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Friday, March 20, 2015

Championship Preview

Saturday, March 20, 2015
Ingalls Rink, New Haven
DIVISION III Championship
10:00 a.m. (2) Masuk vs. (1) EO Smith-Tolland

HOW MASUK GOT HERE: defeated (15) Eastern CT Eagles 7-1, defeated (7) Sheehan 6-0, defeated (3) Westhill 4-3 OT
HOW EO SMITH-TOLLAND GOT HERE: defeated (16) Newtown 10-0, defeated (8) Staples 5-0, defeated (12) Shepaug 8-1

X FACTOR: Matchups. The Bucks top line is fun to watch. The Mayers, Pete and Nick and Josh Barnes are capable of scoring from almost anywhere and their entry carrying the puck is tough to top. Masuk boasts some of the top D in the whole state not just the D3 level in players like Connor Bunovsky, Dan D'Angelo and George Andros. If those aforementioned Bucks can produce against Masuk's extremely solid D core, then EO could have their first banner hanging. If Masuk's depth at forward takes over with players like Dushay, Christo, Denham, Montague, Begin, and so on.. they could be the banner hangers.
GOALIE MATCHUP: Senior Christian Furce has seemed to take over the reigns for the Panthers the second half of the year after sitting out his mandatory transfer games. He's posted a 1.80 GAA in his 8 games. The Bucks have leaned on senior goalie Matt Schoen for what seems like forever and he is a pure difference maker and regardless of outcome will go down as a program defining goalie for the Bucks.
THE SCOOP: This is the matchup everyone wanted and most called for. These two didn't meet this regular season but held down the top two spots in the D3 rankings all year. They ooze senior leadership and this one will most definitely come down to the wire. Bucks senior goalie Matt Schoen has been a rock for the Bucks for the last two seasons. The Panthers have relied on transfer senior goalie Christian Furce of late and he has been fantastic. Before that senior Connor Muller saw action in 15 games for the Panthers. Masuk seemed to play a more challenging schedule this year going 4-0 against D3 #3 and #4 seeds Westhill and NFI. They also went a decent 2-2-1 against D2's North Haven, New Milford, Branford, East Haven and Hand but lost a head scratcher to the Redhawks 5-4 in OT to end the regular season. The Bucks were able to beat local D2 talent Newington-Berlin twice but lost two of three against Fermi and lost in overtime against D2 power SGWL. The Bucks have been lighting teams up so far in the tourney, winning all three by a combined 23-1 score. Masuk needed to overcome a last second Westhill goal, which forced overtime, eventually beating the scrappy Vikings 4-3 in OT. I picked Masuk at the beginning of the tournament and that'll be my pick. Their depth at forward is imposing and the near death experience against Westhill could have them a little more battle tested than the Bucks, who've rolled over all their competition. PICK- Masuk 3-2

Saturday, March 20, 2015
Ingalls Rink, New Haven
DIVISION I Championship
2:00 p.m. (2) Darien vs. (1) Greenwich

HOW DARIEN GOT HERE: defeated (15) St. Joseph 7-1, defeated (7) Ridgefield 3-1, defeated (3) Xavier 3-1
HOW GREENWICH GOT HERE: defeated (16) South Windsor 4-1, defeated (9) Fairfield Prep 5-2, defeated (4) Glastonbury 5-4 OT

X FACTOR: Depth. Both teams have plenty of capable scorers and contributors. Whichever team will be able to allow for their top guns to get breathers will have more success in this one.
GOALIE MATCHUP: Bryan Archino and Will Massie are both seniors. They've both had great final years but Massie has certainly gotten more publicity, and rightly deserved. Archino, hidden in the far southwest corner or Connecticut doesn't get much local love or recognition up north simply because people haven't seen him. He's been excellent both times I've seen Greenwich play. These two both do everything needed to be champions.
THE SCOOP: We haven't had an FCIAC state champion at the D1 level since 1998 when Trinity Catholic won the title. Darien was oh so close last year losing to Prep in the final. Greenwich hasn't had an opportunity like this in quite some time. But they have won a state title more recently than the Wave, who go all the way back to 1969 the last time they won. Darien and Greenwich tied 3-3 during the regular season but the Wave were able to crash hard on Archino in the FCIAC Championship, winning 5-3. That game was a perfect microcosm of the Wave this season, five different goal scorers, a solid effort from Massie and the ability to come back when needed. Darien gets contributions from all over but are certainly lead by the on ice exploits of senior Jack Pardue but look for fellow seniors Nic Tuzinkiewicz, Carter Joyce and Craig Miller to get the most out of their last opportunity playing together. There are plenty of talented underclassmen on this roster as well, but this is the seniors time, especially after losing in last year's final. Greenwich counters with a skater who is among the state's best defenseman. Senior Kevin Piotrzkowski's puck moving ability is hard to replicate and his leadership is top notch. Fellow seniors Matt Lodato and Brian Silard have what it takes to alter an outcome as well as the Larson's, Montana and Mackenzie and junior Kristian Cunningham. It would be a fantastic story if Greenwich was to come from relative obscurity to winning a state title and leading the state from nearly tape to tape but, to me, an even more important story if Darien is able win their first title since Richard Nixon was newly in office. I think Darien gets it done. PICK- Darien 4-2

