The six-team Central Connecticut Conference North Division will feature a pair of Division 1 squads — Northwest Catholic and Simsbury — that should be among the favorites. The other four teams are from Division 2, including defending champion Farmington Valley.
The teams will play each other twice during the regular season, and are allowed a pair of nonconference games.
EAST CATHOLIC (9-10-1)
The Eagles will be a tough team to crack in their own end of the ice with three of their top four defensemen returning, as well as a senior goalie entering his third year as the starter.
Start between the pipes with Ethan Utermarck, a returning CCC North All-Star who posted a 2.44 GAA and .924 save percentage a season ago. Utermarck will be protected by the blue line cast of seniors Nate Segar (4-9-13) and Mick O’Connor (3-7-10), along with sophomore Colin Turer (1-5-6).
Offensively, after losing top scorer Rowan Masse to prep school, look for the Eagles to be sparked by seniors Kevin Hartnett (14-9-23) and Nathaneal DiSalvatore (2-5-7), and juniors Cole Usseglio (7-1-8) and A.J. Bushnell (4-3-7). Juniors Kevin Kolodziejczyk and Kael Bailey are newcomers who will add depth up front.
Coach Joey Trenholm said his Eagles “have the ability to score, but time will tell.”
FARMINGTON VALLEY (16-3-1)
The Generals were poised to make a deep run a season ago, earning the No. 3 seed in the Division 2 bracket and winning a first-round game. But much of the top-end talent off that squad was lost to either graduation or prep school.
However, co-coaches Mike Barone and Scott Percival still have plenty of returning talent, beginning with senior forwards Mackie Stambaugh and Scott Groleau, as well as junior forward Tyler Stoneman.
The defense should be solid for the Generals with seniors Matt Rapini (an all-CCC North selection last season), Drew Abbott and Jack Calcavecchia all back, along with the goaltending tandem of juniors Danny Pauling and Jacob Markovitz.
The team has a new mascot — having changed to the Guardians during the offseason — but coach Ken Barse enters the season with some uncertainty after losing some major talent to graduation or injury off the team that earned a Division 2 first-round win over East Catholic last March.
Senior Keane Smith will be tasked with carrying the mantle offensively for the Guardians along with fellow senior Capers Shaw and juniors Alex Rodriguez and Zach Caporale.
The key will be in the defensive end with juniors Aidan Adams, Nick Huempfner and Kayden Hinchey, particularly with expected senior starting goalie Kevin Giesnow out for the season with injury. With that, the goaltending job falls to senior Erik Hendrikson.
NORTHWEST CATHOLIC (7-12-1)
As one of two Division 1 squads in the league, the Lions should figure into the league race and coach Dan Melanson is optimistic about their chances.
Senior Connor Melanson (CCC North All-Star, 14-5-19) and junior Bobby Lachance (3-10-13) are the top returning forwards for Northwest, and junior Cam Barone (2-13-15) will provide solid two-way play from the blue line. Helping out Barone in the defensive end will be junior Jack McDermott (7-5-12). Senior Griffin Macary would be another key member of the defensive corps but according to reports is currently out after a pre-season injury.
Sophomore forward Cory Alissi and a trio of freshmen — forward Cullen Horn, and defensemen Fin Boyd and J.J. Hurley — will be newcomers to watch for the Lions.
“We have a good group of younger players joining the team, along with some players who were on the team last year that will stand out,” Melanson said. “Between the skill and dedication the team possesses this year, we should win.”
The league’s other Division 1 squad will be going through a transition, having graduated 85 percent of its scoring from a season ago. However, Chris Day is welcoming the challenge entering his fifth season as coach, despite having what he calls “possibly the youngest [Trojans team] in decades.”
Day will be looking for his defense to push the play, led by three-year starter Griffin Marquis — who brings scoring touch as well as quiet leadership, according to the coach. Eliza Livingston and Jonathan Hoang add to the toughness and skill component on the blue line. In net, Day believes junior Justin Loveland “might be the key to the Trojans this year.” Loveland posted a 5-1 record and 1.74 GAA in seven games as a sophomore.
Seniors Aaron Livingston (Eliza’s twin), Ryan McCormick and Alex Pearlman (who battled injuries last season) lead the forward group, which will be bolstered by freshmen Jack Becconsall, Aidan Driscoll, Tom Humphreys and Dan Toothaker, as well as Northwest Catholic transfer Quinn Heagney.
The Trojans also add senior transfer Connor Wilhelm (Housatonic) to the defense, along with sophomores Drew Anastasio and Reid Bulger, and goalie Brendan Lynch.
“With the newcomers comes a vast increase in hockey sense and desire to play and learn,” said Day, adding about the overall team outlook that, “These guys are here to play, and it’s palpable on the ice. Can’t wait to see what they can do in our opener [Feb. 8 vs. South Windsor].”
SOUTH WINDSOR (7-13-0)
The Bobcats enter the season with one of the top returning players in the CCC North in senior forward Sean O’Connor, a returning conference all-star.
Offensively, coach Neil Rodman also will look to senior Will Bonazelli and junior Chase Mawhinney, as well as a pair of newcomers in junior Matt Venzi and freshman Logan Sherwood.
Senior Matt Pollack and junior Kyle Dunn return to lead the blue line in front of senior Timothy Fisher, who saw the bulk of the action in goal for the Bobcats last season.