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Sunday, March 8, 2015

Division III Preview: Bucks, Panthers and the Rest...

All season long it’s been a flip flop at the top of the rankings with both Masuk and EO Smith-Tolland holding down command of the division for extended stays. I see no reason why this will be any different come tournament time. Upsets happen, teams and goalies get hot but the state would be in for a treat if those two teams were staring across the ice at one another at 10:00 a.m. on Championship Saturday.  But we have a long way to go before then. To see full @CTHSHockey Predicted Brackets click here!

Staples-Weston-Shelton's Ryan Johnson
The DIII State Tournament kicks off on Monday night at seven different locations around the state. I will be taking in the always exciting 8/9 matchup in Milford featuring Staples-Weston-Shelton, the 8 seed, and Joel Barlow, the 9. These two teams didn’t meet this year but if you like offensive hockey you’ll be in for treat. The Berry brothers, Charlie and Billy along with sophomore Kyle Converse have been mainstays on the scoresheet all season for Barlow. Staples counters with a ton of scoring depth as well. Players like Ryan Johnson, Jesse Greenspun among others bring it every night. The biggest stand out this year and possible surprise has to be Staples’ freshman Sam New. New has all but run away with my D3 Rookie of the Year award potting over 30 goals and dominating stretches of play. Barlow comes in winners of 4 straight to round out the regular season while Staples won 3 of 4 to end the year and gained state-wide notoriety for not being allowed to partake in the FCIAC tournament. Not that they made it anyway, but a story’s a story. This is one of a few intriguing first round matchups.

The top seeded Bucks get a rematch with Newtown in a tournament setting. Sure, the Bucks walloped the Nighthawks 9-1 back in early February but there’s nothing like knocking out the team that knocked you out the previous year on the grandest of stages. Like Barlow, the Bucks’ Mayer brothers are fun to watch. Pete, the senior and Nick, the sophomore are electric skaters with a nose for the net. But the Bucks’ bread and butter is senior goalie Matt Schoen. Schoen is one of those extremely vital and meaningful players when looking at it from a developmental, program approach. His goalie skates will be immensely hard to fill after this season. I would never count a team out, especially a defending state champ, but Newtown will need a miracle to topple the mighty Bucks, a D3 favorite to win it all.

NFI drew the #4 seed this year and will host #13 Woodstock Monday night in Danbury the second of two games to be played there that night at 7:10. NFI is as strong as any team in the D3 tourney but can’t seem to get over the hurdle that is Masuk. NFI is 5-4 over their last nine but three of those losses have come to Masuk. They open with Woodstock, a second year varsity program who handled itself quite nicely this year. They sputtered down the stretch though dropping their last three regular season games. The Centaurs have relied heavily on the skilled pair of hands of Ryan Black and Nathan Deluca, both sophomores. If NFI can key these two, Woodstock could be in trouble. This is especially true given the amount of talent on NFI’s side. Senior Marchello Carlucci anchors the NFI D in net and has been solid all year. Talented skaters just pour over NFI’s boards. Senior Parker Evans leads the way along with fellow seniors Andrew Rosenblum, Matt Hooker, and Luke McFadden as well as juniors Pete Masi and Christian Benzing. This team is dangerous and luckily for them they wouldn’t have to face Masuk unless both teams reach the final, a time where all bets are off.

The preceding game in Danbury at 5:00 features #5 BBD and #12 Shepaug-Litchfield-Nonnewaug. This will be a close, tight affair. Not only did the 12 seed beat BBD head to head, 4-2 on 2/20, but they notched more wins over current tourney qualifiers 8 wins to 4 wins for BBD. That said, BBD has proven they can beat quality teams as they’ve already knocked off two D2 foes this year including New Milford. Shepaug brings senior Andrew Loya, one of the state’s most talented and hidden gems.  But he’s not alone. Seniors Christian Stuart and Nick Ganio are the glue that make the Spartans stick and ultimately tick. In net sophomore Will Slohm has been  their guy all year and has been more than competent when put in tough spots.  BBD has gotten contributions from up and down the roster all year but look for the seniors to leave their mark, players like Will Lawrence, John Buckle, and captains Austin Natale and Trevor Powers.

