For three months, we’ve followed 55 teams’ battle to get to Ingalls Rink in mid-March. In a week, we’ll be down to 12. Who’ll be the three celebrating CIAC hockey titles at Yale?
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Overview: Darien has been the state’s most inconsistently consistent team in this year of parity. The Blue Wave shook some early struggles, battled through illness late in the year and has put together a season that made them the No. 1 team in the state for most of the second half.
They won’t be No. 1 to start the playoffs, though, after falling to New Canaan in the FCIAC final. That No. 1 team will be third-seeded Fairfield Prep, which Darien beat twice in the regular season, the second time in the last minute of regulation. Those are the Jesuits’ only in-state losses. Notre Dame-West Haven and Darien played two wildly different games in which the Green Knights were competitive awhile before the Wave finished them off. Ridgefield took Darien to overtime.
The top four seeds, as it turns out, are the top four teams in the GameTimeCT poll, albeit in a jumbled order. Notre Dame-West Haven is on top and has a first-round bye, though it has three losses to Fairfield Prep, two of them handily, one in a shootout in the SCC/SWC final.
Seeded upsets on the horizon?: This year has been a grind and a half for Hamden, but the Green Dragons’ visit to Notre Dame-Fairfield still feels like one of the closer first-round games. Ridgefield and Simsbury played a 1-0 game a couple of weeks ago, and that’s one that could turn around.
The final four: In a year full of parity… (sigh) No. 1 Notre Dame-West Haven, No. 4 Darien, No. 2 New Canaan, No. 3 Fairfield Prep.
Champion: The preseason pick was Fairfield Prep to win its third title in a row. We’ll stick with them, finally beating Darien in their third meeting. They’ll have to play a better game than they did in their first two meetings. But that’s pretty much the Jesuits’ M.O. in March.
Overview: Boy, Division II could be fun as usual. A lot of parity often produces a surprise or four at the end, and though the top seeds all look good, there’s goaltending throughout the division, some premier offensive players and a few rock-solid defensemen.
Top-seeded Branford, third-seeded Farmington Valley and fourth-seeded WMRP all come in off conference championships, Branford in the SCC/SWC and the other two in the CCC’s two divisions.
Hand moved up after a trip to the Division III semifinals last year and had another phenomenal season. But North Haven was right there with the Tigers and Hornets in late-season games. And North Haven has no first-round gimme itself, facing Trumbull.
Seeded upsets on the horizon?: Last year’s Division III champion, 11th-seeded LHK, has a solid squad again and could be competitive with Woodstock Academy, though the Centaurs beat LHK 4-0 back on Jan. 8. The 13th-seeded Eastern Connecticut Eagles beat WMRP 3-2 just a couple of weeks ago, though WMRP beat the Eagles handily early on.
The final four: No. 1 Branford, No. 5 Westhill/Stamford, No. 2 Hand, No. 3 Farmington Valley.
Champion: The preseason pick was Branford. The Hornets’ regular-season game against Hand might give you some pause on that, an entertaining tilt in which the Tigers dominated stretches; it came down to the last four seconds. We’ll wager on another one of those at Yale, Branford on top again.
Overview: There are some intriguing first-round matchups scattered through the bracket. New Milford and JBWA played a one-goal regular-season game, as did the Newington and Housatonic co-ops. Trinity Catholic has a tall order in top-seeded Sheehan as the Crusaders go into every game knowing it could be the last in school history.
Ninth-seeded Newtown has been hot down the stretch and has a goalie at the top of his game (Nighthawks shot counters gave Markus Paltauf 67 saves in the SCC/SWC semifinals against Sheehan), not that the Enfield co-op is a pushover; its losses and ties have all come against some good teams.
And McMahon/Norwalk and Milford will end one drought. Milford hasn’t won a playoff game since the 2014 Division II quarterfinals. That’s tied for the sixth-longest drought in the state. The longest? McMahon/Norwalk, which hasn’t won since the 2006 Division III quarterfinals. One of them has to win Monday night in South Norwalk.
Seeded upsets on the horizon?: Tri-Town, the 12th seed, meets SGWL for the fourth time since Feb. 22 in the first round; the Terrorcats won the first two before SGWL won the Nutmeg Hockey Conference championship game.
The final four: No. 1 Sheehan, No. 5 SGWL, No. 2 Newington, No. 3 Hall/Southington. (And, boy, in three divisions, these predictions are so chalky that they’re probably all wrong.)
Champion: The preseason pick was Sheehan. The Titans have put up at least four goals in all but three of their games, have been competitive with (and beaten) some Division II teams and have only one loss to a Division III team. That’s Hall/Southington, which has a solid chance as well, but we’ll stick with the Titans over the Newington co-op, another team that finds ways this time of year.