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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Boarding Major Update

There has been talk in just about every rink all over the state this year about the new boarding rule that warrants an automatic 5 minute major be assessed to the player and counts against each teams' major/misconduct total for the season. The rule makes sense, how it has been implemented and the repercussions that come with it don't in the eyes of some people. Teams can not commit more than six (6) major and/or misconduct penalties in a season. If they do, the team is deemed ineligible for the CIAC Ice Hockey Tournament at their respective division. If a team is on probation they are not allowed to commit more than four (4) major and/or misconduct penalties. The idea is solely based on player safety and this is commendable. Already, since the beginning of the season the number of weekly majors called for boarding or hitting from behind has decreased. However, in my opinion, the number of six is too low given the new amendments to an old tournament rule. In the past boarding penalties were judgment calls which could warrant both a minor or a major penalty. Now, all boarding/hit from behind calls must be given a five minute major. Some officials have found their way around this by assessing phantom elbow, high stick, etc. calls in the place of the more damning boarding call. This isn't right either but the referees are quickly becoming aware of the importance of each call as tallies rise. At last count one team has six majors, two teams are at four majors and seven teams are at three. For some, we are only half way through the season. The good news as I mentioned before is since the beginning of the season, the numbers have gone down. I still don't think this is perfect though. Hockey is a fast sport and incidental contact will happen. Inexperienced refs worried about missing a big hit will miss a skater losing an edge and focus only on an ugly hit. 

My suggestion is that all boarding calls are still given five minute majors on the clock but only egregious boarding calls resulting in game misconducts, any disqualifications and any other blatant disregard for player safety incidents are to count against a teams' season total. There are far too many borderline, incidental boarding penalties happening that are counting against a teams' total when there was no ill intent. In the Hamden/NDWH game this past Sunday Doug Caliendo of NDWH received a boarding major against. He hit a Hamden skater from behind in a fashion that would've warranted a two minute boarding minor in past seasons. Because of this rule, that incidental, non-malicious hit will count against the Knights' total. It's a learning season. I just hope an adjustment is made in the future. Heads up, boys.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Elite Eight Predictions Week Six (1/21-27)

I am going to stick to the 8 games per week. If you would like a "Twitter Pick" tweet @cthshockey and I'll send you a pick there!

RECORD: 27-10-3   LAST WEEK: 5-3

Elite Predictions: Mark these on the calendar

1/21 Notre Dame-Fairfield @ Hamden 7:00 @ Lou Astorino Rink
In my eyes Hamden proved themselves by not only beating Hingham, but doing so soundly. ND Fairfield will be playing their first game in 11 days and now have the services of a few bodies they started the season without. Hamden has won 3 of the previous 5 meetings but the Lancers have won the most recent two, handily. This should be an offensive affair as both teams like to score in bunches. The first period will tell a lot in this one and will test whether the Lancers have the legs to hang after the long layoff. If NDF can stifle Hamden's bread and butter of Routh/Ugolik/Blackwell, they could take this one. However, as hot as they're playing, I'd be a fool to pick against the Dragons. Hamden 5-4

1/22 Delbarton (NJ) @ Fairfield Prep 7:00 @ Ingalls Rink
Delbarton is the #1 ranked school in New Jersey and comes in with a (9-2) record. The Jesuits have handled challenges like this before and are (5-0-1) against teams from New Jersey over the past four seasons including a win over Delbarton two years ago. Prep is hanging around the pack more than they have in years past, leaving the door seemingly open for another team to take the top spot in the rankings with a slip up. I don't see that happening, yet. Prep 3-1

1/23 Cheshire @ North Haven 8:00 @ Northford Ice Pavilion
Both teams are in a bit of a slide right now. Cheshire lost two pivotal games last week to comparable D2 opponents in North Branford and New Milford and most recently gave D1's South Windsor their first win of the year. North Haven has only won two games this year and they both came against teams under .500 (East Haven & Trumbull). Cheshire has gone (0-4-1) against the Indians in their last five meetings. North Haven, even in losses, has been keeping games tight against good competition. I think the Indians keep their unbeaten streak alive against the Rams, in a close one. Cheshire 3-2

