Simsbury was one victory away from returning to the state championship game for the first time since winning back-to-back titles in 2014 and 15 when they ran into the New Canaan steamroller in the semifinals last March.
The Trojans hung tough with the Rams, who eventually scored a 3-1 victory and went on to beat Darien for the state title.
With a strong core of returning players, Simsbury is one of the top contenders for the state crown this winter.
And rather than let his team ease into the season, who did coach Paul Melanson schedule for opening night this year? None other than defending champion New Canaan.
“I could schedule a weaker team,” Melanson said. “But the reality is, I like to throw them right into the deep end. We’ve been doing this for a while and it helps because now I can see where we need to improve and who can compete on that level.”
Not only that, but the Trojans picked up a key early win, as they topped the Rams 3-2 on Dec. 10 at the Darien Ice House. Sofia Marcktell’s goal with 13:57 remaining was the game-winner in what was a thrilling opener. Mackenzie Chapman and Molly Walsh also scored for Simsbury, and Anna Kahl and Abigail Harris each had two assists.
The victory was a great launching pad for Simsbury, which is now 5-0, has outscored its opponents 28-4, and is second in the state’s point rankings. It’s five victories include a 3-0 record in the CCC.
The Trojans are no strangers to winning. They were 18-5-1 last year and captured the SCC North championship. They’re also the only team in the state to have beaten New Canaan, Darien and Greenwich since the start of last season.
They graduated just three seniors and have returned several top players, including All-State forward Grace Melanson and All-SCC North second team goalie Kaitlyn O’Brien.
Melanson and his Trojans aren’t ducking anyone, either. They’ll face Greenwich twice, first at the International Skating Center on Jan. 24 and then at Hamill Rink on Feb. 11; take on Darien at the Darien Ice House on Feb. 11, and host New Canaan on Feb. 17.
There are also a pair of CCC battles against the unbeaten Suffield co-op (6-0) on Jan. 20 and 25, as well as Simsbury’s annual showdowns with perennial contender East Catholic (2-1-1) on Jan. 8 and Feb. 12. Simsbury will also host SCC contender West Haven/SHA (5-0) on Feb. 15.
Building a tough schedule is all part of the plan.
“We love to compete against the elite teams in the state,” Melanson said. “Against teams like New Canaan and Darien, they don’t give you that time and space. The strength of those girls and the speed of those girls is great and that makes your team better, win or lose.”
Simsbury also has a not-so-secret weapon with its one-two punch of goalies O’Brien, a sophomore, and Tori LaCroix, a junior. Last season, they split the job before O’Brien took over as the starter late.
This season, they’re sharing the position again and that gives Melanson the ability to go with the hot hand, even switching in the middle of the game. Against New Canaan, LaCroix started and left with the score tied 2-2. O’Brien came in and stopped all 10 shots she faced while Marcktell’s goal put Simsbury ahead for good.
“I have two great goalies who, on any given day, one could outperform the other,” the coach said. “They’re two great goalies who I would trust in overtime against anybody. I put them in a position where they’re competing against each other and supporting each other to be better. They will keep us in most games.”
GREENWICH TAKES IT OUTSIDE
For high school ice hockey fans, the annual Winter Classic at the Greenwich Skating Club’s outdoor rink is a highlight of the early season.
For the Cardinals, it’s a place many of the players have called home since their youth league days, and it’s developed into a huge advantage for the hosts.
When the Greenwich girls topped New Canaan, 4-1, on Dec. 28, it marked the Cardinals’ third straight victory since the Winter Classic’s inception for the 2017-18 season. Greenwich won that first game, 6-1, over the Suffield co-op, before beating New Canaan last season 3-2.
New Canaan is 28-3-2 since the start of last season and two of its three losses have come in the Winter Classic.
The Greenwich boys ice hockey team has won two of three games in the Classic, facing Darien all three times. The Cards won 4-3 and 3-0 the past two years, before falling to the Blue Wave 5-3 this season.
Perhaps as important as the wins, it simply a great atmosphere for high school hockey.
“It’s a great game for the community and it’s nice to see the alums come out and support us,” Greenwich coach Alex Lerchen said. “I’m thankful for the Skating Club for having us and New Canaan for playing us. They played a great game as well.”
Greenwich, last year’s FCIAC runner-up after winning the league title the previous two seasons, is off to a tremendous start this year, winning six of its first seven games to move to the top of the state’s point rankings. The Cards’ next three games are all tough ones, as they’ll face New Canaan at 5 p.m., Thursday, at the Darien Ice House, host Darien (3-1) at Hamill Rink on Jan. 16, and then play West Haven/SHA (5-0) at Bennett Rink on Jan. 18.
Greenwich is captained by seniors Katie Piotrzkowski, Sydney Orszulak, Emma Wingrove and Jessie Marzullo.
Piortzkowski had one of the Cardinals’ four goals against New Canaan, with Tess Marciano scoring twice, Lexi Danielson netting one, and goalie Jessica Ware racking up 22 saves against one of the state’s top offenses.
It was another stellar performance at a site which is an old home for the Greenwich players.
After the Cardinals won last winter, then-senior Jennifer Kelly summed it up perfectly: “I started playing here when I was a Mini Mite. This rink is tremendous. If I could play all my games here, I would. There’s a lot of tradition for all of us that have played here and coming out here to play in this game – it doesn’t get much better than this.”
MILESTONE IN HAMDEN
Demeri Carangelo, a senior forward for the Hamden co-op, hit the century mark in scoring when she registered her 100th point in a 6-1 win over the Daniel Hand co-op at Lou Astorino Rink in Hamden on Dec. 23.
Hamden took the lead when Carangelo set up Tania Cruz for the game’s first goal early in the opening period. Carangelo then scored the next four goals, two to close out the first period, and two to open the second, putting the Green Dragons ahead 5-0.
Carangelo now has 105 points on 65 goals and 40 assists for her career.
As a junior last season, Carangelo collected 29 goals and eight assists for 37 points while earning All-State and All-SCC South first team honors.