By: Luke Devoe
So, I took a brief hiatus from my usual high school coverage to watch my beloved Quinnipiac Bobcats dismantle the Bulldogs due in large part to some real spotty goaltending by Yale. But, boy did I miss some of the goings on around the high school hockey sector of the state. Some big upsets, some lopsided finals and a few more teams clinching births in this year's CIAC state tournament. Here are some storylines going forward.
There are many rumors swirling about what the state will look like next year in terms of divisions and the number of teams in each division. From what I've gathered from multiple reputable sources this is what will be discussed at today's meeting and ultimately proposed. The CIAC wants to obviously keep the three division format, but the disparity within each is ridiculous. Their plan to curb this would be to create an elite 12 team conference similar to how Massachusetts breaks into a Super 8, separating the best teams from the pretenders. From what I've gathered the proposed plan would have that Elite 12 team division and then two larger divisions, consider it D1 and D2. As of now, there are 57 teams competing in CIAC Boy's Ice Hockey. Who knows if that number will stay the same next year given what's gone on recently with co-ops but the large part of this argument is going to ultimately be, who gets in the top 12? Who gets left out? Who doesn't make the new "D1"? And so on. The CIAC's proposal would base placement on a four year sample size, additionally they would look at how well you've faired in the past four state tournaments. Furthermore, the proposal would be fluid, a flexible plan that would allow for the most recent year to be considered when redividing teams for the following season. Lastly, because the elite division would have less playoff rounds, the committee would be proposing a best of three series for the finals, an idea that I think is revolutionary and excellent. Ideally, this plan eliminates the disparity within divisions and allows for all three divisions to have a good number of teams involved (right now the D3 standings are pathetically creeping towards the playoffs with only four teams clinched). Competitive balance is key and like some have proposed even if D1 this year was an elite conference it'd still be NDWH and Prep, it's refreshing to see the CIAC making strides in fixing this. You're going to have years with runaway teams, it happens at all levels of sport but that's why you play the games. Getting rid of East Haven playing 12 D2/D3 schools would be a step. Amending the FCIAC's archaic requirements that Darien, Ridgefield and the rest of the big boys play D3 schools simply because they're conference members in others sports is another step. We're moving in the right direction but it's been said by many when viewing and bantering about this proposal, some people are going to be pissed. "Proud" programs may be demoted, conferences may be torn and in the end it may still be Prep and NDWH facing off but let's see it implemented first.
Holy Cow That's An Upset
East Catholic and Northwest Catholic rode into action yesterday with a combined 20-3 record, atop the D2 rankings and seemed to have matchups they were both heavily favored in. They both lost and both lost by three tallies. Northwest's has to be considered a bigger upset as they were facing a downtrodden Farmington-Windsor-Avon club who was just coming off a 7-0 defeat at the hands of South Windsor. Northwest also beat the FWA earlier this year by a 4-1 final. Kudos to the co-op for coming out with a game plan to shutdown the powerful Indians. East Catholic fell 3-0 to D3 squad St. Bernard-Bacon-NFA. SB-B-NFA sits at (6-8-0) on the year but they are a very good below .500 team, not necessarily a team East Catholic should've fell to but there isn't as much shame in this defeat. The Saints came into this one playing very well winning two of their previous three with the only loss being a 2-1 tightly contested game with Daniel Hand. A quick glance at St. Bernard's schedule and you can argue it's the toughest of any team at the D2 or D3 ranks. Their 8 losses have come to teams with a combined (69-28-7) overall record. The Saints will be a team to be reckoned with in the D3 state tourney this year and boast wins over D2's East Catholic & Milford Co-op and D1's East Haven. The losses won't derail either East or Northwest Catholics but it does show some holes, some susceptibility and tightens an already tight Division II race even more.
Newington-Berlin Gets Stronger
The Newington-Berlin Indians are in search of back to back D3 state titles. Their chances got a little bit better recently with the addition of junior forward Dan Roberts, a Westminster transfer. Regardless of reason, some have speculated playing time at the prep school, Roberts will walk in and be relied on right away as one of Newington-Berlin's best options alongside BJ Richard. Roberts has played two games with the Indians (their 6-2 trouncing of BBD and their 1-1 tie with North Branford) and tallied two assists. A big-bodied forward, Roberts also walked the blue line on the Indians' power play last night giving a formidable point presence. Regarded as a strong skater who can use the body, Roberts has made Newington-Berlin even more imposing than they were.
Where Oh Where Have the Public Schools Gone?
I'm not one to sit and bitch and moan about how "It's not fair that Prep and NDWH play in the same conference as public schools (said in a mocking tone)." It's the way it is, suck it up, deal with it, Glastonbury was in the state final last year, Trumbull won the D2 tourney and no one was complaining when Hamden was winning back to back state championships a few years back. It's just any year Prep is dominant or NDWH wins it all these whiners rear their ugly heads. But, come on Hamden and West Haven! 7-0 and 6-1 respectively these proud programs lost yesterday. I'm not going to discuss the FCIAC's public schools because their records wouldn't be nearly as bloated (Ridgefield 13-3, Darien 12-1-1, etc.) if they had the schedules Hamden and West Haven have. I suppose we haven't seen rebuilding years from both of these schools during the same season in quite some time but yesterday was ugly. Hamden has shown glimmers of hope this year (beating Hingham (MA), beating St. John's (MA), tying Xavier). West Haven, not so much. It's been said and I'll echo it, it's Fairfield Prep or Notre Dame-West Haven this year and I'm not sold that NDWH without playing an absolute perfect game can beat Prep. I don't believe in the FCIAC schools. Ridgefield's three losses came to SCC schools and quite handily to Prep in a 6-1 season opening loss. Darien's lone loss came in the form of a shutout to NDWH in a game that wasn't as close as the 3-0 score would indicate. And I'm losing hope in my preseason darlings, the Xavier Falcons. They looked disastrous against Prep at Ingalls on Thursday, a shell of the team I saw at Bennett and Wesleyan earlier this year. It comes from the net out and without Shane Baldwin, I don't believe they can win.
Other Scores That Stood Out From Yesterday
Branford topped East Haven 2-1 in what from all accounts was an excellent tilt. It may have been a preview of a "D1" matchup for next season because if this plan goes off, I can't see East Haven being one of the 12 to make the elite division. Branford has now won three straight and are looking like a lock to make the D2 playoffs and do some serious damage. Every year the Hornets seem to start slow and do this come tourney time. No one wants to draw them.
Xavier was able to earn a 2-2 tie with vaunted Bishop Hendricken. That's a nice feather in the cap for Gainey who's been trying desperately to legitimize his club. It also breaks a two game losing streak. Xavier opted to go with Ben Guidobono. Guidobono has done well in Baldwin's absence shutting out New Canaan and now stopping 27 or 29 to preserve a tie with BH.
Wilton was eliminated from state playoff contention last week with a 5-3 loss to Stamford. Gone were the hopes and dreams of a strong season, all the hard work down the tubes. But the Warriors rose up and have won back to back games beating D1's East Haven, in convincing fashion and D2 defending champion Trumbull yesterday. Good for Wilton and those boys because having your season end with six games to still play can be tough.