1/24 Glastonbury @ Xavier 10:30 @ Wesleyan Ice Rink
Four of Xavier's last five games have gone to extra time. They are (0-2-2) in those games. Their lone win over that span came against a decent Simsbury team. The Falcons seem to have what it take to win these games but are missing that killer instinct. The Tomahawks have won 6 of 7 with the lone loss coming in a 1-0 goalie display to East Catholic. These two haven't met in recent memory but Glastonbury is a good team. The early start time could cause for some jitters but Glastonbury should win this game. However, it wouldn't surprise me in the least bit if the Falcons find a way to finally get over the top against a good team. Glastonbury 4-3

1/24 Newington-Berlin @ Conard 1:00 @ Veteran's Memorial Rink
This is another measuring stick game for the Chieftains. Conard is 4-0 against D2 competition this year and has even notched two wins over D1 teams. The Indians have struggled of late, needing overtime to beat D3's Hall-Southington and falling to D3 powerhouse EO Smith-Tolland. I think Conard continues to prove they are for real this year. These two haven't met recently so there is some unfamiliarity and a win here would do wonders for New-Ber's confidence going forward. I just don't think it happens. Conard 5-3

1/24 Woodstock Academy @ Sheehan 1:15 @ Choate Ice Rink
Sheehan comes in with one loss all year so record-wise they look strong. I'm just not sure we entirely know who the Titans are. We know they can score goals but they tend to allow crooked numbers to teams they shouldn't. Woodstock, still the knew kids on the block, have proven they can compete with decent teams but they haven't proven they can beat top tier D3 teams. Do they have what it takes to beat a Sheehan, most definitely. But I don't think it'll happen. Sheehan 5-3

1/24 St. Joseph @ New Canaan 6:00 @ Darien Ice Rink
St. Joseph has been playing well of late winning four straight. The problem is two of those four wins have come against D3 FCIAC schools while the other came against D2 FCIAC clubs. New Canaan will be a serious challenge as they've proven they can compete with solid teams beating NDWH twice and challenging other top teams in close losses. This game should be closer than some would think. St. Joe's has given the Rams trouble in the past but those Cadet teams were a bit stronger than this version. I think the Rams put a 2-2 tie against Xavier and a loss to rival Darien in the rear view and take this one. New Canaan 4-3

1/24 NFI @ Masuk 8:00 @ The Rinks at Shelton
This is a D3 battle we've been waiting for. Anytime NFI, Masuk, EO or even Sheehan face off against each other you could be looking at a D3 semifinal or final preview. NFI has been winning by scoring goals, Masuk, while they're able to score in bunches, has really done a nice job keeping the puck out of the net. Both will be coming off challenging Wednesday games (NFI has New Milford & Masuk has Barlow). To me, Masuk's way of shutting down opposing offenses has been a little more impressive than NFI's goal scoring. We've seen NFI struggle against good teams (losing 6-2 to North Branford) and lose head scratches to teams that, on paper, they should beat (4-3 to Housy, 3-1 to Tri-Town). NFI is 5-2 over the past four years against Masuk, winning the most recent three meetings. I think this streak is broken. Masuk 3-2

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Elite Eight Predictions Week Five (1/14-20)

I am going to stick to the 8 games per week. If you would like a "Twitter Pick" tweet @cthshockey and I'll send you a pick there!

