The day has arrived. The 2018-19 CIAC State Tournament is upon us! In place of our normal Morning Rundown, we will preview all of the day's action here in one tidy, easy to navigate Division II post.
Division II. Also known as the Wild West. Also known as the Impossible to Predict Field. Also known as Any Given Gameday. Okay, I'll stop. Let's take a look at the eight DII First Round tilts.
4-seed Branford (14-3-3 and 13-seed Woodstock Academy (12-5-2) will get the entire day's action going with a 4:00 start at the NIP. Woodstock and Branford did not meet up during this regular season. Branford has kind of been a tape to tape Power 5 mainstay boasting a dynamic and deep offensive arsenal led mainly by their gifted junior class. But don't let that fool you into thinking their senior group doesn't have the chops to beat ya. Seniors Robbie Lionetti and Max Bunton are two of the best the SCC has to offer. At the aforementioned junior class level, Jack Manware, Blake Kustra and Spencer Engstrom rise above the rest offensively but we'd be remiss not to mention Max Manware or Zach Jones or defenseman Chris Donadio, the 2018-19 @IPHHockey/@CTHSHockey DII Defenseman of the Year. Where Branford really gets scary is in net where sophomore Jared Yakimoff has taken the state by storm. Should he falter, which he rarely does, senior Greg Lucente is there to step in. On the Woodstock side senior Dylan Shea is their guy in net. The senior has had a strong year for the Centaurs with two shutouts to his credit. Offensively, junior Doug Newton, a former Freshman of the Year winner, led the Centaurs with 30 points. Look for senior Matt Odom (24 points) and sophomore Guerin Favreau (15 points) to make their names known in this on as well. Branford is one of the most well rounded teams in the state and shouldn't struggle in this one but don't completely count out the 12-win Centaurs.
At 6:00 in East Haven, 2-seed Guilford (14-6) takes on 15-seed Amity (9-11). There hasn't been as big of a fall from grace as we've seen with the Spartans. It's sure been a ride. First, they start out the year rolling. Then, Ed Martino leaves. Then, they beat NDWH and we announce they are for real. Then, they lost six straight and go 2-5 down the home stretch. Now, you ready for the latest? Junior goalie Malachi Zurolo is no longer with the team forcing Richetelli into putting his talented, but inexperienced freshman Michael Andreeson into the starting job against a Guilford offense that can score at will. Andreeson has seen some action this year, going 2-1 with a 3.59 GAA and .860 save %. Senior Jason Csejka (23 G, 12 A) is on the verge on career point 100. His roller coaster career can only afford one more loss. Look for him to leave it all on the ice. Junior Cody White has been a revelation this year. Stick taps to that dude on Twitter who told me to watch out for him. White has 14 goals and 16 assists on the year. Those two are joined by hulking senior Nelson Bordeleau (6 G, 9 A) as a top unit that will carry much of the lumber. On the back end, senior captain Kenny Page (G, 10 A, +13) is as solid as they come. Guilford beat Amity 5-2 in their only meeting this year and while Guilford swallowed some losses late in the year, they're still an absolute unit and will be the toughest of outs. The Indians' numbers read like that of an all-star team. Senior John Delucia (30 G, 42 A) and junior Jack Dacey (38 G, 34 A) have both been electric this year and both sit at 72 points. Senior Jake Watrous (18 G, 46 A) rounds out that talented top group. Freshman Connor Hagness (21 G, 37 A) is as elite as they come and can't be viewed as an afterthought. Watch for the talented sophomore Shea Thibault (9 G, 38 A) to make his presence known as well. In net, Guilford will turn to senior Alex Attruia (.884 save %). He's been their guy all year and he'll need to be competent in order for Guilford to take this one. Guilford has made three straight trips to Ingalls, won the whole damn thing two years ago, and fell to FVG last year. They no doubt have what it takes to get there again.