Masuk's Bunovsky carries the puck while Dushay follows.
Masuk gets the Eastern CT Eagles in the 2/15 matchup at 5:30 in Shelton. Masuk should utterly dominate this game the same way they dominated the SCC/SWC D3 tourney in convincing wins over Sheehan and NFI. Masuk is loaded. They have a team with the talented to fill my year end awards post but it’s their elder statesmen that do the most damage. Senior defensemen Connor Bunovsky, George Andros and Dan D’Angelo are irreplaceable. Senior goalie Conner Muller and Christian Furce have also been stellar of late. And then there’s the Panthers’ offense. Seniors Shane Dushay, Charlie Christo and junior Brian Denham have all shown glimpses of brilliance at more than one time but underclassmen like sophomores Adam Montague and Elijah Begin have really made their presence known of late as well. With the senior leadership and underclassmen contribution, this has to be Masuk’s year. Too much talent to let this time pass. The Eagles need a prayer. That prayer if it is to be answered may have to come from underclassmen like sophomores Jimmy Fitzmaurice and Larry Nolan. Look for seniors Zach Jones and Pete Yapchanyk to pick it up for this one as well. Their efforts may be futile though.

Sheehan hosts the Redhawks in the 7/10 matchup at Choate at 6:15. The Titans took care of the NFA coop both times they met this year winning 3-2 and 8-5 recently. However, since that game Sheehan has lost three straight while the Redhawks have won their last two. This one should be close and these two teams are very evenly matched. Plus, the old adage says it’s tough to beat a team three times in a row. Sheehan’s offensive potency is legit with senior Mike Cerrotti at 52 points on the year as well as the Gozzo brothers, both juniors, Sal and Paul both having 40+ point seasons. A lot of Sheehan’s success rests the shoulder’s of the senior goalie Carly Femniak. I’ve seen her look really shaky this year in a loss to at home to Housy but I’ve seen her look confident and poised even in a losing effort, most recently against Masuk. The Redhawks counter with a pair of seniors who think their time has come. Andrew Gagnon (28 points) and Tyler Faulker (26 points) have both been players whose names have come up for years when discussing little known, underrated D3 players. This year it was no different, but these two have led a very young group to relative success. Freshman Maren Lancaster and sophomore Bryan Guetens will contribute in this game as well and for years to come.

Westhill hosts Hall-Southington in the 3/14 game. Westhill doesn’t score a lot. They don’t have to. They play lock down, eliminate chances, clog up passing lanes hockey. This is a recipe for disaster for Hall-South, a team who lost 8 of 9 coming into this one. Hall brings some talented hockey players, things just haven’t quite clicked for them this year. Junior Jarod Florian has quite matched his 36 point sophomore campaign but his on ice exploits need to be top notch for Hall-South to have a chance in this one. Senior goalie Erich Bender will also need to keep Westhill off the board because there’s no way Hall is going to score at will against the Vikings.  Westhill goalie Christian Compolattaro has been fantastic this season and looks to continue that through the tourney. The Vikings have a short bench but play a smart systems game and have bought into what head coach John Santagata has preached. Westhill brings with them wins over Hand, New Milford, Fermi and Branford as well as a tie against D1’s New Canaan. Impressive resume´.

Ti-Towns 40+ point scorer Ryan Sherba
Finally, Housy hosts Tri-Town in a scary good 6/11 game that reads more like an 8/9. The Terrorcats were able to beat Housy 5-3 earlier this year but more recently the two tied 3-3. This game features to talented goalies in Housy’s senior Eric Chin and Tri-Town’s senior Phil Nicolescu. Tri-Town sophomore Ryan Sherba is one of the state’s most talented players and can take over games. Housy senior James Huften and junior Jason Diamond have combined for 58 points this year while Housy has gotten contributions from seniors Tim Haan and Wes Reel as well as elusive sophomore Finn Bamberry. This should be a great tilt. Tri-Town surprised many in the state last year making a run all the way to the D3 semis. They are more than capable of doing that again. Regardless of who wins this one, they will likely have a date with a scary good Westhill game in the second round.

BEST GAME: TIE- (11) Tri-Town @ (6) Housy & (9) Joel Barlow @ (8) Staples- These two both feature two evenly matched teams. A battle of two elite goalies paired with a matchup of two dynamic offenses. Either game is a can’t miss.

BIGGEST BLOW OUT POTENTIAL- (15) Eastern CT Eagles @ (2) Masuk- Masuk scores at will against elite teams. We shall see what they do against a bottom tier D3 team.

BEST PLAYER MATCHUP- Ryan Sherba (Tri-Town) vs. James Huften (Housy)- Senior leader vs. upstart sophomore talent. I give Huften the slight edge just because of the weapons he brings with him.

UPSET ALERT- (12) Shepaug @ (5) BBD- Already beat ‘em once. I can see them doing it again.

D3 FINAL FOUR PICKS- Bucks, NFI, Masuk, Housy

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