RECORD: 22-7-3   LAST WEEK: 6-1-1

Elite Predictions: Mark these on the calendar

1/14 Newington-Berlin @ EO Smith-Tolland 4:30 @ Uconn- Former D3 power vs. current D3 power. I'll probably regret it but I'm calling for an upset. Roll Bucks. Bucks 4-3
1/14 New Milford @ North Haven 4:30 @ Northford Ice Pavilion- This could be a pivotal D2 matchup in terms of seeding later on. I think New Milford is the more complete team right now. Wave 3-2
1/14 North Branford @ Cheshire 5:30 @ Wesleyan Ice Rink- Another great D2 tilt. This one is truly a toss up. NB has been fantastic to this point but after seeing both teams in person, Cheshire is the pick. Rams 4-2
1/14 Fairfield Prep @ West Haven 6:30 @ Bennett Rink- West Haven is playing very well and playing with a great level of intensity. They'll need that and more to beat the Jesuits. Prep is good this year, not as good as years past but still darn good. I don't think WH has the fire power to keep up. Prep 5-2
1/17 New Canaan @ Darien 4:00 @ Darien Ice Rink- Rivalry Saturday in Darien. The Wave have been crashing a bit of late and not looking like their early season selves while New Canaan has played good hockey of late. I'll go with the recent trend. Rams 2-1
1/17 Glastonbury @ East Catholic 7:00 @ Champions Skating Center- Glastonbury has been excellent this year out of the gate. East Catholic as come close to the big win a few times but hasn't been able to grab it. This is a great opportunity for them. However, I think Glastonbury takes it. Tomahawks 5-3
1/17 Masuk @ Trumbull 8:00 @ The Rinks At Shelton- Trumbull has lost their last four games by a total of 6 goals including three one goal heartbreakers to the likes of Darien, Greenwich, New Milford and North Haven. They are probably the states best 3-5 team. Masuk is one of the best D3 teams in the state. This should make for an exciting game. I hate to do it but I'm going to go with Masuk. Some would even consider it an upset. They just seem like a complete D3 team right now where Trumbull's frustrations could start to show. Panthers 3-2 
1/19 Notre Dame-West Haven @ Bishop Hendricken (RI) 4:00 @ Levy Rink- Great game when these two met last year. NDWH looked a lot different though for that one. The Knights have been playing better hockey of late and should keep this close but I think Bishop takes this one. BH 4-3

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Division 3: Better Late Than Never

With some teams playing a high of seven games so far and some playing a low of three games, the Division III playoff picture and contender list is slowly taking shape. Without receiving the same amount of feedback that I did for DI and DII, it would’ve been hard for me to do an adequate job covering each DIII team one by one, so in lieu of that, here is a recap of what’s taken place and who we should watch out for.

In my opinion, the DIII champion should, barring any major upsets, come out of the following four teams: Masuk, EO Smith-Tolland, NFI and Sheehan. Now, I am fully aware of the run Tri-Town went on last year as an #11 seed and the continued carousel that is the Division II state tournament but DIII traditionally places teams seeded #1-5 into the semi's. Masuk rolls into play Wednesday night against their first real competition, D2's New Milford. The Panthers are 3-0 and have been lead by senior Charlie Christo and juniors Elijah Begin and Brian Denham, all over a point a game at press time. Senior leader Shane Dushay has also continued to play steady hockey for the Panthers. But the big story is on the back end where senior Connor Muller has yet to let in a goal through three games for Masuk. EO Smith-Tolland likes to think they can counter that group quite nicely. After all, they sit at 4-1 with their lone loss coming in overtime to D2 power Suffield-Granby-WL. The Bucks haven't really been challenged outside of that game but have disposed of opponents the way you would expect a power like them to. They are doing this behind excellent goaltending from senior Matt Schoen and constant contributions from up and down the lineup, headed by senior Pete Meyer. NFI comes in at 5-1 and aside from an inexcusable loss to Housy, they've been good. NFI has six players averaging over a point a game and can truly beat any DIII team on any given night. They have had the propensity, however, to take games off and win narrowly over teams they should slaughter. Junior Christian Benzing leads all scorers with 11 points through six games with seniors Parker Evans, Andrew Rosenblum and Luke McFadden as well as juniors Liam Henderson and Peter Masi all tallying 8 or more points this year. In goal senior Marchello Carlucci has been strong to the tune of a 1.60 GAA. Finally, Sheehan. To me, Sheehan could be the odd man out of this group but it's hard to over look their offensive potential. Lead by seniors Mike Cerrotti and Dylan Beaudoin the Titans have the ability to score with the best of them. The Gozzo brothers Paul and Sal also bring a different dynamic to the team in terms of adding offensive and defensive depth. Sheehan is 3-0 but gets their first real test of the year when they head to face NFI tonight.
Masuk's Connor Muller has yet to allow a goal in 3 games.

