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Conn. Division 1 Preview: Defending champ Ridgefield needs to reload

DARIEN (8-12-1)

After reaching three finals in a row and winning back-to-back championships, the Blue Wave had some tough losses last year and were knocked out in the first round of the tournament. It was a memorable and historic run.

This year’s team graduated some top players from that run but has numbers returning. If they step up, coach Mac Budd’s team can be right back in the mix. They’ll look to improve their special-teams play.

A trio of senior co-captains lead the way, experienced, speedy forward Will Dickson, and a couple of defensemen, Connor McCarthy and Hunter Hazelton.

EAST CATHOLIC (8-14-0)
Joe Sitarz is graduated, and that’s a big hole for the Eagles to fill. But coach Joey Trenholm is hoping defense can turn into offense with some key returning players.

That defense includes seniors Jack Woodcock and Troy Morin, with sophomores Kevin Paquette and Josh Salvas stepping in. Junior Connor Hartnett may play some at both forward and defense.

The Eagles will look for production from forwards like senior Jake Beaulieu; juniors Sean Fellows, Justin Bailey and Brandon Ello; and sophomores Matt Nicolo and Zach Thomas.

Sam Mitchell
New Fairfield/Immaculate

NEW FAIRFIELD/IMMACULATE (17-5-2)
The Rebel Mustangs were Division III semifinalists just two years ago, Division II finalists last year, and now here they are in Division I, moved up in a hurry. Still, coach Larry Vieira feels they’re deep enough to be competitive, can roll out four experienced lines and six veteran defensemen.

Matt Carlucci
New Fairfield/Immaculate

Sam Mitchell returns for his junior year off a 34-point season, which earned him second-team all-state honors. Defenseman Matt Carlucci was first-team all-state in Division II; he’s a senior. Seniors Jameson Brown and Alex Hallahan return off good offensive seasons, and twins Tim and Dan Manning, both juniors, are three-year starters.

Junior Scott Dobos takes over for graduated two-time all-state goalie Shane Conciatore, who’s now with the Springfield Pics.

RIDGEFIELD (24-2-0)
The Tigers at last won the Division I championship that had eluded them, sweeping through the postseason with an FCIAC title as well. Lots of key players have graduated from that team, but coach Shaun Gallagher’s team has some skill and experience returning.

One of those experienced players is senior defenseman Ty Fujitani, who played a lot for those champion Tigers. He’ll be joined on the backline by junior Simon van Wees, whose brother Matteo was state player of the year last season. They’re replacing goalie Sean Keegans.

Nick Cullinan, who scored the first goal of the state final against Northwest Catholic last season, returns as a junior off a 35-point season. Will Forrest is also a junior; he had 25 points.

WEST HAVEN (16-7-0)

There’s always a goalie in West Haven, it seems. Senior Logan Cole comes back off a 7-2 season last year that included three shutouts, playing behind second-team all-stater and now-graduated Brendan Serenson.

They’ll need to work hard in the defensive zone for him, and coach Joe Morrell expects good things from defenseman Robby Forleo, who was plus-9 as a freshman last year.

There’s lots of graduated offense to replace, too, but they’ve got back the likes of E.J. Pacapelli, a hard-working senior who put up 16 points last year, and classmate Collin Braziel, who scored 10 goals. Junior Nico Kyle and sophomore Kevin Moriarty (15 goals) will be keys as well.

Tony DiPreta
Xavier

XAVIER (14-7-1)

The Falcons have felt like a team on the cusp of big things for a couple of years now. A leader as they try to make that last step to their first state final will be sophomore forward Aden Hotchkiss. A big, strong power forward coming off a 33-point season, Hotchkiss is committed to Sacred Heart.

Senior forward Tony DiPreta returns off a 21-point year, and classmate Alex Stasiuk brings speed up front. Senior Joel Hotchkiss leads a young defense, and several juniors will step into key roles up and down the lineup.

With Jared Guidobono graduated, junior Jake Woznyk and senior Bill Crawford will compete for time in net.

FAIRFIELD PREP (12-10-0)

Coach Matt Sather’s Jesuits have a well-balanced group returning, withlots of depth all around. It graduated a few seniors, including a top forward in Chris Brown, but it has some important names back.

Goalie Jack McGee is one, back for his senior year. He has played big games for the Jesuits. Junior Jake Walker got a game in last year.

Carter Kral
Fairfield Prep

Ryan Eckert
Fairfield Prep

Devin Blanchette
Fairfield Prep

The depth and experience up front starts with captains Skyler Celotto and Ryan Eckert, who each had 18 points last year. Senior Devin Blanchette had 22. Seniors Carter Kral, Joey Mancini and Kevin Oricoli have all been productive. Junior Calyb Reeves showed lots of improvement as last season went on, and classmates Anthony Clericuzio and Chandler DuMont will take steps forward.

Seniors Cole Casl, Matt Kernaghan and Evan Uva are veteran defensemen. Juniors Connor Boyle and Jack Carroll will contribute back there, too.

Jason Ziegler
Notre Dame (Fair)

NOTRE DAME-FAIRFIELD (4-15-1)

After missing the state tournament last year, the Lancers have a new coach, former Vermont and pro forward Johnny Longo. It’ll be a clean slate for everyone, and Longo intends for the Lancers to be a hard team to play against.

Returning for Notre Dame are senior co-captain Jason Ziegler, a good puck-moving defenseman with some toughness. Fellow co-captain Christopher Becker, a senior centerman, will be relied on for offense. The Lancers get senior forward Austin Allen back after a junior season
cut in half by injury.