DARIEN STATE CHAMPIONSHIP APPEARANCES: (2014- loss, 1987- loss, 1985- loss, 1984- loss, 1969- win, 1968- loss)
GREENWICH STATE CHAMPIONSHIP APPEARANCES: (2000- loss, 1992- win, 1990- loss)
Saturday, March 20, 2015
Ingalls Rink, New Haven
DIVISION II Championship
6:30 p.m. (4) North Branford vs. (2) SGWL

HOW NORTH BRANFORD GOT HERE: defeated (13) Wilton 6-2, defeated (5) Newington-Berlin 3-0, defeated (1) Conard 4-3 2 OT
HOW SGWL GOT HERE: defeated (15) East Haven 4-2, defeated (7) New Milford 4-3, defeated (3) Branford 5-3

X FACTOR: Alec Martone of North Branford had a fantastic senior campaign notching 50 points and dominating play. His play is always impactful for the T-Birds but was quieter than normal against Conard. Other guys stepped up. He will need to shine and do what he does best in this one against SGWL's talented top six forwards.
GOALIE MATCHUP: A fine Division II goalie battle in this one pits sophomore Will McEwen against senior Shane Kertanis. Kertanis play all but 81 minutes for the Wildcats this season posting 3 shutouts and a 2.00 GAA. McEwen shared a little of the action this year with senior Will Burke and fellow sophomore Tyler Odice but was still able to see action in nearly 75% of the T-Birds games posting a 2.59 GAA and a .901 save percentage as well as posting 3 shutouts.
THE SCOOP: D2 had a little more predictability this year than in year's past. There are no 13 seeds taking down top dogs and with the 1-4 seeds claiming semifinal spots, there wasn't many surprises. However, once we got to the final four, all bets were off. North Branford, behind a double overtime goal from Brian McKee were able to get past top seed Conard 4-3. SGWL, the two seed, eeked by Branford 5-3 on a late empty net goal. The Wildcats jumped out to a 4-0 lead under five minutes into the game and Branford seemed poised to continue punching back until it was even but the co-op stood tall and didn't allow this to happen. Much of the credit should be attributed to senior goalie Shane Kertanis who was fantastic late. In all reality, any of the four semifinalists would've been deserving finalists after great regular seasons and solid post season runs. But here we are, a co-op from the north and a newbie from the SCC making their first championship game appearance. For North Branford coach Ralph Shaw this pinnacle of sports has to feel surreal. After all the T-Birds have only been a .500 team over the last five seasons (49-49-2), reaching one other D2 semifinal but rather irrelevance other than that. We've talked at great length about the talent both of these teams possess. Players like Alec Martone, Adam Burkle and the aforementioned McKee jump off the page for North Branford. SGWL counters with leading scorer Jake King, and a strong cast of supporting characters like Austin Rupp, Brendan Looney, Jake Bourdeau, Austin Adams and the very underrated Colin MacDougald. Will McEwen, the T-Bird netminder, and Kertanis are sure to battle in this one but it may come down to who makes the least mistakes. North Branford played the better game in the semis, consistent from beginning to end. SGWL lived on their early goals and missed Branford opportunities. That said, the SGWL start to the semifinal game was one of the most furious and exciting starts to a hockey game I've ever seen. This one will be close and I think SGWL has more potential game changers on their side but North Branford's team game was on full display against Conard and even though this is a toss up, I'll go with a battle tested North Branford squad. NB 4-3

SGWL STATE CHAMPIONSHIP APPEARANCES: (As Suffield 2000- won D2, 1992- lost D2, 1979 won D2)

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