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Connecticut D2 Preview: North Branford, East Haven early picks

Connecticut Division 2 Poll

RankTeamPR*WLT
1North Branford2051
2East Haven9104
3Cheshire11121
4Hand8112
5North Haven10112
6New Fairfield/Immaculate2140
7Guilford1572
8Conard9112
9Amity6131
10Trumbull7113
Warrior-Polls

Well, here we go again. After Fairfield powered to its second Connecticut Division II championship in four years, the Mustangs have moved up to Division I. But three solid programs have moved up to Division II, as well, leaving the division, to take the pulse of the coaches, where it usually is: wide open.

There wasn’t even really a clear consensus of a top tier of teams. Ask for contenders, and about half the division got a mention.   One team that got several mentions is the one that has come so close two years in a row, North Branford (20-5-1). Runners-up to Suffield/Granby/Windsor Locks two years ago and Fairfield in overtime last year, coach Ralph Shaw’s Thunderbirds have junior goalie John Lovelace returning, and they have an assortment of skaters back, too. Senior forwards Brian McKee, Scott Clinton, Marc Daddio and Nico Giatrelis all played key roles last season. On defense, junior Brendan Dupuis and sophomore Nick Mancini will be solid presences.

Joe Aloi
East Haven

East Haven (9-10-4) peaked late, reaching the Division II semifinals last year before falling to North Branford. Co-captain Joe Aloi returns off a 48-point season, pacing what should be a high-scoring team. Senior co-captain Joe Lorello had 28 points last year, and senior Mike Dogolo had 18. A few underclassmen will bring even more depth to the forwards corps. On defense, senior co-captain Matt Latella (18 points) and senior Ryan Albert lead the way for coach Lou Pane.

Tom Bishop
Cheshire

Cheshire (11-12-1) has some depth but also has a lot to replace, especially in its own zone, graduating a starting goalie and five defensemen from coach Anthony Giusto’s first season. Tom Bishop, a senior, takes over in net from all-stater Jake Verneris. Senior defenseman Ryan Novia will be expected to help out in both ends, with senior Joey Yurczyk taking care of his own end and a few underclassmen filling the holes. Captain Vinnie Solla returns at center; the captain is a good two-way player. Classmate Matt Federico should provide an offensive spark.

Vinny Solla
Cheshire

Hand (8-11-2) graduated four seniors a year after graduating three; some young players have grown up with the program, three years removed from a Division II title. Robert Smith becomes the No. 1 goalie as a senior, with junior Paul Gagliardi a defensive leader for coach Ken Mitchell’s Tigers. Seniors Matt Rice and Tristan Sorensen are back up front.

North Haven (10-11-2) had depth in the younger classes last year, coach Mike Silengo’s second. The team had some good wins and started 4-0-1, 7-2-1 and 8-3-1 before finishing the regular season at .500. If the kids continue to grow and replace the graduates, North Haven should be fine.

Danny Manning
New Fairfield/Immac.

Sam Mitchell
New Fairfield/Immac.

Tim Manning
New Fairfield/Immac.

Jameson Brown
New Fairfield/Immac.

New Fairfield/Immaculate (21-4-0) was among the class of Division III all last year, and of the teams that moved up, the Rebel Mustangs seem to have the eye of more rival coaches. They’ll get a test moving up in class in the SCC/SWC, but having a goalie like senior Shane Conciatore (.940 save percentage) gives them a chance against most teams. Coach Larry Vieira’s team got 21 goals from Sam Mitchell as a sophomore; he returns along with junior Jamison Brown (27 points), junior Matt Carlucci (17 points), Tim Manning (12 points) and Danny Manning (12 points). Junior transfer Alex Hallahan will add to the depth at forward.

Guilford (15-7-2) graduated two players who combined for 127 points on a team that reached the semifinals. Replacing that kind of production is not easy, but coach Ralph Russo thinks they have enough experience returning to perhaps grind out some more games. John DeLucia, off a 53-point season, returns as a sophomore, and Rick Sandella had 26 points last year as a junior. Senior Kyle Dwyer is in net with junior Joe Neleber leading the defense.

Zach Polo
Conard

Dylan Turner
Conard

Conard (9-11-2) is generally young but also generally talented. Coach Greg Raymer’s Chieftains have been a team to be reckoned with couple of years, in no small part thanks to senior forward Zach Polo, who has 99 points in two seasons. Senior Dylan Turner and junior Jack Starr are other key forwards. The defense includes junior Ramsay Henderson and senior Declan Flaherty and some young players who’ll be put straight into important roles. Senior goalie Zander Khan returns after a season in prep school, joining Shea Hendeson, who played last year as a freshman.

