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Conn. D3 Preview, Preseason Top 10: Housatonic/NW the coaches’ choice

Connecticut Division 3 Poll

RankTeamPR*WLT
1Housatonic/NW1481
2Lyman Hall/H-K/Coginchaug13120
3Staples5141
4WMRP1950
5Hand9111
6Masuk10111
7Tri-Town1291
8Trinity Catholic8140
9Newington/Berlin3153
10Wilton4170

Connecticut’s Division III has had some tight regular-season races and some memorable playoff games over the past few years. Some of the usual suspects have gotten the call to Division II; some are back down after a stint up there.

One of the teams that has been hanging around some of those races got the coaches’ preseason pick (narrowly) to get to the top this year.

Jack McAuliffe
Housatonig/NW

Housatonic/Northwestern (14-8-1) graduated standout Finn Bambery, now playing with the New Hampshire Avalanche. Coach Dean Diamond’s Mountaineers will focus on making good decisions with the puck and playing the right way without it.

Cam Wilhelm
Housatonic/NW

They have their goalie back, big junior Matt Murray, for a third year. Senior co-captain Connor Toffey, a strong and speedy right winger, returns after leading the team in scoring last year, and fellow co-captain Cam Wilhelm is a two-way defenseman. Senior Nick Mierzejewski is a good complement in the defensive end with a big slap shot. Junior Jack McAuliffe gives them a playmaker in the middle.

Lyman Hall/Haddam-Killingworth/Coginchaug (13-12-0), a conference finalist and state semifinalist last year, is one of the favorites to take another step forward. Coach Rich Minnix’s Trojans have some returning offense, including senior captain Scott Bradley in the middle off a 39-point season that included 17 goals. Junior playmaking centerman Kyle Roberts had 16 goals and 20 assists last year. Sophomores T.J. Isleib and T.J. Arduini come in from outside programs and will be expected to chip in for a deep corps of forwards.

Staples (5-14-1), Division III finalists two years ago,returns after a year in Division II. The Wreckers are in their second year under coach Chris Avena, and he’s looking for daily consistency from them. They’ll rely on their seniors, including forward Sam New (19-13-32 last year), goalie Zach Bloom, and defensemen Casten Ernberg and Brian Grey.

Senior Jared Sullivan leads the defense, which includes junior Ryan Niemiec and sophomore Connor Chordas, both of whom got lots of playing time last year. Sophomore Matt Smith and freshman Andrew Sacco will battle for the goaltending job.

WMRP (19-5-0) (Wethersfield, Middletown, Rocky Hill and Plainville) had their best season in a decade. A few key players graduated, including goalie Stevie Vaughan, but coach Dennis Tulimieri likes the experience and work ethic in those who return.

The defense was a big part of the Eagles’ jump, and those returning include sophomore Trevor Piecewicz (15 points), senior Braydon Mertens, junior Riordan Mertens and sophomore Andrew Casio. Freshman Cameron Partridge will step in on the blue line as well. Junior Ben Mroczka comes back off a 25-point season, and seniors Luke Reynolds and freshman Aaron Cholewa will contribute at forward. With standout Vaughan departed, the Eagles will look to junior Jake Peckrul (who moved to the net from forward last year) and sophomore Patrick Creel to take over.

Hand (9-11-1) moves down from Division II, but new coach Luke Galvin, a longtime pro hockey official, sees a lot of potential. If the Tigers realize that potential, some rivals see them as a top team in the division. Senior co-captain Paul Gagliardi will play a lot on the blue line, with big senior Matt Belliveau and skilled junior Ian Rice. Co-captains Jason Rossi and Mike Halloran will have to be leaders up front. Senior Michael Anderson steps into the net.

Masuk (10-11-1) expects to be strong in its own end. Tag Weiss will be starting for his third year as a junior in net, and the defense corps returns, led by junior Brendan Andros.

Coach Andy Townsend’s Panthers have a lot of offense to replace, though, graduating 44 goals between Adam Montague and Elijah Begin, two of the guys who helped Masuk to the 2015 final. They’ll look to forwards like senior Casey Bowler and junior Nikita Kizmitski, along with senior Colin Raymond, coming off injury that cut his season in half, and sophomore Kyle Cirillo.

Tri-Town (12-9-1) has good players returning throughout the lineup, and new coach Kyle Fijalkowski is optimistic. His Terrorcats have plenty of offense, with junior Michael Shuman (24 goals) and senior Andrew Gaines (20 goals) back. Senior Zach Roy in the middle had 20 points, and junior Ben Kingsbury had 18, among other threats up front. Connor Roberts, a senior, leads a defense that’s young overall, and Tri-Town expects good goaltending and contributions from newcomers.

Trinity Catholic (8-14-0) has a new coach, Tucker Grose. Though short in numbers, the Crusaders could compete with just about anybody last year, and Grose expects that to continue.

