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Monday, March 17, 2014

Division II Semifinal Preview

Monday, March 17, 2014
Ingalls Rink, New Haven
5:30 p.m. (2) Amity vs. (11) Milford Co-op

HOW AMITY GOT HERE: defeated (15) Fairfield Co-op 4-3, defeated (10) New Milford 4-1
HOW MILFORD GOT HERE: defeated (6) Trinity Catholic 5-2, defeated (3) Branford 4-1

THE SCOOP: The first of our two DII semifinals pits two SCC/SWC squads against each other. Amity and Milford met once before this season, a 5-4 Amity win at Bennett back in early January. It's fair to say at this point Milford is not the same team as they were then. After losing their final two regular season games to Suffield-Granby-WL and West Haven, Milford has appeared rejuvenated and dangerous through the first two state rounds running over Trinity Catholic and Branford. They lean on but certainly haven't had to rely on all-everything forward senior Zach White (33 G, 20 A). This is vital because teams simply can't key him alone anymore. Seniors Ben Lavallee (14 G, 23 A) and Will Vitelli (14 G, 14 A) have stepped up giving the Indians multiple threats to be concerned with. Goaltending has been a focus point for them this year. Seniors John DePalma and Noah Ericson have platooned nearly the whole season but DePalma's 36 save performance in the state quarters may have forced head coach Sal Follo's hand into playing him in this one. The Indians will be up against a scary good Amity squad. Amity finished the regular season winning five straight after floundering towards the middle of the season. Their only loss over their last nine games came in the SCC/SWC Championship to Branford. Amity was dealt a seemingly devastating blow late in the regular season when senior Keating Seymour was dealt a season ending injury. Junior Kevin Ryan was inserted in Seymour's place and the wing has responded brilliantly with 7 goals over six games. Ryan only had 3 goals altogether leading up to Seymour's injury. Amity is still anchored by the speedy duo of seniors Adam Shea (32 G, 26 A) and Brett McNeil (19 G, 26 A). Both can be game changers at the drop of a hat and the Shea/White matchup is certainly worth the price of admission alone. Amity boasts a strong defensive unit headed by senior Johnny Uscilla and junior Dalton Lucani. In net, the Spartans will rely on senior Brian Mosher, their guy all year. Mosher doesn't have the resumé that goalies like Chase Briggs or Tommy Usseglio have but he's competent. He can keep his team in games and as he showed against New Milford, he can make sure that despite being outshot, his team can handily win. Unlike the later semifinal, this one is more about the offensive star power oozing over the boards rather than a battle from the net mouth out. The more steady, less error prone goalie's team will be victorious in this one, one where goals will certainly be scored.

LAST SEMIFINAL APPEARANCES: Amity (2010), Milford (2002)
AMITY STATE CHAMPIONSHIP APPEARANCES: (2010, 2008, 1980, 1976, 1971, 1964)

WHO WINS? In my original predicted bracket, I had Amity getting to this point but falling. I had Milford winning their first round matchup but not making it this far. Now that they're here, I'm hesitant to pick against them simply because of how convincing their wins have been. Can Milford get a repeat performance from DePalma? Will Follo shock the state and go with senior Ericson who was equally as strong this year? The emergence of Ryan, the strong back end and consistent workmanlike effort is what's causing me to go with the Spartans in this one. Don't get me wrong Zach White can score 25 goals in this one and I wouldn't be surprised, but I think Amity may be the more complete team especially with the emergence of Kevin Ryan as an option. Amity 4, Milford 3

Monday, March 17, 2014
Ingalls Rink, New Haven
7:30 p.m. (1) East Catholic vs. (13) Daniel Hand

HOW EAST CATHOLIC GOT HERE: defeated (16) Wilton 9-3, defeated (8) Cheshire 4-1
HOW HAND GOT HERE: defeated (4) Newington-Berlin 4-1, defeated (5) North Haven 4-2

THE SCOOP: East Catholic has been ranked #1 at the DII level for most of the season. They are the only team making a return trip after falling in heartbreaking fashion 4-3 in overtime to (13) Fairfield Co-op last year. The Eagles want to make sure their post season journey isn't derailed yet again by a #13 seed and they have a shot at winning their first state title since 1984. Daniel Hand comes in as Cinderellas. The Tigers "upset" both Newington-Berlin and North Haven on their way here but they haven't faced a team as deep and as steadily consistent as East Catholic. While I won't anoint this one David vs. Goliath, East Catholic is certainly favored. And why shouldn't they be? They beat D1 #6 seed Glastonbury three times this year as well as D1 northerners South Windsor, Northwest Catholic and Simsbury all while going 9-2 against D2 and D3 teams. They are lead from the goal on out, similarly to, but not exactly like Hand. Senior goalie Thomas Usseglio has had a fantastic career. While not overly flashy, he just gets the job down. The group working in front of him has had a great year as well lead by senior, first year defenseman Brian O'Connell. The Eagles get their scoring by committee with a different hero named each night. Players like seniors Griffin Casey and Patrick Bishop or juniors Lee Munson, Jake McCarthy or Alex Manner make this team tick. It's a unit, it's spread out and it's quite the opposite of Hand and I say that with great respect to the role players on the Tigers roster. But there's no getting around the massive importance junior  forward Ben Solin (36 G, 30 A), senior forward Danny Braumann (22 G, 33 A) and senior goalie Chase Briggs (2.35 GAA, 3 SHO) have on the Tigers' success. Solin and Braumann's combined 121 points accounts for 56% of the Tigers offense. The Tigers' defensive unit has been solid over the past few games headed by the game changing Briggs in net and defensemen senior Dan Healey and sophomores Mike Belliveau and Jeff Rider. Hand certainly has what it takes to pull the upset in this one, they've done it all the way to this point. I just think East Catholic is a different beast than North Haven and certainly Newington-Berlin.

LAST SEMIFINAL APPEARANCES: East Catholic (2013), Daniel Hand (2006)

WHO WINS: I picked East Catholic to go all the way at the beginning of the season and at the beginning of this post season. I believe in the team first mentality and the lack of reliance on one or two players. Don't get me wrong, it's pretty easy to rely on guys when they are the caliber of player of Solin and Braumann, but for the purposes of a prediction I have to veer towards a team that has the potential to key those two, and rely on a a full arsenal of capable scorers on their bench. Briggs can and might make me look foolish and these could be the best two goalies at the DII level, but I think the lefty Usseglio and his Eagles will sore to their second straight DII championship game. East Catholic 4, Daniel Hand 2

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