They do have to replace starting goalie Billy Scovill.

ST. JOSEPH (7-14-1)

In coach Eddy LeMaire’s second season, the Cadets will be young. He’s hoping they’ll surprise some people as they fill in the spots left by graduations and transfers.

The biggest hole is in net, where standout goalie Ryan Wilson transferred to Proctor Academy. Junior Will Brady will look to step into that spot.

Senior centerman Sean Attanasio is a leader, and big senior Jack Pisani gives the Cadets toughness and versatility as well as a big shot.

Ryan Antkowiak
Suffield/Granby/WL

SUFFIELD/GRANBY/WINDSOR LOCKS (15-8-0)

The Wildcats have had a couple of good seasons back in Division I. However, the CIAC says they’re ineligible for this year’s Division I tournament, opting out rather than phasing out their co-op.

After graduating a big class last year, coach Nick Boorman will be looking for a team-first attitude and hard work.

Senior goalies Dan DeGange and Patrick Greene return after splitting time last year. Senior Nate Ratti gives them a shut-down defenseman, and junior Ryan Antkowiak had a solid sophomore season on defense. Those back up front include seniors Brian Liss and Cole Battiston and
junior Connor Mathews.

NEW CANAAN (19-5-1)

The Rams had 16 returning players last year and went to the FCIAC final. This year, they’ve lost 15 players, including 12 graduates. New coach Clark Jones thinks he’s got players who can step in with skill and the discipline they’ll need to be responsible defensively.

Those returning include junior centerman Gunnar Granito, who had 22 points last year, and senior Chase Glover, who had 20. Quinn McMahon, a senior, returns on the wing. Junior Shane Pickering is back on defense.

They’ll need new goaltenders now that Peter Windas and Liam Mooney have graduated. Jack Spain, a junior, comes up from JV.

SIMSBURY (12-10-0)

The Trojans graduated 13 players, including two experienced goalies and lots of offensive production (and more than a few penalty minutes). The youngsters coming up to follow them include lots of younger siblings who’ve played JV and learned from watching. The
coaching staff, under Chris Day, has a year in place.

There’s a good core to the defense corps returning with senior Tim Kratzer and juniors Franklin Berry and Kevin McDonough. Returning up front are seniors Skylar Hewes, Michael Gauthier, Dominic Francis, Dave Zalozhin and Jake Taddio.

Senior Matt Palmer has a chance to grab the reins in goal.

GREENWICH (10-12-1)

The Cardinals graduated lots of the standouts who led them to compete for championships in 2015 and 2016. They still hung in last year. They’re hopeful that staying healthy will help make for a good season.

Coach Chris Rurak’s team has a deep group of speedy forwards that will look to get pucks deep. Seniors Alex Mozian, J.T. Lawrence, Oliver Fulton, Matt Baugher and Connor Santry will play key roles, along with juniors Matt Davey, Sean Pratley and Charlie Graves.

Junior Nic Pelletier-Martinelli returns on defense.

FAIRFIELD (14-6-2)

The Mustangs moved up to Division I last year after winning their second Division II title in four years in 2016. Their schedule last year was still a Division II slate outside the FCIAC, but their
non-league opponents this year include four Division I teams.

Coach Carl Larouche’s team was bringing along some newcomers last year. It graduated six seniors.

The Mustangs will be thinking of former teammate Charlie Capalbo; the goalie was diagnosed with cancer days after his senior season ended. The Fairfield County Sports Commission named him its Chelsea Cohen Courage Award winner this fall.

HAMDEN (14-9-0)

Coach Todd Hall expects great chemistry on his Green Dragons, with lots of young players. He knows he’ll get solid goaltending from senior Steven Turner, who averaged about 2.3 goals-against a game.

Junior Michael Gethings returns on the left wing after scoring eight points in just 10 games in his sophomore season.

Newcomers include sophomore defenseman Alan Cozzilino.

Brennan Horn
Northwest Catholic

NORTHWEST CATHOLIC (21-4-1)

The Lions’ rise to the top of Division I went quickly, reaching the final in only their fourth year in the top class. Coach Don Melanson stepped aside after the season, leaving the program to a familiar face, his brother, Dan, who’ll be looking for good two-way hockey from his team.

Several of the biggest names were with Northwest Catholic all four years since it moved up from Division II. They’ll need replacing, but young players contributed to the run last season. Among those back are senior forward Paul Arel, who scored 31 points last year. He’s joined up front by sophomore Brennan Horn, who scored 12 goals as a freshman.

Mike Ansaldo
Notre Dame WH

The defense includes senior Drew Hungerford (13 points) and juniors Sean Macary (15 points) and Tyler Esposito in front of junior goalie Mike Kaliff. A few junior newcomers should contribute.

NOTRE DAME – WEST HAVEN (12-9-1)
Eight players graduated for the Green Knights after Glastonbury upset them in the first round of the Division I playoffs last year. Coach Tim Belcher’s team, only a year removed from a state semifinal appearance, graduated lots of offense but has a defensive core back.

Zach Dumas
Notre Dame WH

That’s led by senior defensemen Zach Dumas and Clayton Coassin, heavy hitters, as well as junior Kevin Millea.

The Green Knights will need some forwards to step up. They have some talent back in Michael Ansaldo, a senior with a heavy shot; quick junior Ian Hayden; and sophomore Michael Bencivengo, who had 12 points as a freshman.

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
- 1 hour ago