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Sunday, March 9, 2014

D3 Tournament Preview

The competition in the first round of the D3 state tournament looks a lot different than it would if teams qualified by previous rules. Instead, we have six teams that would not have made the tournament by prior standings. To be honest, it's cool with me. I don't mind a nice, neat 16 team tournament and despise the abundant amount of byes the D3 tournament has had in the past. All these things considered, most, if not all of those "non-qualifiers" have herculean tasks ahead of them in terms of beating their higher ranked foes. D3 gets underway Monday night, officially kickstarting tournament season. In terms of getting your bang for your buck Danbury Ice Arena is the place to be purely for the fact that there will be two games going on there.  (2) Newtown hosts (15) Joel Barlow at 5:30 while (5) NFI hosts (12) Westhill at 7:40. @CTHSHockey will be live at the Milford Ice Pavilion to take in the D3 8/9 game featuring (8) Staples-Weston-Shelton and (9) Lyman Hall-HK. Puck drop for this one will be 7:30. The winner of that game will likely get (1) Masuk barring a Herb Brooks-esque upset from (16) NFA-St.B-Bacon. Those two face off at the Rinks in Shelton at 6:30. At Uconn, (4) EO Smith-Tolland hosts (13) Wethersfield at 5:45 while (3) Sheehan hosts (14) Shepaug-Litchfield-Nonnewaug at 7:00 at Choate. Also at 7, (11) Tri-Town battles with (6) Housatonic-NW-Wamogo at Hotchkiss while (7) Hall-Southington hosts (10) Woodstock Academy at 7 at Veterans.

Only half of these matchups have happened this season with Masuk sweeping St. B's by a combined 16-5 score, EO Smith-Tolland narrowly defeating Wethersfield 3-1 twice, Newtown topping Joel Barlow two times and Sheehan scoring a combined 18 goals in two wins over Shepaug.

SWS' Jack Mendillo           (photo- Mark Conrad)
I'm intrigued by a few of these matchups. I'll start with the game I'll be seeing. Lyman Hall-HK is coming off their worst loss of the year in a game where they had the chance to finish the regular season an impressive 10-10. Even with the loss, LHK finished the season winning 5 of their final 7. They finished with 9 wins but only one could really be considered quality, a last second win over Housy back in mid February. Staples comes into this one after a rough end to their regular season losing 6 of their last 7. The silver lining there is the fact that all of those losses came to quality tournament teams. Staples should not doubt be favored in this game with 40+ point scorers junior Jack Mendillo (27 G, 20 A) and sophomore Derek Nussbaum (22 G, 22 A) running the show. But remember, the Wreckers aren't deep and have the potential to get fatigued with a short bench. LHK will rely on a senior lead group headed by Rocko Cuccaro (14 G, 12 A), CJ Tangredi (9 G, 13 A) and Boomer DeMorro (11 G, 9 A). This one should be tight and could come down to goaltending where I would have to give an edge to the Wreckers senior netminder Will Englehart.

Another that should be close is the 6/11 matchup between Housy and Tri-Town. The two didn't meet this season and after a great start to the year, Tri-Town dropped 9 of their final 12. I think they're better than this, however. They were able to go toe to toe with some top guns at both the D2 and D3 level losing close affairs to Newtown, BCR, SGWL and Hand. They are certainly battle tested with a strength of schedule far superior to that of Housatonic-NW-Wamogo's. But don't let that cause you to doubt Dean Diamond's boys. They are deserving of a #6 seed and have some potent weapons at their disposal including juniors Wes Reel, James Huften and sophomore Jason Diamond. Tri-Town counters with some competent scorers of their own lead by senior Connor Wyllie. I officially called for a Tri-Town upset in this one and while I'm not super confident in it, I'll stick with it.

Other interesting matchups include Westhill @ NFI and Wethersfield @ the Bucks. Westhill is a very good 12 seed and a scary matchup for a red hot NFI team to draw. Westhill won their last three games including topping #1 seed Masuk. NFI is coming off a SCC/SWC D3 title and finished the regular season strong. This could be the best of the D3 matchups but it's hard to pick against NFI the way they've been playing lately. The Bucks should be okay against Wethersfield, but the Eagles were able to battle with EO the first two times they met. If captain Bill Connor wants his Eagles squad to be able to hang in this one, they're going to need a low scoring affair.

These aren't necessarily the best guys on the ice, but certainly guys who can change games based on the intangibles.

Connor Bunovsky (Masuk) Jr. The defenseman just seems to be as dependable as they come. With a strong point presence and a booming shot which surprises at times due to his size, Bunovsky will be relied on if Masuk is to move forward.
Parker Evans (NFI) Jr. The speedy forward is a game changer on a team with a ton of competent options. Evans has 20 points through 22 games for NFI this year but it's the small things he's able to do that allow NFI to be successful.
Eric Chin (Housatonic-NW-Wamogo) Jr. The junior netminder brings four shutouts and a 1.83 GAA to Housy's first round matchup with Tri-Town. He's one of the few goalies in the state to play every single minute for his team.
Mike Cerrotti (Sheehan) Jr. Cerrotti and his longer frame is tough to move off the puck. Sheehan has beaten the teams they're supposed to this year but struggle against the big boys. Cerrotti among other solid Titan forwards will need to step their game up in order to Sheehan to continue their record season.
Eric Zurmuehle (SWS) Sr. The senior often gets forgotten in the Mendillo/Nussbaum shuffle but his unselfish, team first play has allowed Staples success on many occasions this year. Zurmuehle finished the regular season with 33 points including 25 assists.

1) Newtown's Jonathan Lovorn is the best player at D3 and would be a solid puck moving defenseman at any high school level. He is the definition of game changer, maintains his head even when he's being keyed by the opposition and he's a classy kid to boot.

2) Woodstock Academy should be lauded for a successful transition to the varsity hockey. They locked up a (10) seed after a 6-9 season. I also think they will battle hard with Hall-Southington after plenty of time to prepare.

3) Westhill, talent-wise, should be about a 6 seed. They played a hard schedule and their record indicated this. Their first round matchup with NFI could very well be a semifinal-like atmosphere.

CTHSHockey D3 Predicted Bracket

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