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Sunday, March 9, 2014

D2 Tournament Preview

D2 gets underway Tuesday night with all eight matchups front and center. The NIP will feature two D2 games starting at 5:00 when (5) North Haven hosts (12) North Branford. That will be followed by (3) Branford hosting (14) Fermi-Enfield. @CTHSHockey will be on site covering both of these games. (1) East Catholic will host (16) Wilton at 8:00 at Champions with the winner facing the winner of (8) Cheshire and (9) Suffield-Granby-WL, a game that will take place at Wesleyan at 6:00. Two 4:00 games get the day started when (4) Newington-Berlin hosts (13) Daniel Hand and (7) BCR hosts (10) New Milford. (2) Amity hosts (15) Fairfield Warde-Ludlowe at 6:00 at Bennett while (6) Trinity Catholic hosts (11) Milford Co-op at 7:30 at Terry Connors in one of the day’s better games.
Only three of these matchups have happened this season. North Haven defeated North Branford 4-1 the only time the two teams met. Amity recently defeated Fairfield 6-3 and Trinity Catholic beat Milford 4-2 earlier this season when the two met. Something about the uncertainty and unfamiliarity of the other five matchups should lead to some intrigue.

D2, like always, is wide open. I can make an argument for about 11-13 teams to win the whole thing. We can’t forget that a #13 seed won the whole thing last year. Fairfield seemingly came out of nowhere to shock the D2 field. Do I see a seed that low winning the whole tournament this year? No, but it could happen. The two games I am covering Tuesday shouldn’t result in an upset but both Fermi and North Branford have what it takes to pull them off. North Branford got a tough draw in a 5/12 matchup as North Haven can be argued as a top 3 squad. The T-Birds have won some big games this year with Trinity Catholic, Milford, Newington-Berlin and Hand all falling victim to them this season. They will rely on junior Alec Martone and sophomore Adam Burkle to keep up with North Haven. I just think the Indians have to many options obviously highlighted by senior leader Vin Fasulo. Expect junior Andrew Graziano to get the call between the pipes. He will be tough to beat in what I’d consider a favorable matchup for the Indians. Branford got a huge shot in the arm with Tyler Criscuolo back in action. Criscuolo didn’t wait long scoring for Branford in their SCC/SWC D2 Championship win over Amity. Criscuolo also blocked a shot late that seemed to get him in the hand that was previously injured, real gutsy effort. Speaking of which, teammate Tyler Hackett has been hobbled of late and he, too, showed a lot of toughness gutting out the win over Amity. These are the efforts that make this sport great and these kids special. Branford gets Fermi, a team that lost 2 of their final 10 games but really kept a lot of those games close. In normal years, Fermi wouldn’t be in, but they are and I wouldn’t sleep on Matt Boulette and co.
Tylers Criscuolo & Hackett have Branford rolling.

East Catholic shouldn’t struggle with Wilton, as is the same with Amity and Fairfield but other than that every other matchup should be competitive and could go either way. Reportedly (13) Hand wanted (4) Newington-Berlin instead of playing (5) North Haven. I don’t know how much truth there is to that but it makes sense. Well, they got what they wanted and they also got an Indian team coming off a tough loss to D3’s Hall-Southington in the CCC South semifinals. If Hand is going to be able to pull this one off they will rely heavily on their top two weapons of junior Ben Solin (32 G, 28 A) and senior Danny Braumann (21 G, 28 A). Combining for nearly 110 points, that dynamic duo accounts for 55% of the Tigers’ scoring. Newington-Berlin can play a strong defensive style and if they are able to quiet those two or at the very least wear them down they should be fine behind a multitude of offensive talent lead by senior Dan Roberts (22 G, 23 A), junior Dante Gugliotti (17 G, 16 A), junior Marco DiPaola (11 G, 20 A) and senior Matt Harackiewicz (4 G, 17 A). Hand has the best chance out of any 13 seed to pull the upset. Will it happen? I predict it won’t but I wouldn’t confidently bet against Hand and senior goalie Chase Briggs.

