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Friday, December 13, 2013

Part III: Division 2 Team Preview Capsules

By: Luke Devoe

Milford Coop
2012-13 Record: 12-8-0
Tournament Result: 11 seed- lost in First Round 5-3 to (6) Guilford

Milford Co-op's Jonathan DePascale
On paper the Indians look stronger than just about any returning D2 squad.  They return the services of all-everything forward senior Zach White (30 G, 31 A) and his 11 multi-goal games and senior line mate Will Vitelli (15 G, 11 A).  White did lose the services of the graduated Rob Buskey who chipped in with 42 points of his own last year so it’ll be interesting to see White gel with another player.  Defensively, the Indians are very secure.  Their top two D pairs of senior Ben Lavallee, juniors Jarrod Butts, Jonathan DePascale and David McLenithan rival any in the state.  On top of having the state’s best D2 player, the Indians welcome a freshman who will make an immediate offensive impact.  Andrew Gobany comes in with high expectations and will push for top line action.  In net two goalies are set to battle it out to gain the bulk of the crease time.  Seniors John DePalma (663 minutes last season) and Noah Ericson (232 minutes) bring some experience to a position that faltered several times last year.  The Indians allowed 4+ goals in 8 of their 9 losses last year.  Sal Follo’s team looks strong, they look deep and have proven bona fide star power.  Expect them to erase last year’s first round exit from their collective memories and make a run this season.
New Milford
2012-13 Record: 13-5-2
Tournament Result: 8 seed- lost in First Round 3-0 to (9) North Branford

With an intact top line returning, a competent replacement goalie manning the crease and certain success from last year to build on, Dan Moore’s Wave group should be a team to be reckoned with this year.  New Milford welcomes back a top line featuring leading scorer senior Harrison O’Connell (18 G, 12 A) (CTHSHockey D2 Honorable Mention), junior Logan Doud (5 G, 11 A) and junior Tommy Nisco (11 G, 1 A).  Junior defenseman Jamison Steinhardt will aim to anchor a strong defensive unit.  All is not perfect in Waveland with the graduation of stellar netminder Matt DePalma (1.46 GAA) (CTHSHockey D2 1st Team).  They also graduated two of their top four scorers in Lorenzo Stellato (CTHSHockey D2 3rd Team) and Tyler Kirkwood.  The saving grace for the Wave may be Moore’s strategic use of “back up” goalie Nick Capriglione last year.  The senior saw 465 game minutes, posted a 1.16 GAA and notched two shutouts spelling DePalma last year.  Capriglione is ready to take over in net and show, similarly to how he did last year in limited action, that there will not be any fall off without DePalma in net.  New Milford brings in some new bodies poised to perform in senior Steven Berry, formerly of the CT Chiefs and senior Cole Case, a forward with excellent vision on the ice.  This sets up for another great season in New Milford.  They should be looked at as one of the stronger teams at the D2 level.
2012-13 Record: 14-4-2 (D3)
Tournament Result: 1 seed- defeated (8) NFI 4-2 in Quarterfinals; defeated (5) Masuk 4-1 in Semifinals; Won D3 State Championship 1-0 over (3) BCR

Newington-Berlin makes the jump to D2 after winning back to back D3 state titles.  Many people think the jump should’ve happened after the first of the two state titles, but at this point, it is what it is.  Newington-Berlin just wins, wherever they go, whoever they play.  It will be very interesting to see how they fair at a highly competitive D2 level.  They will have to repeat this success without arguably the best D3 goalie last year in graduate Drew O’Leary (CTHSHockey D3 2nd Team), CTHSHockey D3 Skater of the Year BJ Richard, and CTHSHockey D3 Defensive Defenseman of the Year Justin Pratte.  This talent will not be easy to replace but plenty of returnees plan on making the transition painless.  They bring back four of their top five scorers highlighted by senior Dan Roberts who in only 12 games last season notched 20 points, their second leading scorer in senior Matt Harackiewicz (CTHSHockey D3 Honorable Mention) (9 G, 13 A), as well as the DiPaola brothers junior Marco (CTHSHockey D3 Honorable Mention) (11 G, 5 A) and sophomore Luca (CTHSHockey D3 Rookie of the Year) (10 G, 6 A).  Also look for freshman Matt Roberts to fill a second line role as well.  While the hole that Pratte and O’Leary leave is large, defensively this group should be pretty sound with senior Mike Davies and junior Mitch Pitkin returning.  In net, two goalies, Senior Tom Wood and junior Cam Criniti, are set to battle it out.  The two saw a combined 45 game minutes last year.  Until I see the Indians take a step backwards, I can’t pick against them.  They will receive a home game in this year’s D2 tournament.
North Branford
2012-13 Record: 12-7-1
Tournament Result: 9 seed- defeated (8) New Milford 3-0 in First round; defeated (17) Newtown 5-1 in Quarterfinals; lost to (13) Fairfield Warde-Ludlowe 3-1 in Semifinals

