For New Fairfield/Immaculate coach Larry Vieira, hockey has been a huge part of his life since he started playing goalie for New Haven area youth hockey travel teams at age 6.
While he has enjoyed many exciting experiences over the years, one of the most rewarding has been the growth and development of the New Fairfield/Immaculate co-op team, which is currently 11-2.
“Since taking over the program, the coaching staff and I are thrilled with the progress we have made,” said Vieira, who is in his fourth season at New Fairfield/Immaculate. Vieira resides in Milford and has been a teacher at West Haven High for nearly 30 years. “Immaculate was a one-time Division II power winning their last state championship in 2007. The team we inherited fell on hard times and had just nine players left in the program coming off a 2-17-1 record.
“Since then we have gone 11-11, 15-6-3 and last season 14-9. This season we are obviously very excited with our overall record (4-1 league record in Southern Connecticut Conference-South-West Conference Division III).”
Immaculate and New Fairfield became a co-op team in the 2008-09 season.
Vieira has been especially proud that his hockey program has been attracting Immaculate and New Fairfield student athletes who want to excel in the classroom and enjoy their high school ice hockey experience “without going off to juniors (Junior Hockey).”
“One reason for the team’s success is the supportive administrations and parents group along with hard working and dedicated players,” Vieira said. “We have a solid group of student athletes who believe in a team-first concept. Couple that with playing many high quality Division II and III teams and you have a recipe for success.”
New Fairfield/Immaculate is a CIAC Division III team, but Vieira tries to schedule as many Division II teams as possible in the regular season to help his team improve.
Seven of his team’s 13 games this season have been against Division II teams. New Fairfield/Immaculate has gone 6-1 against those D-II teams with the loss a 4-1 setback against Division II power North Branford.
Defense has been a big part of the team’s success starting with a pair of goalies who have combined for six shutouts. Shane Conciatore, a 6-foot-1 junior goalie from Ridgefield, has four shutouts, a .941 save-percentage and has only allowed 15 goals. Chris Kennedy is another junior goalie from Ridgefield and has two shutouts and no goals allowed.
Vieira said Conciatore has played on high-level teams all is life. Last fall he was a member of the Southern Connecticut Midget team that went 21-5 and will be going to the Midget Nationals in April.
New Fairfield/Immaculate also has four solid defensemen with senior Kai Kindred, junior James Hayden, freshman Danny Manning and offensive-minded sophomore Matt Carlucci (six goals, nine assists). Offensively the team is led by forwards Christian Benzing (12 goals, six assists, senior), freshman Sam Mitchell (seven goals, six assists), sophomore Jameson Brown (seven goals, six assists), senior Anthony Berardo (five goals, one assist) and freshman Tim Manning (five goals).
“With continued success and with the CIAC’s blessing, we would like to move up to Division II next season with the ultimate goal being a Division I team someday,” Vieira said. “We understand we have to walk before we run, but we like the progress we have made. Before we think about next year we would like to make some noise in the SCC-SWC (D-III) and CIAC (D-III) tourneys this season.”
New Fairfield/Immaculate won the SCC-SWC Division III tournament championship game in 2014 (2-1 OT win over Newtown) and were runner-ups in 2015 (5-0 loss to Masuk).
“At this point in the season we must continue to improve each and every practice and game and let the chips fall where they may in March,” Vieira said. “We are truly excited about the direction the program is headed.”
Vieira spent 26 years as head coach at Branford where he led the Hornets to a CIAC Division II state title in 1988. He coached at Darien for two seasons (2009-2011) and began the 2011-2012 season with the Staples/Weston/Shelton co-op before moving on to join the staff at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York that same season.