WEST HAVEN — West Haven boys hockey coach Joe Morrell, entering his 20th season with the Blue Devils, has a history of being able to accomplish a lot with a little.
Last season turned out to be one of Morrell’s most satisfying seasons.
Last year, with a team that only had 10 forwards and six defensemen, the Blue Devils finished the regular season 14-6. In the postseason, the Blue Devils had the deepest run of any Southern Connecticut Conference team in the CIAC Division I tournament.
The Blue Devils advanced to the semifinals where they lost 5-1 to eventual champion Ridgefield. They capped their impressive run ranked No. 5 in the final Register Top 10 poll.
This year the goal is to go one step further and get to the Division I championship game. The Blue Devils kick off their season on Wednesday against Greenwich at Bennett Rink at 6:30 p.m.
“Last season, we got going early and a lot of kids stepped up when the season started,” Morrell said. “We won close games early on and it snowballed. With the few players we had on the team, the big key for us was avoiding the injury bug.
“We felt confident in the postseason. Getting the first win in the Division I tournament against Fairfield Warde/Ludlowe (5-2 win) in the first round was huge. It gave us some momentum. We matched up well with Xavier in the quarterfinals and Brendan (goalie Brendan Serenson) had a good game (32 saves) in our win (4-1 victory).”
This season, there are only nine forwards and five defensemen on the team. Some of the big losses to graduation include Register All-Area players Serenson, forward Peter Richetelli (the team’s leading scorer last season with 22 goals and 28 assists) and defenseman Alex Lynch. Another top scorer, Max Lynch, also graduated.
“We lost a lot of key players from last season and it’s going to take some work to get where we need to be for us to be competitive in the postseason,” Morrell said. “Last year our forwards did a great job in the defensive zone, but we need to take it a step further this season. Our forwards are going to need to help more than ever in the defensive zone.”
Among the top players for the Blue Devils this season are their three captains — goalie Logan Cole and forwards E.J. Pacapelli and Collin Braziel. Other experienced players include sophomore forward Kevin Moriarty (15 goals, seven assists last season), junior forward Nico Kyle (six goals, eight assists) and sophomore defenseman Robby Forleo. Among the newcomers expected to make an impact are freshmen Ryan Smith, a defenseman, and forwards Mike Kelly and Nick Boanno.
“There is some pressure on the experienced players to perform well, but there really is pressure on the whole team,” said Cole, who alternated starts in goal with Serenson last season. Cole went 7-2 with a 1.70 goals-against average and three shutouts. “Last year’s experience in the Division I tournament was a huge benefit for us. The key for us is we can get the puck out of our zone, our breakout is very strong.”
Although some of the Blue Devils’ top scorers graduated, Pacapelli is confident scoring won’t be a problem this season.
“We have a lot of guys who can put the puck in the net,” Pacapelli said. “Those of us here now learned a lot by watching our top scorers from last season, guys like Pete Richetelli. We need to keep improving our passing and need to develop the chemistry we had last season. We need to make the best use of the talent we have and take advantage of the skills and strengths we have on our team.”
Braziel believes the intangibles will play a big part in the Blue Devils’ success this season.
“Last year’s team paved the way for us, it showed us what you can do when you really work hard to succeed,” Braziel said. “Every kid on our team has heart, everyone knows their role and we have a lot more desire this season, the desire to get to the Division I championship game.”