One team that kept Sheehan at bay was NFA-St. Bernard-Bacon-Stonington-Lyman Memorial or as their quickly becoming known, the Red Hawks. At 3-4 this co-op which has had some parts move around is a competent competitor any given night. This was evident in wins over D2's BCR and Farmington Valley as well as tight losses to Staples and Sheehan. Senior Andrew Gagnon has been solid for the Red Hawks and is one of the state's hidden gems. I would label the Red Hawks as a "contender" only in the sense that they can contend to make the state semi's with an upset. There are a few others in this group and then there are a fair number of pretenders (see below). Staples-Weston-Shelton (4-2), Hall-Southington (3-4), Woodstock Academy (3-1), Tri-Town (2-3), Housy (2-3-1) and Westhill (2-1) all appear to have what it takes to take down one of the big four if they bring it. Staples is offensively gifted and can certainly stymy weaker teams like Wethersfield-RH-Midd when they play their game but when Staples has been faced with comparable offenses their defense has imploded. Just check out these goals against (9 in a loss to BCR, 5 in a loss to Westhill, 5 in an OT win over Woodstock.) Hall-Southington has gained quite the reputation of being really good one week and being really bad the next over the past couple seasons. They're at it again. They've blasted Tri-Town and BCR, narrowly beaten Wethersfield, lost to Farmington Valley in OT, by 8 goals to the Bucks and most recently 4-2 to a comparable Woodstock club. Consistency they do not have. What they do have is some talent, junior Jarod Florian and senior Jackson Maxwell are really good hockey players, as well as a tough side. No team is grittier or sandier than Hall-South, something that could help or possibly hurt the co-op. Woodstock is the darling of this group. They still have that new team smell. They seem to play for all the right reasons and have a school that seems to be rallying around their young program. Now, they've started to translate all those good feelings into wins. The Centaurs (cool mascot btw) are 3-1 with their lone loss coming in OT to Staples. Their top three scorers are all sophomores headed by Ryan Blacks 9 points through four games. Now, do I think this team has what it takes to win the DIII title? Nope. Do I think they can upset someone who has the chance to? Yup. Tri-Town is solely on this list because in a million years I didn't think they would be making a semi-final appearance last season so I'd be a fool to leave them off now. Plus, I think goalie Phil Nicolescu is the real deal and can steal some wins for them. Housatonic-NW-Wamogo is an interesting team. They're 2-3-1 but had enough gusto to be able to beat NFI, one of the division's best. Housy was really good last year playing the schedule they played. This year things are a bit more stuff sledding, but they're getting by. The last of this group is a team that is very intriguing to me each season. Westhill is 2-1 with their lone loss coming in a 2-0 Masuk shutout. Not bad against one of the DIII's top teams. The thing that always kills a FCIAC team like Westhill in terms of seeding is the amount of talented out of division teams they have to play. For instance, only six of Westhill's final 17 games will be against fellow DIII competitors. However, the flip side of that is, I'm not sure there will be a team more ready for state competition after that slate.
Billy Berry, Joel Barlow          photo: Rocco Paul Valluzzo
Then there are near half of the other DIII teams. Five of whom will make the state tournament in my estimation as seeds 12-16 while the other four won't. I think DIII is down more than ever this year, like DII and DI. However, it doesn't mean we won't have quite the show watching these clubs battle it out for those coveted final spots. Joel Barlow has put themselves in a good spot. They are 3-1 and have bona fide talent on their roster. They don't have much depth but players like Charlie and Billy Berry and Kyle Converse have this team thinking home ice if all pans out. The Eastern CT Eagles should already chalk this season up as a success. This is a team that was 2-58 over the last three years and they sit cozy at 3-3 right now after a 3-1 start. With some winnable games coming up, ECE could add on a couple more before this season is said and done. BBD is 1-5 with their lone win coming against NY's Byram Hills. There's not much positive to say about BBD. The IceCats are only two years removed from the SWC Final in Danbury where they lost to Watertown-Pomperaug. But, man, were they good that year. Since then, they have only won one game against CT competition, four total. Stamford sits at an unimpressive 2-4 and has a scary schedule coming up with the likes of Darien, St. Joe's, Greenwich, and Staples facing off. Norwalk-McMahon comes in at 1-3-1. The Bears missed out on the state tournament last season and with the parity in the bottom 10 of DIII this year, with a couple wins they could punch a ticket. Shepaug-Litchfield-Nonnewaug at 1-4 is really a surprise to this group for me. They snuck into the tourney last year with 5 wins but returned a ton of talent in forwards Christian Stuart and Andrew Loya. Pair that with the emergence of sophomore Riley Baker and one would think this co-op would be doing well. The defending state champs find themselves on this list simply because of all that they lost. Newtown is 1-3 with their lone win coming in overtime against the Eastern CT Eagles. They lost badly to DIII powers NFI and Sheehan and in overtime to fellow cellar dweller Stamford. The Nighthawks are well coached and returned some key players so their ascent from these depths is more likely than some but they would need to change a lot of what's currently going on. Finally, our two winless clubs get a mention with Wethersfield-Midd-RH (0-5) and Lyman Hall-HK-Cog (0-3) bringing up the rear. Both have shown glimpses of hope. Wethersfield recently only lost to Newington-Berlin 4-0 and lost in OT to Hall-Southington while LHK-Cog lost 3-2 to NFI in their best game of the year only to fall 9-0 to the same club the next time out.  A lot of work is needed for both of these teams to breathe a chance at the final 16 at this point.

