The newly formed Southern Connecticut Conference/South-West Conference Hockey League was represented by eight of the 12 teams which reached the Division I, II and III state semifinals.
And it also boasted all three state champions.
Fairfield Prep won another D-I title, completing a successful postseason run with a 2-1 overtime win over Darien in the championship game on Saturday. Hand was the D-II champ and Newtown took the D-III crown.
One reason for the SCC-SWC’s across-the-board dominance this season was the strength of schedule, which is always key in helping players develop. The limited interleague schedule also allowed coaches to schedule games against strong teams outside of the conference, and from other states.
“The SCC-SWC hockey partnership has been positive and, in my opinion, has strengthened teams from both leagues,” said New Fairfield/Immaculate coach Larry Vieira of Milford. “Combining the two leagues allows everyone to play against the best teams in the area. The players also have an opportunity to raise their level of play further with the opportunity to play in one or two more games in the league’s tournaments. That helps prepare you even more for the CIAC tournament.”
Newtown lost to New Fairfield/Immaculate in the SCC-SWC D-III championship game and went on to win the state title. Amity lost to Branford in the SCC-SWC D-II championship and advanced to the state final, where it lost 5-4 to SCC-SWC rival Hand.
Prep didn’t even qualify for the two-team SCC-SWC D-I tournament.
“The partnership with the SWC was successful because it created a balanced league,” SCC commissioner AL Carbone said. “In all three divisions there was great competition in the regular season and league postseason tournaments, which only helped all of the teams in the state tournament. I wasn’t surprised by the success in the state tournament because SCC teams have historically been very successful in state tournament play. The SCC has had at least one state champion in 11 consecutive seasons. But the SWC schools definitely added to our success this year.“
Carbone saw many positives in the first year of the SCC-SWC partnership.
“Now that the season is over, we will get input from coaches and athletic directors on how to improve,” Carbone said. “Overall, I was very pleased with the cooperation of the coaches and administrators. I was extremely impressed with the level of play and sportsmanship from the players. This partnership created excitement and interest in high school hockey and that’s always a good thing.”
Neagle Impressed With CIAC Tournament
CIAC Ice Hockey Committee chairman Tom Neagle has been involved with many CIAC tournaments over the years, and this season’s event made an impression on the voice of CIAC hockey.
“This was, in my opinion, the most exciting tournament in recent memory, especially the finals,” Neagle said. “We had two sold-out crowds at Ingalls Rink (D-I and D-II) and the third was played before a huge crowd. All three finals were excting with two overtime games and the comeback, two comebacks really, by Amity before losing late in the game to Hand.
“The fact that it was (Hand coach) Ken Mitchell’s first year coaching makes that victory very special for him. The fact that Amity lost a heartbreaker when their players and coaches wanted to win one for (head coach) Gary Lindgren (battling cancer) adds an emotional note to my memory of the D-II final. The fans at the Division III final must be happy they made the drive to Ingalls Rink early Saturday morning to see an incredibly exciting overtime game.”
Another part of the weekend that sticks out to Neagle was the performance by Darien goaltender Michael Colon (37 saves on 39 shots) in a 2-1 OT loss to Prep.
“Looking back on the past season, I am especially happy with the huge decrease in the number of majors (penalties) assessed,” Neagle said. “In an era when we are continuing to emphasize safety through the application of our rules, we had only 55 majors called compared to last year’s 83. I attribute this to the great job our NIHOA officals have done explaining the rules to our coaches and the equally great job they have done in preparing their teams to play the game within those rules.”