Division II Semifinal Preview presented by IPH Hockey
Well, this went according to plan. Not really, but it's not all that surprising given what the Division II State Tournament has been over the years. That said, this is the first time in Division II tourney history, that a 1, 2 or 3-seed has not made the semifinals. Let's take a look at the matchups.
(10) Farmington Valley (10-10-2) vs. (6) Glastonbury (13-7-2)
5:30, Ingalls Rink
These guys know each other well. There's no confusing who's on the opposing bench. This will be the fourth time these two CCC North rivals will meet this year. FVG and Glastonbury split their regular season meetings, in back to back games in mid January. Glastonbury drew first blood winning 5-3 but have since lost the last two to the Generals. FVG returned the favor in the regular season, 7-1 and then went on to beat the Tomahawks 3-2 in the CCC North Semifinals. "I think playing Glastonbury three times and beating them twice gives us a huge confidence boost but this is playoff time so they're going to be a different team and will probably come in with a good game plan against us," FVG senior Eric Schweitzer said.
Farmington Valley is coming in off an impressive overtime, 4-3 upset over 2-seed Guilford in a rematch of last year's championship. In that win, junior Matt Arena had a goal and two assists, senior Eric Schweitzer had the game winning overtime goal and an assist while junior TJ Erickson and sophomore Matt Rapini added individual goals of their own. The Generals are obviously looking to repeat and if they do, they will be the first team in Division II's history to do so. "The fact that the Generals are among the conversation of winning back to back state titles at this point of the season is almost surreal. We lost a lot of key players last year so it was hard to stay hopeful for this year's chances but the underclassmen have stepped up tremendously and I think we have the best coaching staff to help us accomplish being the first DII team to win back to back state titles," Schweitzer told us.
Glastonbury has exploded for 11 goals in their two tournament games to this point and putting up five in their last win, 5-2 over Cheshire, was no small feat. In that win, junior Jack Kantor had a goal and an assist while senior Justin Hazard, juniors Colin Williams and Adam Poetto and freshman Alex Rodriguez all scored as well. Glastonbury is looking to reach a championship game for the first time since they appeared in the Division I title game back in 2012 when they fell 5-0 to NDWH. Senior captain Justin Hazard believes treating this like any other game will be key for the Tomahawks. "We need to play solid team defense and not let the moment and venue get too big for us. This means sticking to what has made us successful all year," Hazard said.
There are similarities and certain differences with these two groups. Glastonbury is the deeper team and probably a little faster. FVG boasts a top three that is hard to match by anyone in the state. Both senior Glastonbury netminder Brendan O'Connor and senior FVG netminder Trevor Paluso have both been excellent at times. Hazard believes a key for this group are the secondary contributions they've gotten this year. "This year our underclassmen have really stepped up and filled some vital roles. We don't have that one guy that demands the puck and steals the show. We just have a bunch of really good players that work together to make us successful," Hazard said.
(9) WMRP (17-5) vs. (4) Branford (16-3-3)
7:30, Ingalls Rink
In the second Division II semifinal, 9-seed WMRP takes on 4-seed Branford. 4-seed Branford is now the highest remaining seed, something that has never happened. The Hornets come in off a 3-1 win over 5-seed South Windsor in the quarters after topping 13-seed Woodstock Academy 6-2 in the opening round. WMRP is coming off an upset win over top seed Watertown-Pomperaug 4-1. The stout WMRP defense also only allowed one goal in their first round win over 8-seed EO-Smith. Branford beat WMRP 4-0 in their only meeting back on January 28th.
In their quarterfinal win over South Windsor, Branford received a goal and an assist each from juniors Chris Donadio and Spencer Engstrom. Fellow junior Zach Jones also scored in that one. Sophomore goaltender Jared Yakimoff stopped 18 shots in the win. Branford is looking to return to the finals for the first time since 2012 when they fell to Trumbull 5-3. They're looking to win their first title since 1988.
WMRP received two goals from sophomore Aaron Cholewa in their win over WP. Junior Trevor Piecewicz and freshman Brody Davidson both had a goal and an assist in that one and senior netminder Jake Peckrul stopped 29 of 30 WP shots.
When asked what are some keys to victory for Branford, junior Spencer Engstrom believes continuing doing what's got them to this point is huge. "I think we have to continue to play our game which is fast but also physical when we need it to be. Our depth is critical. Two solid lines of forward and defense makes the world and we have two amazing goalies in net which gives us confidence in zone. We need to stay together as a team and not have the game be an individual effort in order to be successful," Engstrom said.
This is an insanely hard game to pick given WMRP's recent success. I'll be the first to admit when they were dropping games like the first one to Branford or 5-0 to FVG I was questioning them in a big game setting. I think they've put those doubts to rest. On the other side you have a Branford group who's talent is hard to match. They have so many potent capable scorers. On a night where Manware, Bunton and Engstrom are off, they luckily have Kustra and Lionetti and Jones. That depth is why I picked them at the beginning of the year and if I had to pick here, I'd take them, but I think this game will be a lot closer than the 4-0 shutout earlier this year.