WALLINGFORD — The winter postseason of what might have been was arguably most acute in hockey, at least in these parts.
Sheehan was the No. 1 seed in Division III and scoring goals at a rate of 6.5217 per game.
That’s, like, some sort of hockey pi, right?
The twine-torching Titans were at 150 goals and counting after scoring 10 in the first round of the CIAC Division III Tournament. A return to the state finals seemed inevitable.
Maybe Hall-Southington would have been waiting there. The Warrior Knights were seeded No. 3 and coming off their own solid first-round win.
What a championship matchup that would have been. Hall-Southington had defeated Sheehan 3-1 late in the regular season.
How many other teams held Sheehan to one goal this season? Zero.
How many teams, for that matter, held Sheehan to two goals? Zero.
Ultimately, irresistable forces and immovable objects were overridden by COVID-19 and the decision by the CIAC on March 10 to cancel the remaining winter postseason.
It was a move that proved ahead of the curve. Within 48 hours, virtually every professional sports league, the NHL included, had suspended their seasons.
But at the time, when the CIAC’s announcement came down that March 10th morning, all of 12 hours after the opening state tournament games had been played, hockey teams were devastated.
Even the Lyman Hall Co-op, though a long shot in Division II as the No. 11 seed, had turned a first-round upset and gained the quarterfinals. Maybe, just maybe, another postseason run was in the offing for the 2019 Division III champs.
We’ll never know.
We do know this: 2019-20 was another excellent season on ice for area teams. All four made the postseason.
Between them, they suited up two Players of the Year, five career 100-point scorers and six All-Staters, including the goalie widely acknowledged to be the state’s bestCheshire
That goalie, of course, is Cheshire senior Nick Maringola. From the moment the puck dropped this season, Maringola put up staggering save totals:
■45 and 48 in late-December wins over the Wallingford schools;■52 and 50 in the first week of January in losses to WMRP and Branford.
The season highs came in back-to-back games in mid-February: 62 vs. Farmington Valley on Feb. 19 and 55 vs. Xavier three nights later.
For a team that struggled to score on offense and was quite young on defense, it was the almost super-human goaltending of Nick Maringola that got the Rams into the Division II state tournament at 8-10-2.
The senior faced 765 shots in those 20 regular-season games. He turned aside all but 47. That’s a save percentage of .938.
Those numbers escaped nobody’s notice. Maringola was named the Division II Player of the Year in his conference, the SCC/SWC. He was later named the state Division II Player of the Year by the Connecticut High School Coaches Association (CHSCA).
It was the first time Cheshire hockey had one of its own named state Division II Player of the Year and it put Maringola in the running for Connecticut’s overall Player of the Year with Bennett McDermott of Darien (Division I) ) and Daniel McKiernan of JBWA (Division III).
One last note on Maringola: He earned his team’s “Hobey Baker,” the sportsmanship award issued by the CHSCA to one player on each team in the state.
So, now that we have our All-Record-Journal goalie, where do we go from there?
With a bevy of forwards who can put the puck in the net, starting with Maringola’s junior teammate Niklas Vasiljevs.
The son of former pro player Herberts Vasiljevs is living up to his legacy. Niklas Vasiljevs led the Rams in scoring this season with 11 goals and 13 assists.
Here’s a keener perspective on his value: Vasiljevs had a hand in 24 of Cheshire’s total 41 goals on the year. When he missed 2½ games to injury, the Rams failed to score without him.
Vasiljevs came back for the postseason and scored Cheshire’s lone goal in a 3-1 loss to Westhill/Stamford. He was named to the All-SCC/SWC Division II Second Team.Lyman Hall Co-op
Making the move up to Division II after beating Sheehan in the 2019 Division III state final, the Trojans more than held their own. They went 11-9-1 and thwacked No. 6 Woodstock Academy 5-0 on its home ice in the first-round of the state tournament.
The senior captains, Matt Pettit and Michael O’Toole, led the way. Both were named All-State and All-SCC/SWC Division II Second Team.
O’Toole, a defenseman, anchored the blue line and also scored four goals and assisted on seven others.
Pettit, a forward, fueled the offense. He was the team scoring leader with 18 goals and 17 assists.
With a goal in the first-round win over Woodstock, Pettit finished with 150 career points. He was also the Co-op’s Hobey Baker Award winner.
When it came to scoring, Pettit had company. T.J. Arduini chalked up 13 goals and 19 assists in his senior season, while Jack Roberts, still only a sophomore, returned to the All-RJ squad after scoring 12 goals and setting up 16 others.
Arduini and Roberts both scored a goal in the playoffs against Woodstock Academy. Arduini, who really came on strong late in the season with 15 points in the Co-op’s final six games, also had two assists against Woodstock.Sheehan
Vasiljevs and the LH triumvirate of Pettit-Arduini-Roberts give the All-RJ hockey team a combined 54 goals. That’s more than enough with Maringola in net and O’Toole manning the blue line.
But we’re like the Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s. If Wayne Gretzky’s not enough, here comes Mark Messier. And if Messier isn’t enough, here comes Jari Kurri.
We bring on the Big Four, the grand slam quartet from Hope Hill Road that accounted for 104 of Sheehan’s 150 goals and led the Titans to a third straight conference title in SCC/SWC Division III.
It’s a group that, to a man, has surpassed 100 career points: Devin Napoli, Luke Festa, Anthony Romano and Joe Romano.
For all but Napoli, the Big Four’s lone senior, it’s 100-plus points and counting.
Anthony Romano, at 161 for his career, was the high-point man this year with 55 — 25 goals, 30 assists.
Joe, at a career 142 points, was Sheehan’s top goal-scorer with 35. In one particularly stretch at the end of the regular season and start of the playoffs, he notched a hat trick in three straight games.
Festa led the way in assists with 31 while also scoring 18 goals. Napoli did a whole lot of both: 26 goals and 19 assists.
On five occasions this year, the Titans scored 10 goals or more in a single game, including in the first round of the Division III state tournament against Trinity Catholic, the game that unknowingly proved to be the season finale.
It was the farewell for Napoli, a catalyst for Sheehan since transfering from Notre Dame-West Haven prior to his junior year. Napoli was Sheehan’s Hobey Baker Award winner this winter and he was named the SCC/SWC co-Player of the Year in Division III.
That made him a shoo-in as All-Conference First Team. Napoli was also All-State Division III First Team.
Joining him on both squads was Anthony Romano.
Joe Romano was also All-State Division III First Team, but not included in the All-Conference ranks. Festa was. He was named All-SCC/SWC Division III Second Team.
There was no lack of postseason accolades for the Titans nor for most of our All-RJ selections. All that was lacking were the magical postseason nights like the one we had last March when Sheehan and the Lyman Hall Co-op clashed in the D-III final at Ingalls Rink.
That was simply beyond control.
But when it came to a puck on the stick, a shot to the far post or a rebound off the blocker, this year’s All-RJ players controlled exactly what they could.