The play that made Guilford the 2017 Connecticut Division II champion, the play that put Vic Vicenzi’s Watertown/Pomperaug team behind for good: Vicenzi had seen it before. Every day. At every practice. Of every hockey team.
“It was a textbook three-on-two,” the Watertown/Pomperaug coach said after Guilford’s 5-3 win March 18 at Ingalls Rink. “A guy takes the D wide, slides it to the next guy, draws another D to him, slides it to the wide-open guy.”
That was Jack Ring to Ricky Sandella to John Delucia, a line that has been all-everything for Guilford all season. “We call our line, in practice, the Tic-Tac-Toe line,” Ring said.
They drew the straight line with 3:10 left in regulation, 2:13 after Watertown/Pomperaug tied it. Delucia was open on the right side to pot the goal that put Guilford ahead 4-3.
“It felt great,” Ring said. “You realize how easy it is. We could’ve done it so much more.”
Ring, a sophomore like Delucia, added a goal with 1:25 to go; Watertown/Pomperaug turned the puck over in the offensive zone as goalie Kyle Fleming went to the bench for an extra attacker, giving Ring a look at an open net. The line combined for all five goals in a back-and-forth game that gave Guilford its third CIAC title; it won Division II in 1994 and Division III in 2010.
Sandella, a senior captain, scored Guilford’s first three goals, and he and Ring had four points apiece.
“They’ve got great energy, great chemistry,” Guilford coach Ralph Russo said. “Last year we had a really good line with (Chris) Cafiero, (Stephen) Thibault and Delucia, and this year they’ve picked up right where (that line) left off.”
What helped set Guilford apart, especially late in the year as it went on a run that included the SCC/SWC championship, was an improved defense in front of senior goalie Kyle Dwyer. Joey Neleber and Cam Bagnall both broke up Watertown/Pomperaug rushes. Freshman Jack Kane was also solid, Russo said, and so was junior Tommy Cattaneo, though he broke his wrist in the quarterfinals against Farmington Valley. James Petritz, a sophomore, stepped up.
Even so, Watertown/Pomperaug took over the second period, outshooting Guilford 12-3. Troy Harwell tied the game at 1, cleaning up a loose puck after Neleber knocked Peter Jorgensen off it in front of Dwyer’s net. Eli Rosen scored on a power play off pinpoint passes by Hunter Shay and Harwell.
Dwyer kept it from getting worse — “Dwyer, that kid played out of his mind,” Vicenzi said — and Sandella goals 37 seconds apart early in the third, one on the power play and another coming off hard work by his wingers, gave Guilford back the lead.
“That type of guy (Sandella) is a glue guy on a line like that,” Vicenzi said. “Wingers like Delucia and Ring can really go. … You need a guy who’s going to do the little things in both ends of the ice.”
Watertown/Pomperaug came back one more time, with senior Ryan Dunfee streaking up the right wing, beating a couple of Guilford defenders and scoring blocker-side on Dwyer. Guilford had its own response on Delucia’s goal not long after.
Watertown/Pomperaug still had a standout year. It hadn’t won a CIAC playoff game since winning the 2011 Division III title. Its 18 wins this season matched its combined total over 61 games the past three years. Vicenzi said he’d gotten texts, calls and emails from a bunch of alumni who’d been charged up by the run.
“We came from a couple of rough years,” Dunfee said. “We had more wins this season than in the past two combined. It took everyone. Everyone was part of this.”
Guilford had a little smaller dip, falling below .500 in back-to-back years before getting to the semifinals last season. This was the 35th year as a varsity program, Russo said; 40 counting the club team. This year’s 21 wins were a first, as was the SCC championship.
“We’re a town program. We’re a one-school program,” Russo said. “We don’t have a youth program in town. “Our numbers dipped a little bit (after the successes earlier this decade), but what a bumper crop for this team.”