In the always fun 8/9 matchup, 8-seed EO Smith (15-5) hosts 9-seed WMRP (15-5) at 6:45 at Freitas. These two have plenty of familiarity both coming out of the CCC South. This year, WMRP beat EO 1-0 the first time around and the Panthers returned the favor the second time, 4-1. Both teams have what it takes to make a bit of a run. EO Smith is graduating a talented group of seniors who have carried them all season long. Senior Owen Stacey (23 G, 27 A) leads all Panthers in scoring with 50 points. Fellow seniors Gavin Till (19 G, 21 A) and Ross Lennon (13, 18 A) will round out excellent careers as well during this tournament. Often forgotten when talking about the Panthers' weapons is the sophomore, powerhouse Bryan Roy who's collected 25 points of his own this year. The Panthers netminding duties will come from one of their two strong junior class goalies, Matt Schoen or Harry Cook. EO finished the regular season winning six straight and then went on to win two more in the CCC South tournament, including their first ever title, 9-5 over Hall-Southington. WMRP just got upset in the CCC South semifinals by Hall-Southington so they've had a bit longer of a break than EO. WMRP will lean on senior goalie Jake Peckrul and his 1.90 GAA and .903 save %. 11 times this year, WMRP allowed zero or one goal against. This group is led by junior hybrid Trevor Piecewicz (11 G, 11 A) and senior Ben Mroczka (14 G, 7 A). These two along with the shifty talented sophomore Aaron Cholewa (12 G, 10 A) and junior former-Xavier transplant Jack Healy (7 G, 4 A in 10 games) have really made watching Eagles hockey this year a blast. This game is the definition of a toss up. Two evenly matched groups which should make for a wonderful first round battle.
In a real intriguing 5/12 matchup, 5-seed South Windsor (10-9-1) welcomes 12-seed North Branford (9-10-1) to the South Windsor Arena at 6:45. These two met all the way back on December 15, a 4-1 Bobcats win. This one should be a lot more even than your typical 5/12 matchup as North Branford is arguably playing much more sound hockey of late winning their last five games. South Windsor skidded to the end of their season going 2-5-1 over their last eight games. North Branford is led by the incomparable senior Sean McKee (24 G, 7 A) who looks to end his storied career on a high note. He's aided by junior Nick Vecchio (16 points) and sophomore Nick Poulin (15 points). On the back end senior Brendan Stoner (14 points) is one of the better offensive defenseman at the DII level. North Branford sophomore goalie Tyler DiNapoli has really turned it on of late and has the boys playing really well behind him. DiNapoli owns a 2.83 GAA this season. On the South Windsor side, senior Deven Trombley will lead the Bobcats from the net mouth out. Trombley posted an impressive 2.68 GAA this year with a .890 save %. Senior Cameron O'Connor is one of the better players in the state that no one is talking about. The elder O'Connor has 20 goals and 7 assists on the year. Younger brother Sean, a sophomore, has 20 points on the season while senior Dante Colon has 24. South Windsor was one of my early season picks. Their late season struggles certainly warrant concern especially paired with North Branford's late season success. North Branford is 5-2 in their last seven first round games while South Windsor is 4-3.
3-seed Cheshire (15-4-1) has banned me from going to their games because they're 0-3 when I'm there. It's rather unfortunate because this one would be fun. Watching Cheshire's brick wall of a defensive unit go up against 14-seed Eastern CT Eagles' (12-7-1) Harlem Globetrotter first line, oh well. These two drop the puck at Wesleyan at 7:00 in a game that I think is going to be close. No one on Cheshire's roster, save for maybe sophomore Niklas Vasiljevs (14 G, 7 A) is going to really jump off the page and scare you. They simply play a competent, defense first brand of hockey that's been insanely effective this year. Every player on Cheshire's roster has a point this year. After Vasiljevs look for sophomore Thor Novicelli (13 points), senior Evan Veivia (12 points) and sophomore Joey Delucia (10 points) and Aidan Gaudet (10 points) to step up in a big moment. But let's not get it twisted, Cheshire is built from the goal out. Junior Nick Maringola (1.30 GAA, .937 save %) has had a phenomenal year for the Rams, in a year where it didn't look like he was returning. Seniors Ben O'Connor (11 points) and James Ilnicki (13 points) are as solid as they get as well holding down the blue line. Depth isn't quite as reassuring on the Eastern CT Eagles' side. Their top co-hort of forwards can go toe to toe with any other at this level. Both Juniors Evan Tower (32 G, 29 A) and Kyle Jacobson (22 G, 35 A) just went over the 100 point mark for their careers in less than two seasons. Senior Ryan Huta (27 G, 21 A) also achieved this claim recently. Bottom line, they score in buckets. Add in second line threat WIll Cannella (16 G, 12 A) and Cheshire has another offensively gifted headache to deal with. In net junior Rylin Fowler (4.20 GAA, .871 save %) has been their guy for the second consecutive season. Fowler, often forgotten, proved last year that he has what it takes to come up big in the biggest of spots. I'm not ready to throw the upset alert flag yet, but if I was Coach Giusto I would be very weary of this first year DII Eagles group because when they score, they come early and often.
