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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Division III Semifinal Preview

Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Ingalls Rink, New Haven
5:30 p.m. (4) EO Smith-Tolland vs. (1) Masuk
HOW EO SMITH-TOLLAND GOT HERE: defeated (13) Wethersfield 5-4, defeated (5) NFI 5-2
HOW MASUK GOT HERE: defeated (16) NFA-St. B-Bacon 11-3, defeated (8) SWS 6-3

THE SCOOP: Masuk (16-4) comes into this game as the #1 overall seed at D3 after cruising most of the season at that perch. They take on an EO Smith-Tolland (14-5-1) squad seeded fourth overall but considered a clear underdog in this fight. The Bucks played what some would consider a lighter schedule and failed to impress when they moved up to face a D2 foe going (2-5) with both wins coming against Farmington Valley. But, the Bucks more than took care of their D3 competition going (12-0-1) this year against fellow division teams. They are a fairly deep squad with strong defense, two bona fide scorers and a goalie that can win just about any game put in front of him. Junior Matt Schoen had a great year in net for the Bucks. In fact, nine times, Schoen held the opponents to a goal or less. He is aided by a pair of electric scorers who lit up the north this season. CTHSHockey D3 Skater of the Year Finalist Senior Ross Brancati and junior Pete Mayer both had over 30 points this season continually provide a spark for the Bucks regardless of opponent. Mayer has had a hat trick in both of the Bucks state tournament games so far. On the defensive end, the Bucks will rely on seniors Justin Gagnon and Aaron Lassow, two bigger bodied boys that can surprise with their hands. The Bucks are solid and are an attractive upset pick in this one but they are going up against a mean, on-the-edge, talented Masuk Panthers squad. Masuk boasts five players over 20 points this season lead by junior and CTHSHockey D3 Skater of the Year finalist Shane Dushay (28 G, 17A). The Panthers also throw at you junior Charlie Christo (20 G, 13 A), sophomore Brian Denham (16 G, 11 A), senior Joe DaMota (8 G, 18 A), and senior Dan Zakrzewski (10 G, 12 A). Chip in strong defensive play from senior Christian Suda and junior Connor Bunovsky and the Panthers are scary. In net, junior Connor Muller will get the call. Muller has played most of the minutes this year between the pipes and while he hasn't had to be spectacular in the tourney so far because of his team's "punch you in the mouth" offense, he may need to be in top form Tuesday. These two didn't meet this regular season and while Masuk is still the overwhelming favorite, look for the Bucks to battle hard as they have all year. This is a team who's only lost two times by more than one goal and those losses came in matching 4-2 finals to Newington-Berlin and BCR.

LAST SEMIFINAL APPEARANCES: EO Smith Tolland (1995- as EO Smith), Masuk (2013)

WHO WINS? That 4-2 number stands out. I like the Bucks and if they won, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised. I just think Masuk is deep and capable of running away with the D3 title. If Masuk plays similarly to how they did against NFI in the SCC/SWC semi's, this one will be wide open. It'll be up to them to rise to the occasion and play the way they're capable of. Masuk 4, Bucks 2

Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Ingalls Rink, New Haven
7:30 p.m. (11) Tri-Town vs. (2) Newtown

HOW TRI-TOWN GOT HERE: defeated (6) Housy-NW-Wamogo 2-0, defeated (3) Sheehan 3-2 (3OT)
HOW NEWTOWN GOT HERE: defeated (15) Joel Barlow 5-1, defeated (7) Hall-Southington 4-1

THE SCOOP: Every ball needs its Cinderella, right? Well, the shoe still fits for Tri-Town (7-11-1). The Terrorcats come into the second semifinal after beating (6) Housy in an opening round game where the teams were a lot more even than a 6/11 seeding would indicate. Tri-Town continued on to upset (3) Sheehan in triple overtime in the tournament's most exciting game hands down. The regular season was a roller coaster ride for the co-op, starting 4-0 only to lose six of their final seven games. This late swoon kept them from being an "automatic qualifier" but it hasn't seemed to slow them. In fact, matchup-wise you could argue it helped them. Tri-Town will ride the stellar recent goaltending of senior Alex Bliesner. The net minder can already boast a shutout and a 60+ save performance to his credit this post season, not too shabby. On the offensive end the Terrorcats will be without senior captain Connor Wyllie. That loss is truly detrimental to the the Tri-Town cause. Seniors Rudy O'Konis and Nick Violette as well as junior Ryan Gaidos and freshman Ryan Sherba will look to step their games up to make up for the loss. Tri-Town, even in losing efforts this regular season kept games close. I expect them to do the same but without their senior leader Wyllie, it could be too tall of a task. Newtown (13-4-3) comes in having beaten Tri-Town twice this year. They won 3-0 back on January 8th and 2-1 on March 2nd. The Nighthawks, making their first ever appearance in the semifinals, had a great first D3 regular season as a solid regular season last year at the D2 level. They are lead by all everything defenseman and CTHSHockey D3 Skater of the Year Finalist Jonathan Lovorn. Lovorn joined the Nighthawks a few games into the season and made an immediate impact. His smooth, puck moving ability in all phases are noteworthy. He's the type of player you build around and can single handedly advance the Nighthawks. Lovorn has potted 23 goals this season and is four away from tying Newtown's single season goal scoring record set by Al Mazur in 2002-03. In goal senior Patrick McLoughlin (.928 save %) put together a nice season finishing with three shutouts. Look for seniors Cooper McLean, Connor Hanley and Hayden Savoia to anchor this offense with Lovorn getting help on the back end from players like seniors Dan Harrison and Matt Sabia. 

LAST SEMIFINAL APPEARANCES: Tri-Town (1994), Newtown (First appearance)

WHO WINS: I think Newtown is certainly the better team with the best player at the D3 level manning their blue line. I've also been recently impressed with Bliesner's arrival on the big stage. Newtown, however, is not of the caliber of opponent that Housy and Sheehan are. This will be a monumental task for the net minder and his fellow Terrorcats especially with Wyllie out. Newtown 4, Tri-Town 1

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