The Central Connecticut Conference’s South Division underwent expansion for 2021 — some permanent, and some just a temporary home during the pandemic. Nonetheless, it will be the Nutmeg State’s largest league this season, with its 10 teams making up nearly 20 percent of all boys programs that will take the ice.
The old WMRP co-op has split up — Wethersfield is flying solo, with Rocky Hill now the host of the new co-op. Meanwhile, with the Nutmeg Conference taking a year off from the ice, SGWL and Tri-Town will compete in the CCC South this season.
Jason Olson takes over as coach of the Chieftains this season after stepping into the interim role midway through the 2019-20 campaign.
Olson should have a veteran group with as many as 17 players returning from last year’s team, which missed qualifying for the Division 2 tournament. Among them are seniors Colum Flaherty, Owen McGoldrick and Aidan Shaffer, and junior Brian Fehl at forward. Senior Jacob Caron leads the defense, with junior Graydon Selstad projected to be the starter in goal.
E.O. SMITH/TOLLAND (6-14-1)
Entering his 15th season, coach John Hodgson expects defense will be the strength for the Bucks. Senior Ethan Homiski, a 6-foot-4 stay-at-home player, will be the anchor on the blue line. Another 6-foot-4 defenseman, junior Zack Stolenberg, joins the team, and Hodgson will be looking for junior Conor O’Brien to take on a significant role in his third season. Junior Pat Brennan also rounds out the top four.
Offensively the Bucks return senior center Bryan Roy (27-6-33) — a CCC South All-Conference pick in 2019-20 — and junior right wing Cam Sterling (4-4-8) could step into a bigger role. Hodgson will be looking for complementary scoring from the likes of seniors Sam Walikonis and Seth Hood, as well as junior Quentin Wry.
Junior Dan Polgun becomes the starter in goal after the graduation of a pair of seniors.
The Bucks will be playing out of South Windsor Arena this season with their normal home ice — Freitas Arena on the campus of UConn — closed to the public.
“Practice times are a little more limited, and it is a bit of a drive, but no problem given the circumstances,” Hodgson said. “The kids are just happy to be able to play for their schools, and we’re hoping to give our seniors a memorable experience.”
Coach Frank Genovese expects the Eagles, still a co-op of host school Enfield along with East Granby and Stafford, to be a strong defensive unit this season.
Senior Tyler Provencher (8-8-16) leads the proven blue line corps along with seniors Dan Brennan (1-5-6) and James Tyler (0-1-1), and junior Kyle Cox (1-2-3).
The Eagles will be a bit thinner at forward, where senior Ryan Hudson, juniors Declan Higgins (4-9-13) and Logan Santy (6-3-9) return along with sophomore Logan Hamilton (2-3-5). Sophomore Luke Arsenault will add depth to the forward lines this season.
The focal point for the Warrior Knights should be pretty clear entering the season, with senior forward Duncan Hollander back to lead the way. An all-CCC South selection a year ago, Hollander (18-23-41) once again will spark the offense along with senior Sean Roach (11-11-22). Seniors Jake Beaudoin, Colby Fortuna and James Lynch also add to the experienced group up front for coach Brian Cannon.
Defensively, Hall/Southington should be just as solid, starting between the pipes with senior Noah Behrens-Gould. He will be protected by a group that includes senior Tom Nardi and juniors Cody Brew, Mike Fusciello, Raf Fichlander and Ethan Stagg.
Many coaches are pegging the Indians as a team to watch in the CCC South, mainly because of the return of Andrew Fogarty between the pipes. The senior had a 0.88 goals against average and .948 save percentage a season ago while earning CCC South All-Conference honors for coach David Harackiewicz, who enters his 28th season.
But there is plenty of talent and depth across the lineup, with a solid forward group of seniors Sam Hedlund (center, 9-15-24), Sam Davies (wing, 8-7-15), Kilian Ranger (wing, 6-9-15) and Joe Petronio (center, 4-8-12), as well as sophomore wing Harrison Ranger (6-5-11). Look for sophomores Josh Grimm, Evan Oliver and Mike Deegan to also play key roles.
Fogarty will be ably supported by the blue line trio of juniors Braeden Humphrey (4-9-13), Blake Blackwood (1-3-4) and Niko Giotsas (2-2-4). Sophomore Evan Howard is a newcomer on the blue line.