He’s got senior defenseman Jake Levato back off a 37-point season, along with Logan Healy on the blue line. Senior Will Tellini and sophomore Jack Kinahan (30 points) are back up front, as is sophomore Andrew Ellis, who could also play goal. A few newcomers will contribute.

Cade Palladino
Newington/Berlin

Newington/Berlin/Manchester/Cromwell (3-15-3) had several tight losses last year. The Indians have some experience back, including in net, with seniors Adam Belair (two shutouts) and Dave Mix. Coach Dave Harackiewicz anticipates a balanced lineup, led by a set of co-captains that includes forwards Kyle Bucher and Cade Palladino (17 points), both seniors, and junior forward Matt Lavoie (22 points), plus junior defenseman Pat Doherty. Several young newcomers could contribute as well.

No. 10 Wilton (4-17-0) had lots of juniors and sophomores last year under first-year coach John Miserendino, when they moved down from Division II. Those players have another year under their belts.

Enfield/East Granby/Stafford (4-14-2) moves down from Division II after scoring just 40 goals last year. Coach Frank Genovese expects a deeper Eagles team but will be looking for more consistency from a group that includes standout senior defenseman Cam Gaylor, who was in on 15 of those 40 goals, scoring seven of them. Forward Jason Marin scored 11; he returns, along with classmates Robbie Vose and Connor Juhasz. Two goalies will compete for the net.

NFA/St. Bernard/Bacon Academy/Lyman Memorial/Killingly/Montville (10-11-1), the Redhawks for short, lost Stonington from its program (Stonington is now part of the Eastern Connecticut Eagles co-op). Coach Jim Motyka was sorry to lose those players after two or three years. Two new schools come in.

Motyka knows the Redhawks will get offense from senior winger Andrew Bannon (17 goals last year) and Brayden LoVetere (13 points) but need to find secondary scoring. Sophomore Ryan LoVetere leads the defense. Junior Spencer Flynn was the team’s only expected goalie at the start.

Shepaug/Litchfield/Thomaston/Nonnewaug (0-20-0), short in numbers, tried to establish a defensive base last year, which was easy in front of a goalie like Will Slohm who could withstand a barrage. With Slohm graduated, sophomore Alex Thornberg steps into the starting role.

Returning on defense are a couple of junior co-captains, Colby Fowler and Tyler Wagner, along with junior Tucker Redstone. Classmate Mike Classey joins the team from the Watertown Redwings program. Senior Noah Waterfall and incoming junior Coleby Bunnell, also moving from the Redwings, will look to help boost the offense for coach Mike Gorra’s team.

Barlow (4-16-1) has goalie Zac Gormley back but a young group in front of him. Coach Bob Stearns has faith in the team’s leadership, like senior forward Vincent Marsili and junior forward/defenseman Andrew Powell, captains. He said the Falcons have put in good offseason work. They’ll work to get younger players like freshman forward Luke Dube and defenseman Ted Blanchard up to high-school speed.

Rockville/Bolton/Coventry/RHAM (2-17-1) has a year under its belt with coach Galen Byram, who sees the team buying into the system. The Shamrocks have senior Liam Keleher in goal, with sophomore Derek Leshak coming in, one of several young players stepping in from different youth programs.

Senior Luke Slater leads the BCR defense. Up front, Kyle Camello returns off a 15-point season. Juniors Sean Power and Kyle Johnson are also back.

Sheehan (6-13-2) and Norwalk/McMahon (5-15-1) have also drawn some attention around the state. Coach Dave Festa’s Titans are always competitive, and the co-op, under coach Dale Wehmhoff for the second year, has reached the CIAC tournament two years in a row after a long drought. And Brookfield/Bethel/Danbury (6-16-0) is always in the mix for coach Rusty Granacker. The IceCats graduated some four-year players but had a deep group of young players as well.

Kevin Close
Eastern Eagles

The Eastern Connecticut Eagles (4-17-0) — Fitch/East Lyme/Griswold/Hale-Ray/Ledyard/Waterford/Wheeler and now Stonington — snuck into the state tournament for a second year in a row. They return only 10 players, but the new alignment of the co-op should
bring in a bunch of new players, and coach Randy Craig is optimistic they’ll mesh into a strong roster. The forwards start with a trio of captains, Kevin Close and Quenten Dean, both centermen, and right winger Zach Bradley. Junior left winger Ryan Huta was the Eagles’
leading scorer last year. Junior Riley Jordan is a solid defensive defenseman, and Craig said freshman Devan Jordan is the “younger, bigger version.” Senior Han Sherman can play anywhere, including net, where two newcomers are looking to replace Troy Moeller.

Michael Fornabaio

Michael Fornabaio

Michael writes for Hockey Night in Boston, covers the Bridgeport Sound Tigers for the Connecticut Post, and once covered the Beast of New Haven. He grew up at the New Haven Coliseum. Story, blog links @BSTSoundinOff blog.ctnews.com/fornabaio.
Michael Fornabaio
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