(9) Suffield-Granby-WL takes on (8) Cheshire at Wesleyan at 6 and I think this could be one of the tightest contests out of all three divisions. This is one of five D2 matchups where the competitors didn’t meet in the regular season. Suffield comes in winners of four straight and well rested given a full week off during conference tourney time. Cheshire fell 4-1 to Branford in the SCC/SWC semis but has the potential to play with and beat any team at the D2 level. This matchup boasts two of the more entertaining players at the D2 level in SGWL’s junior Jake King (25 G, 20 A) and Cheshire senior Luke Vendetto. When picking this one, I was torn. I see Suffield’s resume (wins over NWC, Milford, North Branford) but for the large part, they played an easier schedule than the tough SCC schedule the Rams played. While the Rams can certainly be impressive (wins over Hand (2), Amity, North Branford, South Windsor), they were inconsistent at times. I sided with the Rams in this one. Senior goalie Joe Solla has had some gems this season and I think he has at least one more in him. But beware… if King and senior Max Marson get uncorked, the Wildcats will not only be a tough out for Cheshire but moving forward.

There are two other games that, while I made a prediction on them, I don’t feel too confident and believe they are true toss ups. (7) BCR hosts (10) New Milford. New Milford has been decimated with injuries of late. In fact, when they played their season finale against Amity, they were down five guys. They still managed to take the Spartans to OT. BCR hasn’t played the toughest schedule but these guys are good. Junior Daelon Carnelli has been great in net easing the loss all season of Cam Earle. BCR does it by committee. They have multiple bodies capable of clocking big minutes and providing point production on any given night. Look for seniors Kevin Morton, Eddie Bates and Nate Tonzi to prove my upset wrong. New Milford has a talented core as well lead by seniors Steven Berry, Cole Case and Harrison O’Connell. All three bring their own thing to the game and provide options for the coaching staff. Berry is speedy and has an excellent ability to enter the zone, Case is as competent and reliable as they come and O’Connell finds the back of the net better than almost every player at this level. To me, the difference maker in this matchup is senior Nick Capriglione in net for the Wave. The kid can simply steal games and I look for him to aid the Wave in pulling this minor upset.

At Terry Connors Tuesday, I called for another upset.  Let me qualify it. Milford has the more potent offense. Seniors Zach White (30 G, 18 A), Ben Lavallee (12 G, 23 A), and Will Vitelli (13 G, 13 A) simply know how to sore. Trinity Catholic counters that with junior Kyle Odierno, one of the best goalies in the state. If he’s on, my prediction is shot. To look at it statistically, Trinity Catholic allowed 2 goals or less 15 times this year and only lost one game against D2 competition. If Milford can turn this one into a shootout, they can win. Don’t for a second think, however, that the Crusaders don’t have offensive options. TC boasts four players over 25 points lead by junior Colin Bernard’s 33 (11 G, 22 A). It would be foolish to base anything on TC’s 4-2 win over Milford back in December. Milford is a different team than the beginning of the season.

These aren't necessarily the best guys on the ice, but certainly guys who can change games based on the intangibles.
Kevin Ryan (Amity) Jr. Ryan moved up to top line duty alongside the star power of Adam Shea and Brett McNeil. Ryan has responded well, scoring five goals including a hat trick in Amity’s 4-3 loss to Branford in the SWC/SCC D2 Final.
Steven Berry (New Milford) Sr. Berry can be a game changer for the Wave. His speed, paired with his deft scoring touch is certainly something to watch if New Milford advances.
Griffin Northrop (Trinity Catholic) Jr. The junior is among a handful of quality forwards for Trinity Catholic this year. He got off to a crazy start with 10 goals through his first seven games. Look for him to make a major impact for TC in the first round and if they move on.
Thomas Usseglio (East Catholic) Sr. Usseglio is as good and dependable as they come. He lead the Eagles to wins over Cheshire, Glastonbury (3 times), South Windsor, NWC (twice), SGWL and Simsbury. With that resume, this tourney should be a walk in the park, right?
Mitch Pitkin & Mike Davies (Newington-Berlin) Jr./Sr. On a team with a ton of offensive options, let us not forget about some defensive minded fellas. With the quality of competition they the Indians will face here on out, they will need to be stalwart.

1) Unlike D1 and D3, I think almost all of these matchups are fun. They are intriguing and I can see a few different things happening here. While I’m not going to write it in permanent ink, I’d be surprised to see many of these matchups being more than two goal games.
2) Star power will be on display at the D2 ranks. No other division relies so heavily on certain individuals. While we’re speaking of star power, here are my D2 Skater of the Year Candidates- Adam Shea (Amity), Tyler Hackett (Branford), Ben Solin (Hand), Jake King (SGWL), Zach White (Milford), Dan Roberts (Newington-Berlin).
3) This is a big opportunity for both Newington-Berlin and BCR to announce their arrival at D2. Many people have scoffed at their schedule but both these teams belong. We shall see who’s proves it more.

CTHSHockey D2 Predicted Bracket

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