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Friday, December 7, 2012

CTHSHockey Season Preview Part I: Team Capsules

By: Luke Devoe

Early morning wakeups are upon us.  Scrimmages and exhibitions tilts are starting to get under way and eager skaters are doing just about everything they can to make their respective squads.  Hope springs eternal at the beginning of each season and every team has the belief that this could be their year, their chance to toss their gear and mob their goalie in front of thousands at the Yale Whale.  Many will be disappointed, few with be satisfied but when it’s all said and done, all will have left everything they have out on the ice.  That’s what separates high school hockey from other sports.  The grit, the effort, the brotherhood which causes 17 year old boys to stand up for the guys to their right and to their left regardless of the obstacle in front of them.  The usual suspects will be present, stating their claim for Ingalls glory.  New faces will emerge and proud programs may struggle.  So, get ready Connecticut, we’re in for another hell of a hockey season. 

Where to start?  Let’s talk about the hockey landscape heading into this season.  Division I has dropped from 23 teams to 17 with Amity, Conard, Farmington-Avon-Windsor, Fermi-Enfield (now Fermi-Enfield-East Granby), Tri Town, and Trinity Catholic all heading down to the Division II ranks.  Some of this may be overdue but at the very least it bolsters an already tough Division I group.  Brookfield-Bethel-Danbury and Northwest Catholic have moved up from Division III to Division II while Lyman Hall-HK have moved down to Division III from Division II.  The biggest surprise, looking at the divisions, is Newington-Berlin, last year’s DIII champs, staying in Division III. 

As many of you know, this blog focuses primarily on Division I but will occasionally dip into the other two divisions.  CTHSHockey will be at rinks all over the state throughout the season providing commentary, honest observations (not always flattering), and game recaps.  Follow @CTHSHockey for live tweets from games at least two nights a week.  Here at CTHSHockey we will also post our weekly Top 10 as well as All-State teams at the beginning, mid point and end of the season.

Let’s get to the team previews!

CHESHIRE- (Last year- 11-9-0, lost to NDWH in first round)
The Cheshire Rams snuck into the Division I tourney last year, won their play in game against Fermi-Enfield 3-2 (OT) and fell to the eventual state champs in Notre Dame West Haven 5-2 in the first round.  The Rams will have to do without all-everything goalie Tyler Carbone who they lost to graduation as well as Spencer Hackett who provided some flair for the Rams last season.  In total 9 seniors are gone including stud forward Tyler Violano.  But all is not lost for the Rams and coach Karl Sundquist.  Senior Scott Romano will  be looked to take over for Carbone between the pipes with seniors Tom Dupont and Jake Nesdale holding it down on defense.  After promising sophomore campaigns forwards Joe D’Errico and Luke Vendetto will be looked upon to score.  Unless Romano catches fire and they’re able to find scoring from throughout the lineup, the Rams could be looking at a similar season to last year.  They’ll be challenged right out of the gate with East Haven, Xavier and West Haven all before Christmas.

DARIEN- (Last year- 15-5-0, lost to Glastonbury in quarterfinals)
Darien lost a lot of heart and fan favorites this off season with the graduations of goalie Max Rothston, Nick Bruno and Hank Glick.  Those shoes will be hard to fill but the Blue Wave have a set of senior leaders ready to take over.  Captaining the Wave this year will be last year’s leading scorer Brendan Hathaway (32 points in 24 games),  forward Trent Bergin and defenseman Dana Wensberg.  They will also welcome back the flashy senior forward Jack Knowlton.  After a slow start last season Darien, out of the FCIAC, took off, winning 13 of their final 16 regular season games.  Facing familiar foes in the states, #5 Darien got by #12 New Canaan 2-1 (OT) but was eliminated by #4 Glastonbury 3-2 in the quarters.  Look  for another huge year out of Darien who usually is able to contend.  One would have to assume senior Michael Collins will get a look in net in Rothston’s absence. 

EAST HAVEN- (Last year- 12-6-0, lost to West Haven in first round)
The Yellow Jackets lose three of their top four scorers heading into this season.  Seniors Rich Decarlo and Matt Barcomb are gone as well as impressive sophomore Stephen Marsico who’s taken his talents to the Loomis Chaffee School.  The Easties had a solid season last year before getting knocked out by the hated West Haven Blue Devils though don’t be fooled by their overall record as most of those 12 wins came against low tier DI, DII & DIII team.   On the positive front the Yellow Jackets return some excellent talent.  Junior goalie Zak Bouve and is primed to become one of the state’s best goalies.  They will lean heavily on junior Matt Longobardi who’s 17 points were third on the team last year, junior Tritian Goodwin and sophomore bulldog Mike Falanga (one of the state’s most entertaining players).  New to the Jackets this year and ready to contribute right away are freshmen forward Anthony Avalone and defenseman Nick Latella.  Lou Pane’s hard working group could surprise this year but with such a young core, they could still be a year off.

