There will be two state champions at the Division 2 level this season … at least from the start. Branford won it all a year ago and many believe it is the favorite again. Meanwhile, Div. 3 champ Lyman-Hall/Haddam-Killingworth/Coginchaug (with new coach Dave Sagnella) makes the move up along with Daniel Hand, as Hall-Southington and Suffield/Granby/Windsor Locks drop to Div. 3. The Eastern Connecticut Eagles have absorbed players from the Redhawks team, which disbanded. Conard also has a new coach. E.O. Smith/Tolland is continuing as a co-op and therefore will not take part in the Division 2 postseason tournament.
Home Rink: Edward L. Bennett Rink, West Haven
The Spartans will be a young team with only four seniors and a handful of others with game experience, but coach Michael Richetelli welcomes a new group of newcomers as they push for a return to the Division 2 tournament.
One of the key seniors will be in net, as Sai Neelam is back. The young defense will be led by juniors Caleb Marcin, Jason Dittman, Dylan Gherlone, and sophomore Ethan Moffett.
The rest of the senior class is up front, led by captain Nick Kiwanis, along with Connor Bath and Michael Lebreck. Junior forward Justin Miller is another captain, while juniors Tommy Schittina and Tyler Demaio also return.
Bolstering the Spartans will be a healthy group of underclassmen – sophomores Caden Demaio (D), Jack Bordeleau (F), Joe Carangelo (F), Kyle Hummel (F) and Dom Harris (F), as well as freshmen David Brown (D), Cade Simone (F), Brendan Smith (G) and Aiden Courtney (G).
Home Rink: Northford Ice Pavilion
Branford stormed to the Division 2 state championship a year ago, finishing it off with a 2-0 victory against Glastonbury.
The Hornets allowed only four goals in their four-game postseason run, and coach Jim DiNapoli expects defense and goaltending once again to be the focal point of his team.
Junior Jared Yakimoff posted a 1.89 GAA while seeing most of the time in net a year ago. He will be supported by a strong defense with seniors Chris Donadio (9-10-19), Max Manware (0-12-12) and Jack Rivera, and junior Bill Linder.
Branford also brings back some scoring punch with seniors Jack Manware (21-15-36), Spence Engstrom (18-20-38), Blake Kustra (15-11-26) and Zach Jones (5-12-17). Junior transfer Dan Farricielli joins the team this season.
Home Rink: Spurrier-Snyder Rink, Middletown
The Rams will have a bit of a different look after graduating their top three defensemen (two All-State) off last year’s Division 2 quarterfinal team. But what will help is having senior Nicholas Maringola back in net. The senior captain and All-State selection had a 1.68 GAA and .930 SP last season, and coach Anthony Giusto believes Maringola is “arguably the top goalie in the state.” Senior Nick Mongillo will be a solid backup.
Cheshire also returns four of its top six forwards, led by leading scorer and junior captain Niklas Vasilijevs (14-9-23). Fellow juniors Thor Novicelli (7-8-15), Joey DeLucia (5-7-12) and Aidan Gaudet (4-8-12) also return. Sophomore Zach Olson, and freshmen Will Gaudet and Aidan Larke are newcomers who will push for playing time up front. Seniors Charlie Petit, Matt Vendetto and Lorenzo Ocone-Krause are other key contributors.
With the turnover on defense, Giusto will be looking to junior Joey Deko, and seniors Hunter Olson, Lucca Soderlund and Scott Heseltine.
“An opportunity will be there for our eight returning defensemen to step up into top roles,” Giusto said.
Home Rink: Veterans Memorial Rink, West Hartford
Former Notre Dame Fairfield coach Steve Hetherman assumes the reins of the Chieftains, who missed the postseason a year ago.
Hetherman will look to senior forward Owen Fernandez to lead the way up front, joined by juniors Colum Flaherty, Owen McGoldrick, and sophomore Brian Fehl. Junior Aidan Shaffer returns to the team after playing junior hockey last season.
Senior Will Macdonald is the veteran on defense, while senior Eli Wizevich takes over in goal.
DANIEL HAND (18-5-1)
Home Rink: Northford Ice Pavilion
After reaching the Division 3 semifinals a year ago as the No. 1 seed, the Tigers bump up to Division 2 this season in the SCC. Entering his second season, coach Brian Gonsalves believes his team is ready for the challenge after going 7-2 vs. Division 1-2 competition last season.
Gonsalves will try to blend 14 returning players (including nine juniors) with 10 newcomers. With that, he will lean on many of the key returning players to keep the pressure off the younger troops early. Junior center Tate Fitzmaurice (15-30-45) and senior wing Brendan Ryan (10-14-24) are captains at forward, joined by junior wings Joey DeAngelis (14-18-32), Ethan Massey (16-9-25) and Logan Massey (9-12-21).
