semifinals.
In Division II, Cheshire reached the quarterfinals before falling to New Fairfield-Immaculate 2-1.
As for picking the All-RJ team, this year was really tough to settle on six guys. Our area teams were very much team-oriented. While each one had guys who could take control of games, the style and play of the team didn’t necessarily require them to score 40 points a season.
An example of great teamwork and unit play was the Cheshire defense of James Illnicki, Ryan Novia and Joey Yurzyck. Each of those guys could start on any Division II team, but they worked so well together that they really do split the decision of who gets the All-RJ nod ahead of the others.
A guy with big numbers who needs to be addressed is Lyman Hall’s Scott Bradley. The junior had another great season — his third in a row. Bradley stepped up big when team leaders Hunter Boileau and Chris Blanchard were hurt this season. Bradley’s point total proves his value: 17 goals, 22 assists.
Bradley lacked the physical play of some of the other All-RJ players, but should be considered as the first guy to be on the second line if I made a full team.
Along with Bradley, sophomore Kyle Roberts of Coginchaug would make up that second line with Hall-Southington’s Dusty Kilgore and Drew Booth taking up the first defense spot.
Freshmen had a big season and I expect guys like Lyman Hall’s Matt Pettit and Sheehan’s Dayton Allderige to find their way onto this list sooner than later.
Finally, the goaltending battle came down to Southington’s Zach Monti and Cheshire’s Tom Bishop. Bishop had an excellent season and the argument could be made that he faced tougher competition than Monti (although I would say to you that Monti saw Woodstock twice and Wethersfield-Middletown-Rocky-Hill-Plainville three times and beat each of those teams).
Bishop came into his own in the final weeks of the season when the play was elevated and he deserves credit for how he ended his high school career.
All that said, here are the six who get the starting nod for the second annual All-Record-Journal hockey team.
This year’s team was a hard one to pick with so many guys deserving a spot, but it had to be just the best six.
GK: Zach Monti,
Monti really stepped up his junior season. Last year, as a sophomore, he was stuck in a bit of limbo sharing time with two other goalies and getting very limited time.
Coming into this season, Monti was the only goalie for Hall-Southington with in-game experience and had the pressure on him to be the guy. He rose to the occasion, posting a 2.40 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage.
Monti progressed at a high rate as his play grew with every big situation he was put in. Some of his best appearances were in Hall-Southington’s regular-season wins over E.O Smith/Tolland and Woodstock Academy.
In the postseason, Monti extended his excellence. He kept the Warrior-Knights afloat in overtime in the first round to get past the Newington Coop, shutout Wethersfield-Middletown-Rocky Hill-Plainville in the semifinal and made countless big saves in the championship against Woodstock Academy, a team that touted two players with 100 career goals.
Coach Brian Cannon noted Monti’s progression throughout the season and, when the dust settled following the championship loss, cited Monti as an indispensible part of the team. It will be interesting to see what Monti will do his senior year and if he can lead Hall-Southington back to Ingalls.
D: Chris Blanchard, Lyman Hall Co-op
Blanchard is the best all-around player in the area and arguably in all of Division III.
A member of last year’s All-RJ team, Blanchard broke his wrist and missed extended time this season. In his absence, the Trojan defense stepped up and faired admirably, but it was noticeable how important Blanchard was to the lineup when he was missing.
The senior has great hands, a smooth stride and effortlessly gets down the ice with just a few steps. It wasn’t a surprise to see Blanchard go coast to coast and score a goal. He had five of them in the 10 games he played and set up five others. Blanchard had important goals against Hand and Milford to help solidify comebacks for LH.
When Blanchard came back off injury, he stepped into the lineup without a hitch. Blanchard led the team from the back end and helped control the back check and breakouts up the ice.
Coach Rich Minnix was happy to have Blanchard back in the lineup in the SCC/SWC Division III championship game, saying even an 80-percent healthy Blanchard is an exciting kid to watch on the ice. Blanchard was an X-factor when he was on the ice and could change the game drastically when the puck was on his stick.