FAIRFIELD PREP- (Last year- 17-3-0, lost to Glastonbury in semifinals)
With Ridgefield’s Sean Wilkinson out of the picture Prep returns the state’s best player, no questions asked.  David White skated around the competition last season to the tune of 48 points (28 G, 20 A) in 22 games causing Hamden coach Billy Verneris to still have nightmares of White’s domination.  White’s return, paired with the return of senior forward/defense twins Connor and Sean Henry and the late season emergence of junior Matt Wikman should make the losses of forward AJ Unker (33 points in 21 games), Tom Worsfold (1/2 of the state’s best D pairing), and Matt Brophy (the other half) not seem as daunting.  The big question mark for the Jesuits is how to replace arguably the state’s best goalie in Riley Wikman.  Juniors Matt Beck and Chris Gutierrez look to battle for the spot and both played sparing minutes last season behind Wikman.  If either of them can show glimpses of Wikman and the defense can make up for some of their losses, Prep should be fine.  This team may win a few more games on offense this year rather than those defensive battles that we came to be familiar with behind Wikman’s heroics.  Prep is not happy with their semifinal exit as they were, for the large part of the season, the state’s best and they will be out for redemption this year.

GLASTONBURY-  (Last year- 16-4-0, lost to NDWH in DI championship)
The Tomahawks shocked many last season topping Prep to get themselves to the state championship.  Ken Barse’s squad boasted two of the state’s most dynamic players.  Seniors Ethan Holdaway (33 G, 26 A, 59 Pts.) and Drew Mozzer (25 G, 22 A, 47 Pts.) lit up their competition.  The bad part is, they’re gone.  But all is not lost, the Tomahawks have two forwards who seem primed to at least attempt to fill the void.  Senior Avery Claire looks to elevate himself to more than a point a game player as well as junior Conner Thompson who impressed as a sophomore.  On the defensive front, senior Tyler Walles looks to lead a young shut down group.  Look for Logan Underwood to make a name for himself on D as well.  Finally, senior goalie Chase Gabor is back and looks to reclaim his late season glory.  The Tomahawks certainly didn’t play as imposing of a schedule as the Preps and Hamdens of the high school hockey world and this contributed to their record, but they won when they needed to win, beat a solid Darien squad, knocked off a Prep team that no one gave them a chance to beat and simply ran out of gas against a destined Notre Dame-West Haven squad.  How can they rebuild after losing so much?  It could take a while for the Tomahawks to get going and find their identity without Holdaway or Mozzer.  With Ridgefield, St. Joseph’s and South Windsor heading into the stacked West Haven Holiday Tournament we will find out right away who the Tomahawks are.

GREENWICH- (Last season- 3-17, did not qualify)
Bob Russel’s Cardinals squad struggled mightily last season.  Many of their 17 losses came to Division II teams while they went a sad 0-10 against fellow Division I opponents.  In a hockey/lacrosse rich area like Greenwich, there is no excuse for performances like last season.  Flash back to the 2009-10, the Cardinals went 15-6-2.  With the product getting consistently worse (7-13-2 in 2010-11), coaching has to come into question.  The ability to rally troops is part of the job and this doesn’t appear to be happening.  The Cardinals return senior captain Ryan Macken who will be looked to, to carry a bulk of the offensive load.  Also captaining the Cardinals this season will be Reed Brady and William Waesche.  Junior Tommy Green could emerge as a stud on offense and will need to be counted on if the Cardinals want any chance at states this year.  They lost promising underclassman Brett Backman to Avon Old Farms.

HAMDEN- (Last season- 10-8-2, lost to Fairfield Prep in quarterfinals)
Billy Verneris’ Green Dragons squad was the victim of some bad luck it towards the end of last season losing their final five regular season games all by one goal and three in overtime.  The Dragons appeared to shrug those losses off, dismantling St. Joseph 9-1 in the first round of states only to lose a hard fought 2-0 battle to rival Fairfield Prep.  Hamden has lost a lot.  Four of their top five scorers are gone.  Seniors Tim Lee and Connor Walsh are gone as are underclassmen Jeremy German (team leader in points with 34) and Mike Lee (one of the state’s best puck moving defensemen).  Germain took his talents to Choate and Lee to The Gunnery.  Also graduating was goalie Andy Varga, who saw every minute of action for Hamden last year.  So where does that leave them?  Well, they return sophomore forward Tyler Carangelo who had an impressive freshman year.  Captain Bill Reilly and senior grinder Mike Regan will be looked to contribute on the top two lines.  Sophomore Matt Barnett came on strong towards the end of the season last year and will be looked to, to contribute as well.  Hamden is as young and raw as you get.  Sophomore defenseman Joe O’Connor will look to improve after a promising freshman year and senior Matt Hoff will look to fill Varga’s big skates after the dominant season he had.  It could take Hamden a while to get rolling, but Verneris has done more with less before.  Look for Carangelo and O’Connor to break out.

NEW CANAAN (Last season- 12-7-1, lost to Darien in first round)
The Rams had an up and down season last year ultimately falling in the first round of the states to FCIAC foe Darien.  New Canaan will lose all everything forward Jake Granito who finished with 45 points on the year.  They also lose the services of the graduated Dylan Hart.  Spencer Manchuck emerged as a candidate to fill Granito’s void after a solid sophomore season while fellow junior Henry Stanton will be looked to continue potting goals for the Rams.  In net, senior Chris Koennecke will man the crease and be relied to on compete with the FCIAC’s best.  While the Rams will probably still fall behind Ridgefield and Darien and maybe even St. Joseph, they will still be a force to be reckoned with come tournament time.  They open with Notre Dame-West Haven, Hamden and Darien, so you better be ready Rams!

Part II of our Season Preview (Team Capsules cont.) will appear on the blog on Sunday.  Followed by our Preseason Top 10, Preseason All State team and "Players to Watch" on Wednesday 12/12.

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