So where does that leave us? I think tonight's NFI/Sheehan game is a good measuring stick. I think Masuk and EO Smith-Tolland are probably the best two teams in terms of talent but that doesn't always equate to a championship. I appreciate those who got me team by team previews in. You're contributions make this worthwhile, it just didn't seem right to me to have some teams previewed and not all. So there it is, have at it. You all may not like it, but at least it's honest. 

Eight Elite Predictions Week Four (1/7-13)

I am going to stick to the 8 games per week. If you would like a "Twitter Pick" tweet @cthshockey and I'll send you a pick there!

RECORD: 16-6-2   LAST WEEK: 5-3

Elite Predictions: Mark these on the calendar

1/7 Daniel Hand @ Cheshire 4:00 @ Wesleyan Ice Rink- Both teams have been a little hit or miss this year. Both have notched wins over comparable opponent Northwest Catholic but both have lost badly to teams that in my estimation are only marginally better than them. Early start, I'll give it to the home time. Cheshire 3-2

1/7 North Haven @ East Haven 6:00 @ DiLungo Ice Rink- This should be a good one out of DiLungo. East Haven is coming off a tough loss to rival West Haven where North Haven needed a last second goal to get past pesky Trumbull. I think East Haven has lost a lot while North Haven is the more complete team. I'll keep picking them until I'm finally right. North Haven 4-2

1/7 North Branford @ Amity 6:30 @ Bennett Rink- Amity only has one win this year over hapless Guilford. North Branford's only blemish came in overtime against a Fairfield squad who handled Amity pretty easily. I thought Amity would be a bit stronger this year and I think they still can be, but as of now I think the T-Birds are one of the top dogs in D2. North Branford 5-2

1/7 Sheehan @ NFI 7:30 @ Danbury Ice Arena- This is a solid measuring stick game for both D3 programs. As of now, I'd say there are about four D3 teams that should compete for a title, these are two of them. NFI just seems a little scarier right now. If Sheehan can keeps pucks away from the net, they could take this one but I don't see it happening. NFI 3-2

1/7 Masuk @ New Milford 7:45 @ Canterbury Ice Rink- This is a good test for Masuk and a scary game for New Milford. Masuk is among the D3's elite, a group of teams that I think can match up fairly evenly among the middle of the D2 pack, right about where New Milford resides. I think the Wave take it, they should, but I wouldn't be surprised is Masuk beat just about any D2 team. New Milford 4-3

1/10 West Haven @ Hamden 2:30 @ Lou Astorino Rink- Age old rivalry as the Lou on Saturday where two hot teams face off. Hamden is one of the hottest teams in the state running off three straight since losing opening night to Darien. West Haven has also won three in a row since opening the season 0-2. I think Hamden's offensive pop and neutral zone play will be strong enough to beat West Haven. Westie goalie Mike Savino will be an ex factor in this one, however. If he's on, Blue Devils could take it. Hamden 5-3

1/10 East Catholic @ Northwest Catholic 7:25 @ ISCC- Another rivalry game drops at the ISCC Saturday night. Neither team has really had the start they envisioned this year with NWC sitting at 3-4 with a quality win over Glastonbury and East Catholic at 1-2 with their lone win coming over Cheshire. I think NWC is a little more battle tested right now but I don't have much faith in either club right now. The coin lands heads. NWC 4-3

1/12 Darien @ Ridgefield 6:30 @ Winter Garden Ice Arena- FCIAC rivalry on a Monday... gotta love it! Both teams are coming off tough losses, Darien to NDWH and Ridgefield to Glastonbury. Both losses could be considered upsets but the way things are going in D1, nothing surprises me any more. I'll go with Darien to get back on the horse. Darien 3-2