Connecticut HS Boys Hockey – Nutmeg Conference Preview: League Back In the Picture

Jim Clark
Jim Clark joined Hockey Night in Boston in December 2019, and has covered high school hockey in Massachusetts for more than three decades. He also covers high school hockey and is a multiplatform editor for the Boston Globe, and previously spent two decades as high school hockey reporter at the Boston Herald, where he also served as the high schools editor from 2000-06. Clark was honored by the Mass. State Hockey Coaches Association with its William Stewart Award for contributions to the sport in May 2019, and also received the Joel Perlmutter Award for media coverage in 2006. A graduate of UMass, he also spent eight years as sports editor/reporter at the Sentinel & Enterprise in Fitchburg, and has extensively covered high school hockey in Central and Western Mass. as well as Connecticut.

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Among the many disruptions in the COVID-abbreviated 2021 hockey season in Connecticut was the temporary loss of the Nutmeg Conference. The key word being “temporary” as Eastern Connecticut returns to the ice, SGWL and Tri-Town are back after a brief stay in the CCC, and Housatonic and Woodstock Academy now have a home again after being forced to compete as independents last winter. 

EASTERN CONNECTICUT (no 2021 season)

Coach: Randy Craig

The Eagles return to the ice this season after not playing a year ago. The co-op program, led by host Fitch, once again will include Bacon Academy, East Lyme, Norwich FA, St. Bernard, Stonington, Waterford, Wheeler.

“After not having a varsity season last year due to COVID concerns of the co-op schools, the key will be to jell quickly and have a good start,” Craig said.

Anthony Gesino Eastern CT Eagles

Nonetheless, the Eagles have a good core with varsity experience, particularly at forward. Senior center Cade Waters and Kevin Yang are the anchors down the middle, with senior right wing Dylan Relaz. Junior Gavin Casagrande is another center with sophomore Colin Bunkley, who also can play defense. Sophomores Wyatt Verbridge (LW) and Drew Sager (RW) are other forwards to watch.

The defense will be solid with seniors Anthony Gesino, Nick Pisani and Joe Cafro, and junior Josh Bertelli.

 “With two untested goalies at the varsity level, solid defense led by Gesino and Bertelli early in the year will be important,” Craig said, “as well as timely scoring from a solid group of forwards led by Waters Relaz and Yang.”

Juniors Cam McCollum and Nate Pratt are the goaltending candidates, and junior Dylan Makuchowski is a newcomer to watch on defense.

HOUSATONIC (0-5-0)

Coach: Dean Diamond

The Mountaineers are back to playing on their home ice at the South Kent School this season as they try to get back into a more normal hockey routine.

Seniors Zim McAuliffe (11-11-22) and Sammy Hoyt should be the offensive leaders again, and will be joined on the top line by newcomer sophomore Cole Mollica. Diamond believes that trio is as good as any line in Division 3, Housatonic’s nine-senior class also will include veterans Steven Lavigne, Simon Savoye and Landon Good.

Defensively Diamond expects seniors Elijah Thomson and transfer Liam Gawel to be the top pair. They will help ease the transition for freshman goalie David Layer, whom Diamond says has a lot of potential but will be tested early. 

Also returning are junior Tyler Kolbusz and sophomore Ben Crone.

The co-op program continues to include players from Housatonic, Wamogo, Torrington and Wolcott.

Jordan Blais
Suffield/Granby/
Windsor Locks

SUFFIELD/GRANBY/WINDSOR LOCKS (5-5-1)

Coach: Jake King

With only 17 skaters and one goalie, King says the overall SGWL group is smaller than any he has had. However, King says most have been playing together for years, and there is talent in the numbers.

Senior Jordan Blais (11-3-14) will be “a handful night in and night out,” according to King, and leads the forward group with seniors Dylan Gazdik and Ryan Martineau. Junior Elliot Demers and sophomore Austin Renggli are other forwards to watch.

A key for the Wildcats will be the defense with seniors Sam Banever, Colby Esposito and Keegan Newcomb, and solid sophomore Ben Wosko. They will be crucial in supporting sophomore goalie Hunter Bascove, who replaces three-year starter Cam Begley. King said a gritty style of play will be crucial for SGWL.

“If we are able to get in shape to handle the 20-game season, and if the new guys jell, we should be able to have some success,” King said.

TRI-TOWN (4-5-0)

Coach: Kyle Fijalkowski

The TerrorCats – a co-op of host Ellington plus East Windsor and Somers – enter the season in great shape in the most important position on the ice. Senior Reave Stafford is back in goal as the backbone of the team, and Fijalkowski calls him “in my opinion … one of the best in the state.”

While Stafford does his thing at one end, Tri-Town has a host of veterans with scoring punch in senior wings Vinnie Rumore and Gavin Rauza, senior center Laz Vasiliadis, junior center Kyle Provencher, and junior wing Brendan Birmingham.

The defense is a bit younger, with juniors Mike Croyle and Jack Neves back along with sophomore Jake Hurlburt. Junior Alex Douglass will be Stafford’s backup.

“We will need some guys to step up in the back end to be very successful this year, but look to have a really talented team ready to make a playoff push,” Fijalkowski said.

Among the newcomers to watch are sophomore forward Robbie Martin, freshman forwards Bret Cato and Jacob Wojcik, and freshman defenseman Nathan Rawlinitis.

WOODSTOCK ACADEMY (3-2-0)

Coach: Kevin Bisson

A new era begins for the Centaurs without standout Guerin Favreau, who was one of the best pure scorers in the state the past few seasons.

Bisson believes sophomore Noah Sampson could be poised to step into a key role at forward after a successful freshman season. He also has high hopes for juniors Max Larkin and Jeter Darigan in a full season, with senior Kyle Brennan and sophomore Donny Sousa among the other top forwards.

Defensively Woodstock will look to seniors Chris Thibault and Brendan Hill, as well as junior Jacob Jurnovoy, in front of junior goalie Kaiden Kaddy.

Freshman Dante Sousa will back up Kaddy, and is among the key newcomers for the Centaurs along with senior defenseman Shawn Wallace and sophomore forward Ryan Wallace.

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