Junior John Gagliardi (2-8-10) also will be a captain and lead the defense along with second-team All-State selection Kevin Sandor (3-3-6), a sophomore. Junior Eric Dillner (2.48 GAA, .883 SP) returns in goal.
EAST HAVEN (8-11-2)
Home Rink: Veterans Memorial Rink, East Haven
The Yellowjackets should go as far as Logan Hamilton can carry them. The All-State and All-SCC netminder posted a 2.70 GAA in 21 games last season, and longtime coach Louis Pane expects another big season from him.
Rocco Plano is back to help out Hamilton on defense. Meanwhile, the offense will be sparked by the likes of Alex Spears (15-6-21), Dave Amatruda (12-7-19), Cory Benni (4-11-15) and newcomer Joe Consiglio. East Haven also adds Parker Sparkle and Duncan Rider to the mix.
“We should be very competitive,” said Pane, who is in his 34th season, making him the co-dean of Connecticut coaches along with WMRP’s Dennis Tulimieri.
E.O. SMITH/TOLLAND (17-6-0)
Home Rink: Freitas Ice Forum, Storrs
This season will be a bittersweet one for coach John Hodgson and the co-op team, which was disbanded last season by the CIAC. The team is back together again this season, but will not take part in the postseason tournament.
“In order to restore our 25-year-old co-op and provide access to our eight Tolland players who sat out last season, we had to agree not to participate in the tournament,” Hodgson said.
Hodgson believes it was important to give the Tolland players the opportunity to continue to play. Senior forward Matt Abery (6-9-15 as a sophomore) and defenseman Brady McNulty are among those who are back and will add to the team’s depth.
From E.O. Smith, junior Bryan Roy (15-15-30) and senior Will Russel are other key forwards. McNulty, a top-four defenseman, will be joined on the blue line by E.O. Smith junior Ethan Homiski. Seniors Harry Cook and Matt Schoen, both or E.O. Smith, shared the net last season.
Blake Alexander, a junior from E.O. Smith, also returns to the defense after sitting out last season with injury.
“We’ll need to rely on experienced goalies and defensemen this year to succeed in lower scoring games,” said Hodgson, who lost two All-State forwards to graduation.
EAST CATHOLIC (9-12-1)
Home Rink: Champions Skating Center, Cromwell
East Catholic returns a solid core of six players looking to make an impact in their senior season. But many of the impacts players will be underclassmen for coach Joey Trenholm’s Eagles.
Junior goalie Ethan Utermarck (2.38 GAA, .915 SP) saw much of the action last season and will be back in net, backed up by senior Brian Galle (3.02 GAA, .893 SP). Juniors Nathan Segar (5-4-9) and Mick O’Connor (2-2-4) are the top returnees on the blue line.
Up front, the Eagles will look to junior Kevin Hartnett (11-5-16) and sophomore Rowan Masse (11-14-25). Trenholm will be looking for his senior group to step into key roles, including forwards Caeden Bailey, Tim Beaulieu, Ethan Cornish and Matt Nicolo. Sophomores A.J. Bushnell and Cole Usseglio also are expected to step into the lineup.
“We need to play good team defense and look for secondary scoring on a consistent basis,” Trenholm said. “Both goaltenders are strong, willing and capable of winning hockey games.”
EASTERN CONNECTICUT EAGLES (12-7-1)
Home Rink: Dayton Arena, New London
The Eagles should be one of the more interesting teams to watch entering the season, after absorbing players from the old Redhawks co-op. The Eagles now have players from 11 different schools (only three with more than three players), but with 11 seniors and the new co-op approved for only this season, coach Randy Craig said there is uncertainty beyond this season.
Nonetheless, Craig expects his reinforced team to be competitive in both the Nutmeg Conference (two-time defending champion) and Division 2, which the Eagles won two seasons ago. Senior goalie Rylin Fowler is a three-year starter in net, and is joined by a pair of three-year veterans on the blue line in juniors Kyle Marino (0-13-13) and Devyn Jordan (3-5-8). Senior Ryan LoVetere arrives from the Redhawks to make the defense even deeper and stronger.
Evan Tower (32-29-61) was first team all-state last season and leads a deep group of forwards that added junior Steve Turchetta from the Redhawks. Senior center Will Cannella (16-12-28) is another returnee, and sophomore newcomers Quinten Olshan (RW) and Cade Waters (LW) will add to the forward depth.
