Ice Hockey preview: Punished for postseason prowess

By BRIAN JENNINGS

STAFF WRITER

After finishing the regular season just one game above .500, the Warrior-Knights didn’t enter last postseason with high expectations. To make matters worse, they fell to Farmington Valley in the first game of the conference championship.

It would have been easy to predict an early exit from the state tournament, but you would have been very wrong.

The co-op dodged a bullet in the first round with an overtime victory over No. 11 Newington. The gloves came off as the Warrior-Knights scored upsets in the next two rounds against No. 3 Housatonic-Northwestern and No. 2 WMRP. For the first time in team history, the Warrior-Knights reached a championship game.

Not even a 7-3 loss to Woodstock in the finals could damper fans after the Cinderella run. The final horn barely sounded at Ingalls Rink, and the Hall-Southington underclassmen were already talking about a return.

“Our kids were really fired up with their performance last year, which goes without saying they would be,” said Hall-Southington coach Brian Cannon. “They made a big commitment, and there was a lot of optimism.”

Then everything changed. The boys ice hockey board members decided to move Hall-Southington and Woodstock Academy up to Division II for the upcoming season, and the possibility of a repeat appearance in the Division III final went from a sure bet to a longshot.

Still, if last year’s run proved anything, it’s that you can’t count out the co-op kids.

“It certainly dampened the spirit a little bit, but not completely,” said Cannon. “We have to look at it as a new challenge, but I’ll never understand the reasoning behind it.”

The Warrior-Knights finished last year’s regular season at 9-8-3 (6-3-1 home, 3-5-2 away), going 1-5-1 in Division II, 7-3-2 in Division III, and 5-6-1 in the CCC South Division. They lost six players to graduation after last season, including a pair of all-conference and all-state forwards.

Although the Warrior-Knights made program history last year, Cannon said that he thought they still had a mediocre season underneath their magical run.

“I thought we should have had a better record. I think we let a couple of games slip away from us that we probably shouldn’t have lost. The kids were really up and were starting to catch all of their gears late in the season, and hey, we made our run in the tournament. But a lot of it was by the skin of our teeth.”

The Warrior-Knights may have lost a couple key starters from last year’s team, but they are still returning a whole lot of experience from last year’s Division III final team.

Cannon’s goals for the team this season are to win the CCC South title and, at least, make the Division II tournament. Of course, Cannon said that he would also like to see his squad make it back to Ingalls Rink, but that could pose a challenge when the teams in Division II are slated to be a mystery to the Warrior-Knights for the most part.

One of Hall-Southington’s strengths last year was floor checking, but this season, it’s going to be speed and tenacity out of the forwards, along with the ability to play well in the opponent’s end.

“We should get a lot of offensive possession time in the other team’s zone,” said Cannon. “Then, it’s up to us to try to put the puck in the net, which has been a tough thing for us most years.”

Although they didn’t graduate that many players, positions and returning players have shuffled. Cannon said that they have to find chemistry amongst players to find what groups and pairing work best, in order to be prepared for the upcoming season.

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Returning seniors to this year’s team for the upcoming season include Anthony Abbatiello (forward), Miles Aronow (forward), Drew Booth (defenseman), William Carpenter (forward), Graham Kennedy (forward), Jacob Mohr (forward), Brendan Moore (defenseman), Griffin Pisko (goalie), Richard Mitchell IV (defenseman), and Zachary Monti (goalie).

Monti started every game in the goal for the Warrior-Knights last year and made 25 saves in last year’s Division III final against Woodstock Academy.

“He’s been working more in the offseason,” said Cannon. “He’s stronger, more confident, and more technically sound. He’s been good off the puck with good form and his body in position. He has good, explosive movements. He’s got a focus that’s beyond what we’ve seen out of him in other years.”

Cannon said that Monti’s biggest assets in the crease this season will be his positioning, mobility, and strength.

“It’s all intertwined,” said Cannon. “He’s playing good angles and is getting in front of the puck.”

Returning juniors include Michael DiPietro (forward), Christopher Gambardella (defenseman), Samuel Kerrigan (forward), Samuel Kursman (defenseman), Michael Kwok (defenseman), Tyler Matukaitis (forward), Ethan Penn (defenseman), Kent Silva (forward), and Nathan Zmarlicki (forward).

A natural when it comes to hitting the back of the net, DiPietro was one of the team’s leading goal scorers last year. DiPietro is expected to have another solid year, but according to Cannon, he could score 20 goals this season.

“I think he probably will,” said Cannon. “He’s got a good nose for the net. He’s got good hands and is pretty smart.”

DiPietro’s lethal ability as a sniper with the puck isn’t the only part of his game opponents have to watch out for.

“He’s faster and stronger,” said Cannon. “He’s got deceptive speed and doesn’t look like he’s putting out a lot of energy when he skates. He’s still one of the fastest guys on the ice.”

Christian Mohr (defenseman) and Mason Woods (forward) are the ony returning sophomores. A newcomer that could make an immediate impact is senior forward Jake Albert. Cannon said that Albert is another player that has the potential to replace the team’s two all-conference and all-state players from last year’s team in scoring.

Booth was named as the lone team captain to lead the team for the upcoming season. Cannon is entering his eighth year as head coach of the co-op team.

After a new realignment of the CCC, Hall-Southington is now in the South Division with BCR, Enfield-East Granby-Stafford, EO Smith-Tolland, Newington Co-op, and WMRP. The North Division includes Conard, East Catholic, Farmington Valley, Glastonbury, NW Catholic, Simsbury, and South Windsor.

The Move to Division II

After the Warrior-Knights made their first appearance as a co-op in last year’s Division III final, the boys ice hockey board of directors decided to move Hall-Southington and Woodstock Academy up to Division II for the upcoming season. The Warrior-Knights have competed in Division III since forming a co-op in 2009.

Cannon appealed the move and said that his team would have been a favorite to win their first state title if they hadn’t been moved.

“Basically, they took a .500 team that had a plus-three goal differential through the whole tournament and bumped us up,” said Cannon. “We were really the seventh seed. We were the sixth seed only because Newtown got disqualified.”

According to the CIAC, “the appeal must be based on historical data that includes, but is not limited to the number of returning players, feeder system data, amount of ice time per week, budget, win-loss-tie records versus opponents by division, and regular season and tournament success.”

Cannon said that the team’s move to Division II does revolve around the fact that they reached the final, but he also said that there aren’t many runners-up that moved up a division the following season after they finished with a .500 record.

To comment on this story or to contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at bjennings@southingtonobserver.com.

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