The Thunderbirds were a tough out last season.  They put together a solid regular season largely on the back of CTHSHockey D2 1st Teamer Dylan Podbielski and even ran off a couple of wins in the D2 state tournament before falling to the eventual state champ Fairfield Warde-Ludlowe.  Podbielski, Nik Castaldi (CTHSHockey D2 Honorable Mention) and goalie Kyle Saroka have graduated.  Mark Russo has also transferred out heading to Notre Dame-Fairfield. But the T-Birds retain some excellent talent.  They will be lead by junior Alec Martone (20 G, 17 A) (CTHSHockey D2 Honorable Mention), a forward with an excellent nose for the net who will need to step up now that his linemates Podbielski and Russo are gone.  Also returning is a solid defensive core headed by the big bodied senior Nick Johnson (4 G, 9 A) and senior Brendan Appi.  Junior Will Burke inherits Saroka’s net and will try to hold down the spot being pushed by some younger bodies.  We will find out a lot about the T-Birds early when they start their season with the daunting task of facing Newington-Berlin, Milford (twice), New Milford, Hand and Fairfield Co-op.  Martone is set to break out as a legit D2 star.  The questions in net and in terms of complementary players are the only things causing me to be a little hesitant in my expectations of North Branford this year.  
North Haven
2012-13 Record: 4-14-2 (D1)
Tournament Result: did not qualify

North Haven's Andrew Graziano
North Haven is going to try this whole thing all over again at the D2 level.  The Indians have an exuberant young coach with boat loads of potential, a solid returning group of players led by senior captain Vin Fasulo (13 goals last season) and are on a much more level playing field now at the D2 level.  Don’t be fooled by their final D1 record, however.  North Haven lost four one goal games last year and beat the likes of Cheshire, Watertown-Pomperaug, Branford and Guilford, all teams expected to be at the top of end D2 this year.  I think it’s safe to say this is where they belong.  I expect the Indians to have a strong year.  Sure, they lost senior leading scorer Karl Anderson and undersized but talented defenseman Jimmy Piscitelli but they return a decent amount of talent, enough to be able to compete legitimately at the D2 level.  In net, the lengthy junior Andrew Graziano is back for his third year manning the Indians’ pipes.  Senior forwards Chris Lion and Phillip Gauvin look to move into more pivotal roles while juniors Cam Owens and Tyler Luedee wll need to accelerate their development as well.  The Indians will need to find consistent scoring up and down the line chart in order to have success this year but with Fasulo, a blossoming star, and the experienced Graziano in net, I like their chances at a good seed come tourney time.
Rockville-Bolton-Coventry-Lyman Memorial
2012-13 Record: 17-1-2 (D3)
Tournament Result: 3 seed- defeated (6) E.O. Smith-Tolland-Windham 3-0 in Quarterfinal; defeated (2) NFA-St. B-Bacon 2-1 (2 OT) in Semifinal; lost to (1) Newington-Berlin 1-0 in D3 State Championship

Some big shoes are left to be filled for BCR this year with the graduation of their rock, goalie Cam Earle (CTHSHockey D3 Goalie of the Year).  How will new goalie Connor McGrath answer the bell?  A lot of their success this year, paired with their move to D2, will land on his inexperienced shoulders.  Earle posted 7 shutouts last year propelling BCR to a record season.  Without him, BCR would’ve struggled to be a .500 team.  The coop also lost senior forward leader J.R. Pirritti (CTHSHockey D3 Honorable Mention) and defenseman Matt Zawislinski to graduation.  That’s about it.  With the exception of Earle’s departure, BCR returns a strong cohort of solid options.  Back for more are junior Kevin Morton, senior Eddie Bates, both CTHSHockey D3 Honorable Mention.  They will also look for contributions from Liam McGrath, Hunter Byram, Nate Tonzi and Bruce Smith.  Defensively BCR is very strong with four key cogs returning.  BCR could see some struggles with the learning curve that comes with moving to a competitive D2.  With the unknowns that are glaringly evident, it’s hard to think you’ll see a repeat of last year’s success.  There are enough weapons there, however, to think BCR will lock up a tourney bid.

Coming tomorrow... Part IV: Division 2 Team Preview Capsules!

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