FARMINGTON VALLEY (11-12-2)
Home Rink: Jennings Fairchild Rink, Avon
After adding 15 new players last season as part of the co-op (Avon, Farmington and Burlington), co-coaches Mike Barone (27th season) and Scott Percival (10th season) are hoping to continue that momentum that resulted in a trip to the Division 2 semifinals.
The Generals will have a trio of impact players with senior captain and center Mattie Arena (22-27-49), and newcomers Jackson Holl (sophomore center) and Mackie Stambaugh (junior right wing). Captain and right wing T.J. Erikson (3-3-6) also is back with junior assistant captain and wing Scott Groleau (8-8-16) to lead the offense.
Defensively the Generals look sound with juniors Nate Watson (0-4-4), Drew Abbott (0-5-5) and Matt Rapini (1-6-7) all back.
“Being a co-op always presents a challenge but with the veteran leadership of Arena and Erikson, coach Barone and myself hope to find ourselves back at Yale in March 2020,” Percival said.
Home Rink: Koeppel Rink, Hartford
The Tomahawks’ thrilling run through the postseason as the No. 6 seed fell a game short last year with their 2-0 loss to Branford in the championship game.
The pieces still are there for coach Ken Barse and team to put together another solid season. Seniors Ryan Ginnett, Adam Poetto and Jack Kantor return to lead the attack, along with junior Keane Smith. Freshman Drew Hazard looks like a player who could step in and contribute immediately.
Defensively the Tomahawks will rely on solid two-way senior Colin Williams and junior Patrick McKiernan to help protect a new starting goalie, junior Kevin Giesow.
Home Rink: Veterans Memorial Rink, East Haven
The Indians will work 11 new players into the lineup for a team that earned the No. 2 seed and reached the Division 2 quarterfinals last season.
Senior forward Jack Dacey returns from a huge 2018-19 in which he had 39 goals and 19 assists. Senior forward E.J. Vickerman (15 points) and forward/defenseman Tyler Considine (15 points) also are back.
Coach Ralph Russo will look to junior defenseman Steve Tortora (3-7-10) and sophomore goalie Gavin Litvyn to shore up that end of the ice. Sophomore forward Mike Torre and freshman Shane Considine are among the wealth of new faces for the Indians.
LYMAN HALL/HADDAM-KILLINGWORTH/COGINCHAUG (18-6-0)
Home Rink: Northford Ice Pavilion
After winning the Division 2 state championship last season, the Trojans also bump up to Division 2 this season.
Coach Dave Sagnella has strong senior and junior classes that will help ease the transition into their new surroundings. Senior defenseman Mike O’Toole was an All-State selection last year and will lead the way with fellow senior defensemen Connor Chordas and T.J. Isleib (2-13-15).
Offensively the Trojans have a potent 1-2 punch with senior Matt Pettit (28-37-65) and sophomore Jack Roberts (16-37-53). Junior Aidan Weir (14-9-23) and T.J. Arduini (7-13-20) provide solid secondary scoring.
The Trojans “(have a team mentality and work well with one another for the common goal of competing for a state championship,” Sagnella said. “A strong returning defensive core should help keep puck out of their zone.”
NORTH BRANFORD (9-11-1)
Home Rink: Northford Ice Pavilion
The Thunderbirds enter the season with only 16 players, so the key for coach Ralph Shaw will be getting the most out of the entire group.
Junior Nick Poulin (8-7-15) and senior Joe Carbone (6-4-10) are the top returning forwards, while junior goalie Tyler DiNapoli (2.83 GAA, .910 SP) will back a pair of veteran defensemen in junior Tyler Waligroski and senior Jack Mitchonski.
A trio of sophomores – defenseman Joe Marra, and forwards Ryan Mitchonski and Dakota Cooper – are expected to contribute this season.
“With 16 players the team will need to rely one another and play hard as a group,” Shaw said.
NORTH HAVEN (4-14-2)
Home Rink: Northford Ice Pavilion
The Indians won three of their final six games last season, so coach Chris Avena is hoping their can build off that momentum entering 2019-20.
It will help to have the majority of their scoring back, led by a pair of senior captains at forward in Jake Wentworth and Alan Tancreti.
Senior captain Donny Funaro is back to lead the defense, and Avena says North Haven also has a group of younger players ready to make contributions.
“This group is hungry to prove that last year was not the norm and that we will be a tough out in any given contest,” Avena said.
SOUTH WINDSOR (11-10-1)
Home Rink: South Windsor Arena
The Bobcats are another team that had their postseason dreams derailed by eventual champion Branford in the quarterfinal round last March.
With a strong senior cast graduated, coach Neil Rodman is looking to a younger group of players to step into bigger roles. Juniors Will Bonazelli, Sean O’Connor and Zach Jarvis will push the offense along with senior Mason Haley, and sophomore Case Mawhinney.
