5 STORYLINES TO WATCH
NEW CANAAN-DARIEN DOMINANCE
The two FCIAC rivals have accounted for 11 state championships in the 14 years since the Connecticut High School Girls Hockey Coaches Association began holding the tournament. That includes the last four years, with Darien winning from 2016-18 and New Canaan winning last year. Both the Rams and Wave reached last year’s state final with young rosters and are again among the favorites for the title this winter. New Canaan is the all-time leader with seven state titles, followed by Darien with four, Simsbury with two, and the East Catholic co-op and Hall/Conard with one each. Among those titles is one co-championship shared by Simsbury and East Catholic in 2015.
The Trojans went 18-5-1 last year and captured the SCC North Division title with a 2-0 shutout of the East Catholic co-op in the final. They shut out Darien, 2-0, for one of the Wave’s three losses last winter, and were tough in three meetings with state champion New Canaan, losing twice 3-1 and tying the Rams 1-1 at the International Skating Center. Simsbury was a young squad with just three seniors last year and with returning players such as All-State forward Grace Melanson and All-SCC North second team goalie Kaitlyn O’Brien, the Trojans could be the team that breaks the FCIAC’s hold on the state crown.
It’s become a terrific December tradition as the Greenwich girls and boys ice hockey programs take it outside for the third annual Winter Classic at the Greenwich Skating Club on Saturday, Dec. 28. New Canaan will face Greenwich in the girls game at noon, with Darien taking on the Cardinals in the boys game at 4 p.m. The Skating Club is where many of the Cardinal players got their start in the youth leagues, and they’ve shown a great deal of pride while defending their home ice. Besides being a great scene for high school hockey, the games have worked out well for the Cards, who are a perfect 4-0 in the first two years of the Winter Classic. The girls team defeated Amity/North Haven/Cheshire, 6-1, in 2017, and handed New Canaan its only loss of the season, 3-2, last winter. The boys faced off against Darien twice and won 4-3 and 3-0.
TWO BECOMES THREE
The Central Connecticut Conference enters the fray, putting the CCC name on what was the SCC North Division. The six-team league includes state semifinalist and SCC North champion Simsbury, along with East Catholic/Glastonbury/South Windsor, Conard/Hall, Mercy/Northwest Catholic, SuffieldCanton/Enfield/Granby/Ellington/Windsor/Northwestern, and Avon/Southington/RHAM/Newington/Wethersfield/Lewis Mills. Both the SCC and the FCIAC feature eight teams.
While the number of teams in the CHSGHA has remained steady at 22, the number of schools represented has never been higher thanks to the many co-op squads competing. In all, 17 of the teams are co-ops with players representing 64 schools throughout the state. The largest co-op is in the CCC, with seven schools on the Suffield/Cantron/Enfield/Granby Memorial/Ellington/Windsor/Northwestern team. The conference also has a six-school team with Avon/Southington/RHAM/Newington/Wethersfield/Lewis Mills. Just five schools are exclusive, including the two oldest public high school programs: New Canaan and Greenwich. Darien, Simsbury and Guilford are the other three.
10 GAMES TO WATCH
Ridgefield/Danbury vs. Fairfield co-op at Wonderland of Ice, 8 p.m., Fri., Dec. 20: The two teams finished with the same regular-season record last winter, but Fairfield earned the final seed in the FCIAC tournament via tiebreaker. This game could be the key to determining a playoff berth.
New Canaan vs. Greenwich at Greenwich Skating Club, Noon, Sat., Dec. 28: The two FCIAC contenders head outdoors for Greenwich’s annual Winter Classic at the Skating Club. The host Cardinals won this game, 3-2, last year, handing the Rams their only loss of the season.
Darien vs. New Canaan at Darien Ice House, 7:30 p.m., Sat., Jan. 4: The rivals have squared off in each of the last two state finals, with Darien winning in 2018 and New Canaan claiming the title last year. This is the first of two regular-season meetings between the two powers.
Simsbury vs. Conard/Hall at Veteran’s Memorial Ice Rink, 7:40 p.m., Mon., Jan. 6: A rematch of last year’s SCC North championship game, won by Simsbury, 2-0. They now continue their rivalry under the CCC umbrella, with Conard/Hall looking to get revenge.
