Connecticut D3 Preview: Woodstock Academy ready to challenge

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

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Connecticut Division 3 Poll

RankTeam[tooltip text="PR*" gravity="ne"]Previous Ranking[/tooltip]WLT
1Woodstock Academy2050
3Lyman Hall/H-K1283

Three of last year’s top four teams in Connecticut’s Division III have moved up a division this season. The remaining semifinalist gets the nod as this year’s favorite.

Ryan Black

Woodstock Academy (20-5-0), in just its fourth varsity season, has a good chance to improve on last year’s semifinal appearance; they played a fantastic 6-5 overtime game against Staples/Weston/Shelton that could’ve gone either way. Several key players are back from that team for coach Mike Starr, including Ryan Black, who finished with 56 goals and 99 points last year, along with fellow senior Nathan Deluca, who had 40 goals and 88 points. Senior Will Liscomb and junior Pat Delaney complement them up front, and a crop of new underclassmen is set to come in from junior programs. Standout goalie Cal Wilcox is back for his senior year, with junior Ryan Wojciechowski leading his defense.

Cade Palladino

A team that was a perennial Division III favorite before it moved up, Newington/Berlin/Manchester/Cromwell (7-14-0), is back down, and more than one coach said they expect coach Dave Harackiewicz to put together a strong team. If they can generate some offense, they’ll have a good chance, with experience in net and a defense led by senior Matt Roberts (16 points) and sophomore Pat Doherty. Senior forward Alex Borselle is back off an 11-goal season, and juniors Cade Palladino and Logan Matteson and sophomore Matt Lavoie will look to step up.

Newtown (11-11-0) had a few contributors as freshmen when they won the 2014 state title. Those kids are seniors now, and coach Paul Esposito’s Nighthawks have most of their core back. That includes senior forwards Scott McLean (26-19-45 last year) and Domenic Cartelli (15-28-43) and Lucas O’Brien. Sophomore David Brestovansky returns off a 15-point season, and juniors Jack Hanley and Devin Marsh will be keys. Seniors Kyle Murphy and John McCann have experience in goal, and senior Scott Bauer and junior Cole Bepko will protect the front of their net. They’ll miss senior captain Sean Ferris, though; he’s out injured to start the year.

Lyman Hall/Haddam-Killingworth/Coginchaug (12-8-3) assembled a nice team and a nice season last year, and though goalie Zach O’Toole graduated, senior Finley Van Houten should step right in for coach Rich Minnix’s Trojans, who have a lot back everywhere else. The top four defensemen return, led by co-captains Chris Blanchard and Markus Trahan. Senior Hunter Boileau, another co-captain, produced up front and will again, along with gritty senior Jack O’Brien and playmakers junior Scott Bradley and sophomore Kyle Roberts.

Longtime Rockville/Bolton/Coventry/RHAM (9-14-0) coach Christian Stevenson stepped down after last season. Galen Byram, a former player at Manchester and a coach at Eastern Connecticut State University, among other places, takes over. He was still settling in and figuring out what he had. Other coaches expect Connor Morton to remain a standout for BCR.

WMRP (4-14-2) — adding Plainville to Wethersfield, Middletown and Rocky Hill, those four letters aren’t just a low-power country station in Michigan anymore — is hoping for a step forward this year, with key players back and some underclassmen jumping in on the back end. They’ve got seniors Zac Forest and Paul Wheatley back at forward, with 19 goals between them last year, and seniors Paul Ciarcia and Tyler Piecewicz will contribute. Stephen Vaughan has some experience in goal coming into his senior year. On defense, junior Brandon Mertens and senior Sean Fuller are back for coach Dennis Tulimieri.

Luke Newman
Doug Alfidi

There’s optimism for Brookfield/Bethel/Danbury (9-11-3) to build on last year, with several good players back and five seniors leading the way, starting on defense with 6-foot-4, 210-pound Luke Newman, the captain. He and Jack Wallin are four-year players for coach Rusty Granacker. A deep group of forwards include seniors Doug Alfidi, Andrew Almeida and Daniel Kriz, and juniors Colin MacNevin, Tanner Trew and Teddy Berner. James McCarthy may play up front or on defense in front of junior Stephen Fanning, who takes over as the No. 1 goalie. Several incoming sophomores from junior programs will help, as will other returning underclassmen.

