By BRIAN JENNINGS
The Warrior-Knights finished the 2014-15 regular season with a 5-16 record, 4-8 in the CCC South (fifth), but lost in the first round of the Division III State Tournament to No. 3 Westhill.
“I think that we need to keep building on basic skills and that sort of thing,” said Hall-Southington coach Brian Cannon. “It’s an evolving process and we learn a little bit every year. Things change, as far as what type of players we have every year. We are a sophomore-heavy team this year, so we’re going to do a lot of stuff. A lot of them are decent players too coming in. Thus far, we’ve done a lot of skill work and systems work. That’s pretty much the way it’s going to be the whole year.”
The co-op graduated six seniors, including Jackson Maxwell, Matt Briscoe, and their starting goalie, Erich Bender. Bender was an all-conference and all-state selection.
“Jackson Maxwell had a good hockey sense, vision, and skills,” said Cannon. “Briscoe was a hard worker, who was reasonably smart. We lost three solid guys.”
Zach Monti (sophomore) is the only returning goalie that the Warrior-Knights are bringing back from last season. Other goalies coming in that could see some time in front of the net include sophomores Harry Freda and Adam Foust. Freda does not have the size that Bender had, but is the taller of Monti and Foust. Freda generally square up the puck well. Foust is a smaller goalie, but is quick and plays good angles. Any one of the goalies can start on any night.
The returning seniors that will lead the Warrior-Knights for the 2015-16 season as team captains are Jared Florian, Paul Gambardella, Kevin Carr, and Kyler Cubbage.
Florian is one of two all-conference selections returning to the team, who has been an impact forward/center since his freshman year on the team. Florian posses speed an agility to make himself one of the fastest skaters on the team. Florian has also learned to play some of the other half of the game as well.
Gambardella is committed and an all-around solid hockey player. Gambardella is your typical stay-at-home defenseman, who won’t let the opposing team penetrate his wall of security. He’s the kind of player that will scrap it out when he has to.
Cubbage may be small is size, but is a skilled forward, committed to himself and his teammates. You can find Cubbage on the ice after practice fine-tuning his game to reach peak performance for the regular season.
Carr received the working man’s vote for captain, who is a hardnosed, tough, gritty warrior in action. Carr can be a bruiser of a defenseman, but also has a strong personality and cares about what’s going on around him.
Other players that will look to make some noise this season include Caelan Booth (senior center), Jack Rivers (senior forward), Dustin Kilgore (junior forward), Jacob Herz (junior center), Jeremy Fortin (junior forward), Colby Glidden (junior defenseman), Drew Mitchell (sophomore defenseman), Brendan Moore (sophomore defenseman), Drew Booth (freshman defenseman), and Miles Aronow (freshman forward). Cannon said that he has set a goal of 15 goals for Fortin.
“From what I see, we have the potential to be fairly competitive this year,” the coach said. “I stated a goal of .500 because we’re rebuilding, but at the same time, I wouldn’t rule out .500. We don’t know what anyone else looks like. I don’t think we look too bad. We have pretty good, young depth.”
When it comes to the keys to having a successful season, some coaches might look at stick handling, defense, or the ability to skate up and down the ice, but for Cannon, his main focus is what last year’s problem was: putting the puck in the net, plain and simple.
“We have to learn to put the puck in the net,” said Cannon. “That’s been our biggest problem, perpetually, over the years. We’ve had very few kids that have a knack for putting the puck in the net. We’ve had up and down defense and goaltending has been pretty solid all the way through. If we have a downfall, it’s taking penalties and not being able to put the puck in the net. We don’t have a lot of natural scorers, but we do have some kids that are looking pretty good in practice right now.”
Cannon said that he feels the strengths of his team will be their defense and speed up front. Size, age, and maturity will serve as possible weaknesses.
After the realignment of the CCC, were not majorly affected by the new changes. The Warrior-Knights will be in the South Region competing against E.O. Smith-Tolland-Windham, Newington-Berlin-Manchester-Middletown, Wethersfield, Rockville-Bolton-Coventry-Lyman Memorial-RHAM, Fermi, and Farmington-Avon-Windsor. The North Region is highlighted by Conard, East Catholic, Glastonbury, Northwest Catholic, Simsbury, and South Windsor.
Some of the new teams added to the 2015-16 schedule includes road games against Newtown and Trinity Catholic and a home game against Kennedy Catholic-Somers of New York.
“If we don’t have a strong year this year, I’m confident that we’ll come in just as strong next year,” said Cannon. “Any success we have this year should carry over to next year. Even if we don’t have a lot of success, I think we’ll still be alright next year.”
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.