Amity/North Haven/Cheshire vs. Hamden/Wilbur Cross/Sheehan/Lyman Hall at Astorino Rink, 4 p.m., Sat., Jan. 11: These two SCC opponents went to overtime twice last winter, resulting in a 5-4 Hamden win and a 3-3 tie. The Amity co-op then topped Hamden 5-3 in the SCC South semis.
Darien vs. Greenwich at Hamill Rink, 8 p.m., Thurs., Jan. 16: These teams met four times last winter and although Darien won three times, the one loss was dramatic, as Greenwich rallied from a two-goal, third-period deficit and won in overtime 4-3 in the FCIAC semis. They’ve already meant once this season with Darien winning the opener 2-0. Greenwich has a chance to get even on its home ice.
East Catholic/Glastonbury/South Windsor vs. West Haven/SHA at Bennett Rink, 3 p.m., Sat. Feb. 1: This match-up was a barn-burner in the state tournament, as the10th-seeded East Catholic co-op took No. 2 West Haven/SHA to overtime before falling, 2-1, in the quarterfinals.
West Haven/SHA vs. Amity/North Haven/Cheshire at Astorino Rink, Hamden, 8 p.m., Sat., Feb. 8: West Haven/SHA had its best season, going 19-4 overall, but lost to the Amity co-op, 4-3, in the SCC South title game. That was after handling Amity twice during the regular season, 9-2 and 5-1. The two teams will clash twice in a 10-day span late in the season, as West Haven hosts the second meeting at Bennett Rink on Feb. 18.
LaSalle Academy (RI) vs. New Canaan at Darien Ice House, 4:20 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 15: The defending Rhode Island state champion visits the defending Connecticut state champion in a late-season clash. It’s a perfect tune-up for the playoffs, as the Rams finish the regular season with a difficult stretch of games.
New Canaan vs. Simsbury at International Skating Center, 1 p.m., Mon., Feb. 17: The Rams and Trojans have developed a great rivalry. Last year they met three times with one tie and two New Canaan wins, including a 3-1 decision in the state semis. Simsbury got a measure of revenge by beating the Rams 3-2 in this year’s opener.
CCC (previously SCC North)
2018-19 SCC North Champion: Simsbury
Favorites: Simsbury, East Catholic co-op, Conard/Hall
Players to Watch: Grace Melanson, Simsbury; Julia Swanson, East Catholic co-op; Kaitlyn O’Brien, Simsbury; Kori Bartko, Avon co-op
Outlook: Simsbury, which defeated both East Catholic and Conard/Hall by 2-0 scores in the SCC north tournament, is the clear-cut favorite in the CCC. The Trojans have 15 returning varsity players, including All-Stater Grace Melanson, and two top goalies in Tori LaCroix and Kaitlyn O’Brien. The most likely challengers for the crown are last year’s runner-up East Catholic, along with the Suffield co-op.
2018-19 Champion: New Canaan
Favorites: New Canaan, Darien, Greenwich.
Players to watch: Blythe Novick, New Canaan; Kaleigh Harden, New Canaan; Catherine Martin, Darien; Jess Piotrzkowski, Greenwich; Sidney Falterer, Fairfield.
Outlook: New Canaan ended Greenwich’s two-year reign as conference champion last year, and the Rams are again loaded, despite losing a few key players, including All-State defenseman Jess Eccleston. Darien, which has reached the state final in four straight seasons, is also chock full of experience and will push the Rams for that top spot. Greenwich, which features a pair of star defensemen in Jess Piotrzkowski and Sydney Orszulak, has a small roster, but has proven it has the talent to contend every season.
2018-19 SCC South Champion: Amity/North Haven/Cheshire.
Favorites: West Haven/SHA, Hamden, Amity co-op.
Players to watch: Taylor Nowak, West Haven/SHA; Demeri Carangelo, Hamden; Tess Csjeka, Amity/North Haven/Cheshire.
Outlook: The West Haven/Sacred Heart Academy co-op had its best season ever last winter, but couldn’t get past the Amity co-op in the SCC South final. West Haven will make another bid for the title this season, with All-State forward Taylor Nowak, a senior, leading the way. Hamden, which features All-State forward Demeri Carangelo, a senior, and the Amity co-op will be the top challengers.