Tri-Town (8-13-0) has another year under its goalies’ belts, and it has a captain who scored 12 goals last year from the blue line, Sam Greenberg. Senior classmate Kevin Gaidos and junior Connor Roberts add to a defense that coach Jesse Peters sees as strong. Senior Nick Tshonas will be joined at forward by some newcomers who’ll look to add some scoring.

Housatonic/Northwestern (11-10-1) graduated lots of offense, including Jason Diamond’s 31 goals, but with Matt Murray back in goal off a good freshman season, the Mountaineers will build around defense. Coach Dean Diamond has senior captain Finn Bambery back on defense this year, and he’ll play a lot. Speedy junior forward Connor Toffey scored six goals last year and will take on a bigger role.

Ben Amor

NFA/St. Bernard/Bacon Academy/Stonington/Lyman Memorial (8-13-0), the Redhawks for short, got a workhorse season from goalie Ben Amor, the only netminder they had last year. Coach Jim Motyka and the team hope they can cut down on the shots he has to face as a senior, with tough senior Hunter Desaulnier leading his defense. Senior Nick Wright and sophomore Cooper Olson, who played a lot as a freshman, will also be keys on the blue line. Junior winger Andrew Bannon, the team’s captain, scored 20 goals last year, and senior Bryan Guetens is back off a 23-point season. Junior Brayden LoVetere is a good defensive forward for the co-op.

The Eastern Connecticut Eagles (4-16-0) made the CIAC tournament in 2015 and were hoping to build on that. They fell short, but a group of four-year seniors has coach Randy Craig optimistic. Senior goalie Troy Moeller returns, for one, with sophomore Riley Jordan leading the defense. Larry Nolan and Jimmy Fitzmaurice are senior forwards, and junior Kevin Close and incoming sophomore Ryan Huta will help add depth there.

Norwalk/McMahon (5-16-0) made its first state tournament since 2006, winning its last regular-season game to get in. Coach Dan Feighan stepped down after the season; Dale Wehmhoff takes over.       Shepaug/Litchfield/Nonnewaug (0-19-0) adds Thomaston to its co-op, a year removed from a Division III semifinal. Though numbers remain low, coach Michael Gorra knows he can build around defense with a top-notch senior goalie in Will Slohm, one of the team’s captains. Another captain is Madeline Gorra, a four-year forward. Senior Ricky Gamelin leads the defense corps along with sophomore Colby Fowler. Senior forward Thomas Roche returns after a year playing elsewhere.

Wilton (2-17-1) moves down from Division II with a new coach; John Miserendino takes over for Brett Amero.

Masuk (6-15-0) had to reload a bit last year, graduating the bulk of a team that went to the 2015 Division III final. The kids gained a lot of experience and return with potential. The entire defense returns in front of sophomore goalie Tag Weiss, who played all but nine minutes last year. Seniors Elijah Begin (over 60 points the past two years) and Adam Montague are offensive leaders, and the likes of juniors Casey Bowler and Colin Raymond and sophomore Nikita Kuzmitski will look to pick up some of the scoring load behind them.    Hall/Southington (13-9-0) graduated standout Jared Florian, but coach Brian Cannon had a nice group of younger players. They should remain competitive. Barlow (8-12-1) graduated five from a small roster, including senior goalie Connor Jones. Naturally, though, younger players were integral for the Falcons, who’ll look to remain competitive for coach Bob Stearns.    Sheehan (6-15-0) graduated four seniors but returns lots of young players who had to play a lot. Coach Dave Festa’s Titans have been a very competitive program; last year was the first in four years that they didn’t win at least 10 games.  Trinity Catholic (4-16-0) moved back to Division III last season, coach Mike Bernard’s first, and low numbers didn’t help as they missed the playoffs. They’ll look to keep developing.

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