|Prep's Matt Wikman|
D1 is the last division to get underway with games taking place on Wednesday, March 12. I'll be honest, on paper D1 probably has the most "dud" games. That's not to take anything away from the teams playing, it simply means one team is heavily favored over the other team. Darien Ice Rink will be home to two games on Wednesday with (10) Northwest Catholic battling with (7) New Canaan at 6:00 and (4) Darien hosting (13) Greenwich at 8:00. @CTHSHockey will be live in East Haven at DiLungo Rink where the home Yellow Jackets host (9) West Haven at 6:00. The winner of that game will likely get (1) ND Fairfield who hosts (16) St. Joseph at 7:30 at the MIP. The day's action gets underway at 5:10 when (5) Ridgefield hosts (12) South Windsor. In other action, (2) ND West Haven hosts (15) Simsbury at 6:00 at Bennett, (3) Fairfield Prep hosts (14) Hamden in rivalry tilt at 6:30 at the Wonderland and (6) Glastonbury welcomes (11) Xavier to Trinity at 7:30.
Five of the the eight match ups feature teams with prior experience with one another. Only three of our matchups pit opponents against each other that haven't met in the regular season. This year, ND Fairfield beat St. Joseph by matching 7-3 scores. East Haven beat the Westies 6-2 in their lone meeting. Darien cruised past Greenwich 6-1 when they faced off. NDWH topped Simsbury 5-1 earlier this season while Fairfield Prep swept the season series from Hamden by 4-1 and 8-3 finals. They say familiarity breeds contempt, we shall see if that's true at D1.
(1) ND Fairfield opens with (16) St. Joseph. The Cadets had a tough year while the Lancers had a program defining regular season under coach Steve Hetherman. Every time I wait for NDF to fall, they rise to the occasion. I still think they peeked a little too soon but I've learned never to underestimate a group headed by the crafty, big man Christian La Croix. Senior goalie Zak Bouve has certainly stepped up his play of late and grabbed number one duties. Look for him to have a solid tournament. I will be at DiLungo Wednesday for East vs. West. Offensive onslaught vs. Defense first. West Haven's leading scorer Tyler Paine has 16 points this year while East Haven boasts a top line that each member has tallied over 60 points each. These teams couldn't be more different. If West Haven wants to keep this one close the game cannot turn into a shootout. East Haven will push the tempo. Mike Falanga is one of the most talented players in the state with the puck on his stick while Matt Longobardi has blow by you speed that few can match. Tristan Goodwin is the perfect complement to those too and can score with the best of them. Westies would love to rely on senior captain and defensive leader Alex Scranton but he's reportedly out with an upper body injury. I am picking the Yellow Jackets but believe strongly in what coach Joe Morrell's boys do. Their scrappy, team first mentality gives them at least a shot in this one.
The 4/13 and 5/12's should be considered scaled down David vs. Goliaths. Can the upsets happen? Sure. Will they? Doubtful. Darien easily handled Greenwich earlier this season and has been as solid as any team in the state this season. Watters, Massie, Koorbusch, Davis, Fitzpatrick, Pardue... the names go on and on but don't seem to matter on this team. They are a defined unit, one that goes to battle as a collective better than anyone. They fell to New Canaan in the FCIAC Championship but that game can be quickly forgotten with success over the next two weeks. Behind senior goalie Mike Colon, I see them making a run. Ridgefield hosts South Windsor in the 5/12 game. If the Bobcats can skate with the Tigers and possibly pull the upset they will need senior leadership all the way. Bobcats like Connor Minguy, Nick Jones and Bryan Bakas will have to all have excellent games as will underrated sophomore goalie Scott Skenyon. I have more confidence in South Windsor's ability to pull the upset than Greenwich but it still will be a lofty task. They get a strong Ridgefield team that went 16-4 this year but fell to a #5 seed due to strength of schedule. Junior goalie Patrick Sheehan-Delany is expected to get the call between the pipes and in a limited sample size for me, he was very, very solid. The Tigers are an interesting team they skated with and narrowly lost to Prep twice, beat New Canaan, beat Xavier twice, and beat Glastonbury but they are not mentioned in the same breath as Darien and New Canaan. The state should get to know these Tigers who will be a very tough out for Darien in round two if all works out that way lead by Liam Smith, Sam Sarath and Brad Alexander.
(2) NDWH gets a (15) Simsbury team that is struggling going 1-8-1 over their final 10. This may be just what the Knights need to gain some footing moving forward. Simsbury has had the ability to keep games tight but a 2-1 loss to a below .500 D3 team in Wethersfield does not inspire a lot of confidence for the Trojans. With all due respect to those beauts over at DiLungo, NDWH's top line is the best in the state taking into account level of competition and how much the rest of the team relies on their production. Matt Dumas (45), Kyle Lynch (43) and Ryan Lynch (43) all collected over 40 points this season and have been work horses to boot. Throw in role players like Casey Hoban and Eric Austin as well as a strong D core headed by Colin O'Connor, NDWH has what it takes to make a run. NDWH will get the winner of a good 7/10 matchup featuring (7) New Canaan and (10) Northwest Catholic. NDWH may be rooting for the Indians to pull the upset after going 0 for 2 against the Rams this year. New Canaan is coming off an FCIAC tournament championship, one that saw them have to go through both Ridgefield and Darien to advance... impressive. Their reward? A first round matchup with a hungry and wet behind the ears NW Catholic group. New Canaan will be lead, as always by senior Harry Stanton and his 46 points (27 G, 19 A). The Rams have other bodies to aid in the Stanton show. While I don't think they're as deep as a team like Prep or Darien but solid skaters like Jack O'Rourke and Davis Bruch have New Canaan looking formidable. To me, the X factor is Mac Wright in net. The senior seemingly came out of nowhere to be one of the best goalies in the state. He takes up a lot of net and commands his position well. Northwest Catholic counters with one of the best lines at any level in the state. Senior Jesse McLain exploded this year to the tune of 25 goals. He's aided by the ever-present senior Demitri Yao (7 G, 16 A) and solid senior Zeke Angelini (8 G, 15 A). Sophomore Mike Camasso has been very strong for NWC in net this year and has the potential to win a game on his own. This one features two teams with strong top lines. New Canaan's depth may be the difference in this one.
