As the inaugural Southern Connecticut Conference/South-West Conference boys hockey league season enters its second half, coaches and administrators couldn’t be happier.
The new partnership is the brainchild of SCC commissioner Al Carbone, whose intent was to make the already strong, competitive SCC even more exciting by adding teams from a league that also has a history of success in boys hockey.
“The SCC-SWC partnership has certainly met my expectations,” Carbone said. “Based on the results of the league games so far, the three divisions look to be pretty balanced, which means there are a number of teams still in the hunt for league playoff spots.
“The feedback I’ve received so far from coaches and athletic directors has been positive and hopefully the student-athletes are enjoying the new league and rivalries.”
Larry Vieira has enjoyed both worlds — he is a former longtime Branford coach who is now in charge of the Immaculate/New Fairfield co-op, a Division III team from the SWC.
“The combination of both leagues has strengthened, not weakened, the old SCC and SWC,” Vieira said. “As the old saying goes, there is strength in numbers. Speaking for my players, they were thrilled last week knowing that they qualified for the SCC league playoffs. Not only does this provide us with another one to two games, but a chance to compete against the best teams in the area.
“It would be a travesty if this partnership did not continue. I feel every high school team would like to attract more student-athletes to their programs (instead of losing them to prep schools). I feel the powers that be who help determine the fate of high school hockey need to continue to be even more creative to help build high school hockey and bring it back to power. The merger is a small-but-needed step in that process.”
The partnership has had a minimal effect in the SCC-SWC Division I competition, with Notre Dame-Fairfield the only SWC team that was in Division I. The SCC teams have always scheduled one or two games a season with the Lancers.
The biggest impact has been in Division II and III, with three SWC teams added to the SCC D-II schedule and four in Division III.
“From my viewpoint, I think that the merger was a good thing with the SWC coming into the best league in the state in high school hockey for Division I, II and III,” said Milford coach Sal Follo, who is also a member of the CIAC Boys Hockey Committee.
“The games have been competitive in all three divisions. I think the only drawback is the distance of some teams that have to travel. But overall I think it is a great fit and I would support continuing the partnership.”
Coach Adolph Brink of Division II Branford believes the inaugural SCC-SWC season has been exciting at his team’s level.
“The SWC teams have been as competitive as the SCC members and New Milford has been especially very good this season,” Brink said. “Add the fact that (former D-I schools) North Haven and Cheshire have been added to our D-II league and the combination has made us the most competitive conference in the state.
“The combination of all the SCC-SWC teams at the D-II level has made each game a challenge.”
Brink noted the SCC-SWC Division II partnership (11 teams) represents half of the D-II teams in the state.
“The idea that our league now makes up half of all the D-II CIAC teams has its positives and negatives,” Brink said. “The good is that we do get to play the toughest D-II conference schedule in the state. The negative is that we consistently, by virtue of our mandatory league schedule, impact our own leagues-member teams and how they ultimately will be ranked for the CIAC state tournament.
“Plus, there is a good chance that some of us may also play each other at least three times, and in the rare occasion play a team for a fourth time in a season. We’ll see if the top teams playing each other so many times in a short season will hurt or help in their run for a CIAC state championship. Like all other sports, hockey is unique and overall you have to like the steps that are being made to help make our conference more exciting.”
Carbone said the partnership will be evaluated at the end of the season.
“We will regroup with the schools’ athletic directors and coaches and review any feedback or suggestions going forward,” Carbone said. “But so far, as I mentioned before, the new league has met my expectations and it should be an exciting second half of the season, and hopefully with good weather, too.”
The league’s postseason tournament will consist of the top two teams in Division I (tentatively scheduled for March 7) playing a one-game playoff and the top four teams in both Divisions II and III (tentatively scheduled for March 6 and 8) facing off. Matchups, seedings, game times and venues are yet to be determined and are expected to be announced in about a week.
STARS OF THE WEEK
- Matt Wikman, F, Fairfield Prep: Wikman had three goals and an assist in the Jesuits’ 4-1 win over Hamden.
- Tom DeLucia, G, Xavier: DeLucia had 45 saves in the Falcons’ 5-2 win over East Haven.
- Brett McNeil, F, Amity: McNeil had three goals and two assists in the Spartans’ 7-2 win over Guilford.
GAME OF THE WEEK
No. 9 West Haven (5-5-1) at No. 2 Notre Dame-West Haven (10-3-1), Saturday, 1 p.m.: Two fierce cross-town rivals face off in a key SCC-SWC Division I showdown at Bennett Rink.
ON THE AIR
Branford at Amity, at Bennett Rink, Saturday, 1 p.m. — WAVZ 1300-AM / ESPNRadio1300.com