D: Jimmy Notarfrancesco, Sheehan
Notarfrancesco is the Titans’ Chris Blanchard in the sense he can control the game from the back end when the puck is on his stick.
“Notar,” as he is known around the rink, has an incredible sense of awareness and is a great two-way player. The senior wasn’t afraid to grind in the corners and fight for pucks, which caused him to get into the box on occasion, but those were hard-earned penalties.
His seven assists on the season are not an indicator of his offensive game. Notar looked to create offense whenever he had the puck on his stick. He has a graceful stride. He did not always look like he was going fast, but would beat many opponents to loose pucks.
Sheehan assistant coach Jerry Maust also noted that Notarfransesco’s stats are not a good indicator of his offensive abilities. Notar is smarter with the puck than many would give him credit for and that showed in instances where a quick break up the ice would set up a good scoring chance, something the team struggled to get going at times this season.
Notar was First-Team All-SCC and First-Team All-State.
F: Vinnie Solla,
Solla was my first pick for the All-RJ team. There was no question the kid deserved to be on it after a great senior season.
As a faceoff guy, he did great at the dot, winning 182 of 306 draws and keeping the puck off opponents sticks in important situations.
The Rams were very much a score-by-committee team as shown by Solla’s 20 points (11 G, 9 A), which were second on the team.
Solla was not a pure goal scorer in the sense of skating down and rocketing a shot from the hashmarks and picking the corner. He did pick a few, but most of Solla’s goals came off rebounds and his relentlessness to keep grinding for open pucks.
Solla’s importance was also immensely felt in the neutral zone and defensive end, where he maintained that workhorse ethic. He was the hardest worker on the ice on any given night and his back check was a thing of beauty.
Coach Anthony Guisto noted how Solla will be hard to replace and I think it will take at least two or three guys to replace the impact Solla brought to the defensive end as well as the offensive production he put forth.
F: Hunter Boileau, Lyman Hall Co-op
Boileau, last year’s SCC Division III Player of the Year, was sidelined to start the season with a back injury. That definitely made me look harder at his body of work for this season alone and not for the player he was previously.
This year’s work stands up just fine. In the 15 games he played his senior season, Boileau scored 17 goals and assisted on 15. If Boileau played a full season, it isn’t too far off to say he would have notched around 45 points.
His return marked an uptick in the season and set the Trojans on a course that would end at Ingalls. Only a total of 12 teams can say in Connecticut.
Boileau came back and made his presence felt instantly with a barrage of points. In his first game, Boileau scored a goal and had three assists.
He scored six goals within 24 hours when he posted back-to-back hat tricks against Joel Barlow and Sheehan.
Boileau is a big boy who is hard to knock off the puck. When an opponent hit him, odds are that player ended up on his back while Boileau celebrated another goal.
Also a good skater, Boileau made a great tanden with Blanchard. Coach Rich Minnix knows that the production of those two players will be very hard to replicate. Boileau may have missed nine games this season, but averaging 2.13 points a game will get you on the All-RJ for a second year for sure.
F: Ben Naser,
Like the Rams, the Titans were very much a score-by-committee team. Naser was the leading scorer with six goals and 12 assists, and it’s hard to believe the senior didn’t break the 20-point mark because of the talent he has.
A Second-Team All-SCC selection, Naser was a mature presence on the ice for the Titans, doing most of his leading by grinding in the corners and dishing the puck off or taking it himself.
Head coach Dave Festa noted how much growth he noticed in Naser as a player and person since the passing of his father at the beginning of the season and I think the second half of the season was a testament to that growth and the dedication Naser has for the sport.
Naser is another two-way guy for the Titans who brought intensity to all three zones of the ice. Naser had a muilt-goal performance against the Lyman Hall Coop as well as against Newtown. He also contributed big goals in an overtime loss to Brookfield-Bethel-Danbury and in a tie against Joel Barlow.
Naser won’t wow you with big numbers, but he truly was a titan of the ice.