Xavier had a weird year. They handily beat Hamden, East Haven and East Catholic, tie LaSalle Academy and St. John's-Shrewsbury and narrowly lose in overtime to Prep and NDWH but find themselves losing to West Haven and Simsbury and very badly (by 7 goals) to NDF. To me, they have what it takes to win a couple games over the next couple weeks. The trouble for them is running into the human vacuum that is Glastonbury junior goalie Kyle Thibodeaux. It can be argued that no goalie in the state has meant as much to their respective team as Thibodeaux has meant to the Tomahawks. They aren't a team that's going to blow your doors off. They've got some kids who can score like senior Patrick Conley (16 G, 9 A) and junior Tyler MacLean (9 G, 15 A) but his steadiness and calm, cool and collected demeanor in net could be the difference between them being a surprising 6 seed to make a run or a one and done upset victim. Xavier has what it takes to win this game. Junior Ben Guidobono is as solid as they come between the pipes. They have some depth and offensive options including Andrew Meoli, David Piekut and Bryan Stanton. I'm calling for Xavier to pull the upset but if Thibodeaux is on and Glastonbury plays that team-first, puck pursuit game that we've seen all year it may be hard for the Falcons to accomplish that.
Saving the best for last? Well, maybe a few years ago. Fairfield Prep and Hamden, their names are synonymous when it comes to high school hockey in Connecticut but this year they are at different ends of the talent spectrum. Prep is a (3) seed, a battle tested (12-4-3). They have faced some of the best teams outside of the state of Connecticut the northeast has to offer. That can be said for Hamden too, only the results have been different. The public school has not had the success they've had in years past but, boy have they battled. I wouldn't put it past Hamden to keep this one close, but as we saw recently, Prep just has more weapons in their arsenal. If they are to do this they need all hands on deck. I anticipate junior Logan Cathey getting the start in net. He will have to have the game of his life. Forwards Anthony Rascati, Jeremy Routh and Sam Carignan will also need to play up to potential if Hamden is to pull the upset. Prep comes at you in waves. Their top line of Ken Kochiss (9 G, 19 A), Matt Wikman (25 G, 15 A) and Dean Lockery (9 G, 11 A) can match up with any. But it's the depth that makes Prep scary. Players like Mike Ventricelli and Jack Hoey could compete for top line duties on most other clubs. So take all that, digest it and then realize Prep's biggest advantage may be the experienced goaltending duo of seniors Matt Beck and Chris Gutierrez. Both could stake their claim to possibly being the best goalie in the state and here they sit in a platoon. Prep should win this game. I see it being more like the 4-1 win over Hamden earlier this year rather than the 8-3 win recently, but the Jesuits should win and are my favorite going forward.
FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH:
These aren't necessarily the best guys on the ice, but certainly guys who can change games based on the intangibles.
Alex Scranton (West Haven) Sr. I've written about Scranton before but the kid is truly what makes West Haven tick. He gets under opposing players skin with his sandpaper mentality but he also brings a calm, poised offensive game to his defenseman position. He is integral to WH's success. Reports are he's out with an upper body injury and I could just as easily change him out for someone else, but that would diminish the impact he's had over his four years.
Casey Hoban (ND West Haven) Sr. Hoban logs so many quality minutes for the Knights. He doesn't produce points like the Lynch-Dumas line but the small things are his forte. With that, he can allow NDWH to thrive. A vital player for sure.
John Arel (Northwest Catholic) Sr. You look at Arel and his size is the first thing you see. The kid is like 6'5, 260 lb. and that might be an understatement. But then you see his hands and finally his booming slap shot. Arel displayed this offensive touch this year to the tune of 18 points.
Matt Barnett (Hamden) Jr. The second liner goes out and does all the right things for the Dragons. He battles in the corner, has shown the ability to score and gives quality minutes of rest to the top line. This underrated winger will be fun to watch as he progresses next season.
Ken Kochiss (Fairfield Prep) Sr. Kochiss goes about his business quietly but has been a key cog in keeping Prep together and giving their top line stability all year. He doesn't have the numbers of Wikman but Wikman doesn't have those numbers without Kochiss.
THREE THINGS I THINK:
1) I think the bottom part of the bracket (NDWH, Simsbury, NC, NWC, Prep, Hamden, Glastonbury and Xavier) is a much tougher draw than the top half. Mainly because I think the lower seed teams, NWC, Hamden, Xavier... are much stronger than the Greenwich's and South Windsor's of the top half.
2) Matt Wikman would've scored 60 points if he played a schedule the likes of East Haven or FCIAC. The kid had 40 and Prep played the hardest schedule of any team in the state.
3) I think 4-5 teams in this D1 bracket wouldn't make it out of a first round game against the top 5 teams at the D2 level. Cases in point- D2 8 seed Cheshire beating SW 7-2, East Catholic beating Glastonbury 3 times, Simsbury falling to D3's Wethersfield, SJ's losing to TC and Fairfield, Greenwich falling to D3's SWS.