Amity (6-13-1) returns 22 players for coach Gary Lindgren’s 20th and final season, including 11 juniors and seven seniors. Three goalies, senior Tyler Johnston and juniors Tyler Cole and Michael Holloway, will be a team strength. The defense in front of them also is experienced, led by senior co-captain Mac Deane and senior Zach White and juniors Adam Moscato, Jake Silliman and Harrison Silver. Senior Charlie Csejka returns up front off a 30-point season, along with seniors Nick DeGennaro, Jeremy Cable and Roger Kergaravat and juniors Jamie Blum, Joey Schittina and Chase Kozak.

Will Guttman
Trumbull

Trumbull (7-11-3) has lots of its key players back, including all-state forward Brady Jensen, the Eagles’ leading scorer in each of his first three years. Senior Will Guttman got a year’s experience in goal, and senior defenseman Jake Liebowitz is valuable in both ends of the ice and for his leadership. Though forward John Theriault left for the Connecticut Chiefs after his freshman year, coach Greg Maxey expects some freshmen to add depth and complement contributions from senior Martin Birnbach and juniors Matt Mocker, Eric McCabe and Dustin Maher.

Staples/Weston/Shelton (15-9-0) moved up after a trip to the Division III final, though coach Todd Sharinn didn’t go with them; Chris Avena, a former coach at St. Bernard, takes over, and he expects developing a chemistry with his new team will be a big piece of the story of the season. He was still sorting out what he expected to have, but co-captains Evan Mancini, Sam Zaritsky and Sebastian Zeman will be big parts of it.

Nate Capriglione
New Milford

New Milford (9-12-0) coach Scott Capriglione likes the experience his Green Wave team brings back and the returning forwards who should be able to score. That includes youngsters like sophomore Zach Hook, who had 16 goals last year; junior co-captain Nate Capriglione, who had 24 points; and junior Ryan Berry, off a 15-point season. Seniors Hunter Colburn and Tommy Schneider play a physical game, and senior co-captain Christian Schopfer is a leader. Fellow captain Payton Meyer, who like Colburn lost a lot of last season to injury, will play both forward and defense. Sophomore goalie Ben Marano played 14 games last year.

Milford (4-15-1) coach Sal Follo will be looking for consistency from his team. He has some experienced players like senior Andrew Gobany, a speedy centerman. Senior wingers Jimmy Cronin and Ryan Fortier and junior Santi Palacio are back. On defense, captain Douglas McLenithan is a good skater; junior Jake Burwell brings a great shot, and classmate Jason Lavallee will also be a key.

E.O. Smith/Tolland (15-8-1) moved up last year after winning Division III the year before, and the Bucks remained competitive for coach John Hodgson. There are a few players back who were part of that championship season, including senior forward Nick Mayer, who has 102 career points after scoring 26 goals last year. Seniors David Apgar and Evan Valenti are back up front, and senior Owen Doremus returns from injury. Sophomore Owen Stacy scored 26 points last season. Senior Matt McNeal, in his third season as a regular, leads the defense, with juniors Eamon Judkins and Jake Ciraco experienced in goal.

Depth and talent helped Farmington/Avon/Windsor/Lewis Mills (15-8-0) take a step forward last season. With many young players in key spots, the Generals will look to keep that going.

Enfield/East Granby/Stafford (6-13-1) — Enfield’s two high schools consolidated into one under the town’s name, so there’s no more Fermi in the co-op — need to replace all-state goalie Sam Roy. Coach Frank Genovese does have a couple of solid junior defensemen in Cam Gaylor and Ryan Murphy, though, and defense should be a strength. Junior Jason Morin is a power forward for the Eagles, and senior Joey Partridge is a hard-working forward.

South Windsor (10-10-1) graduated its standout goalie, Scott Skenyon, after finishing at .500 with a young team in their return to Division II after a long run in the top division. Coach Neil Rodman’s Bobcats graduated five other seniors but had eight freshmen on the roster, too, last season.    Westhill/Stamford (15-6-2) won the Division III championship last year, answering quickly any questions about whether the unholy alliance between the two city rivals would need time to jell. (Whether Westhill purple meshed with Stamford orange on the mashup sweaters, well, it’s a unique look.) Young players contributed all season for coaches John Santagata and Doug Robinson. They’ll take a step up to Division II, where the two schools last competed separately in 2012-13.      Branford (9-12-1) has a new head coach, former assistant Jim DiNapoli; longtime area fixture Adolph Brink moved to Florida. The Hornets have been a strong program in Division II for a long time but were particularly young last year. They’ll be back with experience.    Watertown/Pomperaug (7-13-1) coach Vic Vicenzi also had lots of youngsters stepping into important roles last season. The co-op will look for continued improvement in a tough league after graduating just five seniors. Senior forward Ryan Dunfee, senior defenseman Jake Harwell and senior goalie Alex Nocera are three key returners.

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
- 57 mins ago