At 7:25, weird time, 7-seed East Catholic (9-10-1) hosts 10-seed Farmington Valley (8-10-2) at Champions. This year's head to head meetings went the opposite of the way these two are seeded with the Generals taking both meetings, 4-1 earlier this year and 3-0 more recently. East Catholic was really stout defensively down the stretch and nearly beat rival Northwest Catholic, twice. This was due in large part to the outstanding play of sophomore Ethan Utermarck. Utermarck is currently rocking a swell 2.23 GAA and a .917 save %. The Eagles also proudly possess the 2018-19 @IPHHockey/@CTHSHockey DII Freshman of the Year, Rowan Masse (11 G, 13 A). Masse leads the Eagles in scoring this year. After him, senior Sean Fellows (6 G, 10 A) and Kevin Hartnett (10 G, 5 A) are other options that Head Coach Joey Trenholm has at his disposal. The Generals are as top heavy as it gets, but the talent up top is almost unmatchable. Senior Owen Lacourciere (26 G, 15 A) has been so good for the entire season, and his career for that matter. Fellow senior Eric Schweitzer (10 G, 16 A) was sidelined with an injury for a while but seems to be turning it on of late and junior Matt Arena (18 G, 20 A), the kid oozes talent. This is a group that knows what it takes to run the table and win at Ingalls. The leadership of these three and the emergence of a kid like sophomore Scott Groleau (7 G, 8 A) could have Farmington Valley making another run. In net, senior Trevor Paluso is the guy. I don't foresee anything like we saw last year with Bellucci and Paluso with the underclassman grabbing the role late. Paluso (3.20 GAA) has been in net for 8 of the Generals 9 wins this year. This is another should be nail-biter. While I think East marginally has the edge in net, they don't have the fire power to match FVG. Should be fun.
Top seed Watertown-Pomperaug (15-3-2) welcomes 17-seed and play-in winner East Haven Co-op (8-10-2) to Taft at 7:30 for their first round tilt. On paper this one is as lopsided as they come but anyone at Taft tonight will be witness to two of the best goaltenders the state has to offer. WP's Ryan Fleming posted a 1.60 GAA this regular season with a ridiculcous .936 save % to go alone with that. Junior Logan Hamilton left after his freshman year to pursue the junior hockey route. Getting him back this year for East Haven was monumental. If he hadn't come back, I'm not sure they win a game with the schedule they played. Hamilton posted a 2.14 GAA and a .940 save % this year. If East Haven has any hope in this one it's because of Hamilton, who just stopped 56 shots in their 2-1 play-in game win over 16-seed Trumbull. East Haven is led offensively by sophomore Dave Amatruda (12 G, 12 A) and junior Alec Spiers (16 G, 5 A). Sophomore Cory Benni (5 G, 14 A) put together a nice year while senior Chris Giglietti (15 points) is always as reliable as they get on the back end. WP senior Troy Harwell (27 G, 17 A) has had himself quite the career. He'll likely go down as a 100 point scorer and one of the best to ever where the (orange) Indian head. Seniors James Moaddel (8 G, 24 A) and Zach Smith (14 G, 18 ) have had absolutely brilliant senior seasons. For Moaddel he's more than doubled his point output from a year ago. On the back end, senior Trevor Davis (5 G, 10 A) is a steadying presence and junior Sean Dunfee (8 G, 7 A) has really come on as the year's progressed. WP should win this game. I think this one takes a while to get going from a goals stand point. Should EH pull this one off, I'd have to think Hamilton's save totals are through the roof.
At 7:30 at Trinity 6-seed Glastonbury (11-7-2) faces off with 11-seed Westhill-Stamford (11-9) in what could be the fastest paced game of the DII slate. There are some guys on both of these teams that absolute burn. These two didn't meet up this regular season. Westhill-Stamford is coming off a FCIAC semifinal loss to eventual champ Ridgefield while Glastonbury also fell in their conference semis, 3-2 to Farmington Valley in the CCC North. The Tomahawks were a tough team to read this year. They jumped out of the gate, won their first three games, looked awesome, then went through a real mediocre stretch and then ran off five straight wins toward the end of the year. The Tomahawks are led offensively by junior Ryan Ginnett (16 G, 19 A). Senior Justin Hazard leads the team in goals with 20. Juniors Adam Poetto (16 G, 12 A) and junior Jack Kantor (6 G, 12 A) will be buzzing around in this one too. In net, Glastonbury is fortunate to have the senior leadership of Brendan O'Connor (2.70 GAA, .903 save %). O'Connor is another under the radar DII goalie who can steal the show. For Westhill-Stamford, they only have one rostered senior. Their junior class might be the best in the state, save for maybe Branford. Junior Gavin Dolan has over 60 points. Sophomore Tucker Healy and junior Eddie Zelikman aren't far behind. They score at will and possess some of the speediest players you can find. The problem is, they haven't always been able to keep the puck out. Sophomore Luca Scotto will called upon to solve this problem. I envision a high scoring game here with two veteran coaches and two exciting offenses going at it.