The Shamrocks — made up of players from host Rockville as well as Bolton, Coventry, Rham, East Hartford and Windham Tech — will be looking to make strides this season after graduating seven letterwinners off last year’s squad.
Coach Galen Byram expects goaltending will be the strength of the team. Zach Holm has patiently waiting for two seasons and now steps into the starting role as a senior. “He’s very good and ready for his turn,” Byram said.
Senior Eric Slater is the top returning player on defense, and Byram has been impressed with his leadership qualities and work ethic. Byram also hopes senior forward Noah Fleming is poised for a breakout season, and senior Kiyan Pormaleki is a strong two-way player who could provide more offense this season.
ROCKY HILL (18-3-0 last season as WMRP)
David Dubos is the new coach of the former WMRP co-op, which broke up last offseason with Wethersfield becoming its own program. Rocky Hill now will serve as the host of the team, which still will include players from Middletown and Plainville and now will take on the Terriers as a mascot. Haddam-Killingworth, which previously was part of the Lyman Hall co-op, comes aboard the Rocky Hill side this season.
Trevor Schad was the backbone of WMRP’s run a season ago and returns for his senior season in net. Juniors Owen Davidson and Connor Konopka are the most experienced blueliners back for the Terriers.
Seniors Dante Caminito, Josh Fontaine and Noah Swanson, as well as juniors Brody Davidson and Sean Sides, were contributing forwards for WMRP last season. George DiNapoli of H-K, who skated with Lyman Hall, is another key addition to the new co-op.
SUFFIELD/GRANBY/WINDSOR LOCKS (12-10-0)
Last year’s Nutmeg Conference champion will be in new territory this season under third-year coach Jake King. The Wildcats lost a pair of all-state forwards — Remington Ferrari and Tyler Gadzik — as well as an all-conference defenseman (Aiden Grabowski), so King will be looking for other players to be stepping into bigger roles.
Among them is third-year starter Cam Begley in goal. Senior Mark McWhirter and junior Sam Banever return on the blue line, while senior Ryan Stone is converting from defense to forward.
Seniors Mason Ferrari (10-10-20) and Tyler Mackowski (10-9-19) are the top returning forwards for the Wildcats, who welcome sophomore Elliot Demers among the newcomers. King expects the team will need to develop a more blue-collar style to have success this season.
Tri-Town joins SGWL as Nutmeg Conference teams playing in the CCC this season. So there will be a level of uncertainty for coach Kyle Fijalkowski, particularly after losing 80 percent of the team’s offensive production from last season to graduation.
Looking for new players to move into key roles, Fijalkowski believes this year’s Terrorcats group has a lot of talent minus the game experience. Seniors Ben Wolf, Caden Gesualdi and Tyler Millen will lead the way at forward, with seniors Collin Hall and Josh Roy on defense. Junior Reave Stafford returns in goal.
Freshman Jake Hurlbut will be a newcomer to watch for Tri-Town — which draws players from East Windsor, Ellington and Somers.
“I think our chemistry will help us get on track earlier than it did last year, but we need to continue to work hard to get back to that level,” Fijalkowski said. “We’ll be good once again in our team defense and rely on a stellar goaltender [Stafford] to keep us in any game.”
WETHERSFIELD (18-3 last season as WMRP)
It’s a new era for longtime coach Dennis Tulimieri, who will be coaching an all-Wethersfield team of players after the school broke away from the previous WMRP co-op program after the 2019-20 season.
Coming off a 2020 CCC South championship as the co-op team, the Eagles are fortunate to have plenty of returning talent led by dynamic scoring left wing Aaron Cholewa (35-17-52). Cholewa was a CCC South All-Star last season along with returning right wing Chase Millen (10-17-27). Centers Will McCarter (6-5-11) and Colby Quinn (3-3-6) will add depth, along with newcomers Michael Schneider, Jay Socha and Anthony Ruck.
Defensively the Eagles will look to returnees Kevin Avery (1-6-7) and Spencer Bartone (3-3-6). T.J. Mayfield and Ben Caufield ae newcomers to watch. Freshman Matthew Ruck is poised to start in goal.
“We will be competitive at the forward position and on our first-line defense,” said Tulimieri, noting the new players that will need to work into the team’s defensive systems and overall play.