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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Division I Semifinal Preview

Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Ingalls Rink, New Haven
5:30 p.m. (4) Darien vs. (1) Notre Dame-Fairfield

HOW DARIEN GOT HERE: defeated (13) Greenwich 3-1, defeated (12) South Windsor 5-0
HOW ND FAIRFIELD GOT HERE: defeated (16) St. Joseph 7-2, defeated (8) East Haven 11-1

THE SCOOP: There is no team in the state quite as hot as the ND Fairfield Lancers. The Lancers have won 11 straight games. This includes their final eight regular season games, a D1 SCC/SWC title over NDWH and their first two CIAC tournament games. Over this span ND Fairfield has outscored their opponents 70-19. That's an average of 6.3 goals per game to 1.7 goals per game. If that's not scary enough, they seem to be getting better. They utterly dominated East Haven in their 11-1 quarterfinal victory. They jumped out to a big lead and never looked back. Senior goalie Zak Bouve (2.50 GAA) has been cemented as their guy and has been fantastic during this recent stretch. On the offensive end, the Lancers come at you in waves with six players over 25 points on the year. They are lead by the physical yet crafty senior Christian La Croix (23 G, 21 A), the elusive junior Jonny Suporn (16 G, 16 A) and the ever steady junior Nick Carloto (16 G, 18 A). Add in players like seniors Danny Walsh, Garrett Gintoli, and AJ Lucatino and underclassmen Justin Dupuis and Tyler Henchcliffe and head coach Steve Hetherman has many, many options to go with. On the defensive end, you'd be hard pressed to find a D-man with as strong of an offensive game as junior Craig Hessenius (8 G, 17 A). He's joined by junior Ryan Gawricki and sophomore Seamus O'Rourke on quite the shut down back end. So to summarize, they're loaded. Darien's road to Ingalls was a little lighter than some of the other squads with Greenwich and South Windsor, but stellar defensive efforts and consistent offense land them in the semis. Darien's productivity is equally shared as well on this senior laden group who's seen the battles in CIAC action before. Senior Tommy Watters leads all scorers with 36 points (17 G, 19 A). But this is a small detail. The Wave literally ooze team play with a different hero coming to the forefront each night. Seniors Owen Koorbusch, Robert Juterbock, and Connor Davis are all 20+ point scorers. Mix in guys like junior Jack Pardue and senior Dillon Fitzpatrick and the Wave are down right scary. Especially when you think about the net minder opposing Bouve in this one. Senior Mike Colon has had a great season. It's rare indeed that a team can claim wins over both Prep and NDWH twice but that's precisely what Colon was able to orchestrate. The most impressive stat? Only once did a team score more than two goals against Darien in the regular season and that was on opening night way back in December against Hamden. ND Fairfield has already dented the Wave's armor this year, handing them their second loss of the season in their regular season finale 2-1 back on February 22nd.

LAST SEMIFINAL APPEARANCES: Darien (2013), ND Fairfield (2008)
DARIEN STATE CHAMPIONSHIP APPEARANCES: (1987, 1985, 1984, 1969, 1968)

WHO WINS? Before the tournament, I called for a Darien trip to the finals. As always, I won't go back on that but man is the confidence waning. Not because Darien has been bad, they've been very solid in their two wins but because ND Fairfield is taking no prisoners and scoring at will all while getting strong goaltending from Bouve. I'm sticking with my prediction, but wouldn't be surprised in the least bit if NDF is the team moving on. Darien 3, NDF 2

Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Ingalls Rink, New Haven
7:30 p.m. (3) Fairfield Prep vs. (2) Notre Dame-West Haven

HOW PREP GOT HERE: defeated (14) Hamden 5-1, defeated (6) Glastonbury 4-3
HOW NDWH GOT HERE: defeated (15) Simsbury 3-0, defeated (7) New Canaan 2-0

THE SCOOP: This, folks, is the best rivalry in Connecticut. The two programs have combined for 22 state titles and have played some storied games, including last year's Division I Championship game which the Jesuits ultimately won 3-2. Over the past five years, Fairfield Prep holds an 8-3-1 record against NDWH. Dating back to 1990 Prep has won 8 of 12 games in the CIAC tournament against NDWH. This one sets up to be electric with NDWH beating Prep 3-0 back on February 22nd at Bennett and tying the Jesuits 4-4 back on January 4th at the Wonderland. Prep will likely go with senior Matt Beck (2.35 GAA, 1 SHO) in net. Sather has religiously gone with his senior goalie rotation this year and with fellow senior Chris Gutierrez (1.94 GAA) getting the call against Glastonbury, Beck will be the guy in this one. Offensively, Prep has plenty of capable skaters. It's important when thinking of Prep's production to take into account the teams that they've played. No one plays a harder schedule than the Jesuits and at times their point production mirrors this. Their top line of seniors Matt Wikman (25 G, 15 A), Dean Lockery (10 G, 10 A) and Ken Kochiss (11 G, 21 A) is fun to watch and as dependable as they come. Skaters like junior Mike Ventricelli and sophomore Justin Blanchette have added much needed depth for the Jesuits. Prep lost so much defense after last year's title run, but a retooled a new look group has proven to be competent in replacing the excellent group that left. Senior defenseman Steven Bayles along with sophomore Billy Overby and juniors Vinny D'Amore and Brendan Killoy have done what it takes to keep Prep elite. NDWH has arguably the most important and leaned upon top line in the state with the exception of maybe East Haven. Senior Matt Dumas and juniors Kyle and Ryan Lynch lead the Green Knights with 45, 43, and 43 points respectively. Their points are great and impressive, but their steadiness has helped NDWH transition into a new coach and attempt to get over the losses of Billy Vizzo, Greg Zullo, Kyle Thibault and a great defensive group. NDWH had Prep's number this year tying them early and defensively topping them later in the year 3-0. The Green Knight's goalie junior Wade Conlan  has yet to let in a goal in this year's tournament, topping Simsbury 3-0 and New Canaan 2-0. His emergence as a solid number one, is part of the reason to fear NDWH at this point in the year. Belcher has done a nice job getting breathers for his top line. Senior Casey Hoban, seldom used during the Bill Gerosa regime, has logged a ton of valuable minutes for the Knights, as well as senior Eric Austin and freshman Alec Andreucci. On the blue line, the Knights aren't as intimidating as last season but not many in this state commands as much attention as senior defenseman Jimmy Davins. Be sure you know where he is on any given night, or you might pay for it. Sophomore Colin O'Connor and senior Patrick Francis also have shown plenty of glimpses of brilliance on the back end for NDWH this year.

PREP STATE CHAMPIONSHIP APPEARANCES: (2013, 2011, 2010, 2008, 2007, 2005, 2004, 2001, 2000, 1996, 1995, 1992, 1991, 1981, 1980, 1979, 1978, 1977
NDWH STATE CHAMPIONSHIP APPEARANCES: (2013, 2012, 2005, 2004, 2002, 2001, 1997, 1994, 1993, 1989, 1988, 1987, 1986, 1985, 1983, 1982, 1978)

WHO WINS: Prep was my preseason and my pre tournament pick for D1 Champ, but look what happened to East Catholic at D2, my other tape to tape selection. If anyone is going to knock Prep out, it's going to be NDWH. This game should be unreal with both student sections going bonkers. I will stick with my Prep selection. I believe they are a slightly deeper unit but like I said with my Darien pick, this one could easily go the other way. We shall see. Prep 4, NDWH 3

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