SOUTHINGTON — Although the Southington-Coginchaug-Westbrook Co-op hockey team’s season ended in the first round of the CIAC Division III state tournament, the Blue Knights did have a bounce-back year and showed grit, heart and resilience throughout the campaign.
Coach Bob Allan was proud of the season his guys had, especially after their 0-11 start.
“Can't be more proud,” he said. “You know, top to bottom, everyone on our roster had a role. At times, people had roles they didn’t want to be in, but whenever their numbers were called, they were there and they played well.”
From 0-11, the team found its groove, closing the regular season on a 6-3 surge to make the state tournament as the final seed in the 16-team Division III bracket.
“When we were 0-11, I’m not sure if I expected a playoff push,” said senior forward Jake Nafis. “We weren’t playing to our expectations, but it was good to see us play the way we should and make a playoff push towards the end of the season.”
In the tournament, Southington drew No.1 seed Masuk (18-2-1) and fell 8-3.
Prior to that, Southington’s closing run to the tournament featured a five-game winning streak. One of the victories, 3-0 over Northeastern, marked the first shutout in the varsity career of junior goalie Max Scirocco.
“It felt awesome, as far as a shutout goes,” Scirocco said. “I was just happy to get the win, keep the win streak alive and get another step closer to making the playoffs.”
Coach Allan knew it would take awhile for his team to settle in. This season was only the second for the Southington Co-op. Prior to 2021-22, the Blue Knights had been a tandem with Hall since the 2008-09 season.
Reforged with Coginchaug and Westbrook, Southington went 2-18 in its first season.
“We made a couple minor adjustments, but what I really credit it to is our upperclassmen,” Allan said. “Being a new team, second season, it takes a while to implement systems and get belief behind those systems, and I feel that our upperclassmen, our team leaders/captains, have really bought into the systems and embraced them and showed how they work on the ice.”
Said Jake Nafis, “It showed a lot about our team, after being 0-11 and 2-18 last year, to be able to turn it around and push for a playoff just speaks for the amount of perseverance that everyone had.”
The team will gradiate seven seniors: Jake Nafis and his twin brother Drew Nafis, Gabe Mohr, Cody Pettola, Eli Vernick, Thomas Czarkosky and John Frachette.
“The best part of hockey was being around the guys and the atmosphere, going through hell and back, and my favorite moment this season was just when we started turning it around, winning games,” said Drew Nafis.
“I’ll miss hanging around the guys, the bus rides and having a good time,” said Mohr.
Drew Nafis led the team with 11 goals this season. Mohr scored 10 on a team-high 94 shots.
Coach Allan knows the team will be affected deeply by the departure of the seniors.
“It’s a big loss,” he said. “The seniors that we had this year set such an example for all the other players. The work ethic, dedication, the commitment to executing the game plan has an impact on the younger players, the juniors right on down to the freshmen, and we’re anticipating picking up where we left off next season.”
That will be Year 3 of Southington-Coginchaug-Westbrook, three towns that don’t shared a border, but found a mesh on the ice.
While the team will lose seven seniors who have left a great mark on the program, Coach Allan is excited for the return of his underclassmen.
“We got Jack Ford, Jasen Hurley, Tyler Schmarr, Nik Allan, Max Scirocco, Jackson Carroll, so many contributors — Jackson Bafundo, Noah Wilk, all guys that got considerable ice time this year that are now going to step up and carry that torch,” said Allan.
Schmarr, with 10 goals this season, will be the highest-returning scorer.
“I think we’ll start off better next year,” Schmarr said. “We have good chemistry. We’re losing a lot of good guys, but we have a lot of young guys who have experience.”
The Blue Knights took a big leap from last year, when they finished the season 2-18 and didn’t make the playoffs. Coach Allan expects the team to go even further next season.
Schmar and Scirocco are also confident that the team will do better next season and credited the leadership of the outgoing seniors for where they are today.
“The senior basically raised me,” said Scirocco. “I came in as a sophomore; I had no idea how high school hockey worked. They taught me everything that I needed to know. They taught me to never quit or give up, (to) always believe in the team no matter what our record is.”
“There was that expectation this season [to get better],” Allan said. “Our expectation to get better is always there.”
He’s already got the checklist drawn up. “We’ve got to get stronger, we’ve got to get faster, we’ve got to get more disciplined in the offseason,” said Allan.