Defensively the Bobcats should be solid with seniors Ryan Feher, Dennis Haley, and junior Matt Polak back on the blue line.
Junior Timmy Fisher gets his chance to start in net this season.
Home Rink: The Rinks at Shelton
The Eagles reached the .500 mark during the regular season last year before falling to East Haven in the Division 2 qualifying round.
Coach Greg Maxey enters his 23rd season with a solid cast of returning players, led by senior Jack McLean at forward and Marco Minopoli on defense. A pair of juniors, Collin Mallozzi and Owen Finnegan, also are back at forward.
Senior Alex Tsymbalyuk returns in net, but he was expected to be challenged in preseason by junior Grayson Chopskie and sophomore Adam Guttman.
Home Rink: Mays Rink, Watertown
After being upset in the Division 2 quarterfinals a year ago, Watertown-Pomperaug and 16th-year coach Vic Vicenzi will have just eight returning players and 15 new faces as they try to replace 134 points from last year’s lineup.
Senior forwards Sean Dunfee and Jake Oldham lead the returning group and will serve as captains. Junior Ryan Magee and sophomore Matt Christina also return, Seniors Brandon Mercede and Mike DeReinzo also are back, and Ryan Furr returns to the ice for his senior season. Junior Ryan Robinson will add forward depth.
W-P will lean on three young defensemen in junior Tom Leonard, and sophomores Spencer Ances, Joe Meglio and Sam Swoyer. Freshmen Everett Greenwood and Nate LaMadeleine also are expected to play roles on the blue line.
Vicenzi also has to replace all-state goalie Ryan Fleming. Junior Owen Gallagher is a top candidate after backing up Fleming and getting some minutes last season, but he was battling in preseason with sophomore Carly Bokina and freshman Nick Bristol.
“There will be a lot of learning on the job and rookies will be jumping right into the mix,” Vicenzi said. “How fast we adjust and adapt will determine our success.”
Home Rink: Terry Conners Rink, Stamford
Co-coaches Doug Robinson and John Santagata are encouraged by the potential of the squad, particularly on the offensive end.
Senior forwards Gavin Dolan, Jason Marchese and Eddie Zelikman are back along with junior Tucker Healy. Defensively the Black Knights will look to seniors Tyler Tuccinardi and Aidan Rella, as well as juniors Eric Kelly and Ethan Skaug.
Senior forward Jay Bacco will be a key addition to the team after previously playing for Trinity Catholic.
“SHS/WHS should be able to put points on the board. We have a good mixture of upperclassmen and new players that have come together,” Robinson said. “Defensively we have everybody back and all have played high minutes in games. Our goaltending is strong with three returning goalies and an incoming player who will all compete for ice time.”
WETHERSFIELD-MIDDLETOWN-ROCKY HILL-PLAINVILLE (17-7-0)
Home Rink: Newington Ice Arena
Dennis Tulimieri enters his 34th season (tied for most active among Connecticut coaches) confident the Eagles will be competitive once again.
Wethersfield seniors Trevor Piecewicz (13-16-29) and Kevin Avery (1-3-4) will be captains on defense, and fellow Wethersfield classmate Chase Millen (2-5-7) also will be a captain at forward along with Rocky Hill senior forward Brent Clemens (5-5-10).
Wethersfield senior left wing Aaron Cholewa is the top returning scorer, while senior Jack Healy (Wethersfield, 8-7-15) and sophomore Brody Davidson (Plainville, 2-5-7) also return up front. Sophomore Owen Davidson (Plainville) is another solid defenseman.
WMRP also adds a trio of sophomore prospects in forwards Dylan Reynolds (Middletown), Evan Partridge (Wethersfield), and defenseman Shane Mazur (Wethersfield).
WOODSTOCK ACADEMY (12-7-2)
Home Rink: Jahn Rink, Pomfret
Woodstock had the misfortune of matching up with eventual Division 2 champion Branford in the first round last year. But second-year coach Kevin Bisson said the Centaurs still can build off what they accomplished last season.
Three senior defensemen graduated, so Bisson looks to have the returning players step up into bigger roles. Seniors Sonny Nielsen and Sean McCusker as well as sophomores Chris Thibault (played forward as a freshman) and Brendan Hill will be aiming to take their game to another level. The Centaurs also will be breaking in a new goalie, with senior Joshua Lavitt and junior Colin Liscomb battling for playing time.
Offensively Woodstock returns senior centers Doug Newton (16-13-29) and Austen Ledonne (9-5-14), and junior center/wing Guerin Favreau (8-7-15). Sophomore Kyle Brennan also is poised for a strong season, according to Bisson.