As the regular season winds down and the postseason quickly approaches, now is the time most teams hope to start peaking and gain momentum for a deep run in league and CIAC Division I, II and III tournaments.
In a boys hockey season where parity has prevailed, one of the many Division I teams that is heading toward the postseason on a roll is Hamden. Since going through a tough stretch where the Green Dragons went 1-3, they have gone 5-1 in their last six games.
Among the impressive wins in the last six games was a 6-2 victory over East Haven and 6-1 win over Rhode Island power Mount St. Charles.
“The reason for the turnaround can be attributed to a number of things,” Hamden second-year coach Todd Hall said. “Team chemistry is definitely one of them. Solid goaltending (Steven Turner, Stephen Richetelli) is another.
“The message that we always preach to the team is they have to skate and play hard. Skate hard, pass hard and shoot hard. Jake Blackwell has certainly been the driving force (22 goals, 12 assists), but many others have stepped up and contributed.”
Hall said among the other players “playing extremely well” in the last six games are Raif Harris (seven goals, 14 assists) and Tyler Webb (eight goals, 11 assists).
“James Smyth’s (three goals, eight assists) and Zach Riccitelli’s (six goals, nine assists) energy has set the tone in a number of those games as well,” Hall said. “We have been forced to shake up the lines because of some recent injuries.
“But the players are buying into the ‘next man up’ mentality. We certainly hope this will carry on into the playoffs. However, our focus and preparation is on Notre Dame (West Haven, today), then Fairfield Prep (Saturday) and then West Haven (March 1).”
NFI impressive in D-II
Larry Vieira, who lives in Milford and teaches at West Haven High, loves the sport of hockey. But most of all he loves a challenge and it’s one reason he took over as head coach for the New Fairfield/Immaculate co-op team.
When Vieira took over for the 2012-13 season, NFI competed in Division III. He was convinced the team could evolve, develop and be strong enough to someday compete in Division I. NFI took the first step to getting to D-I by moving up to Division II this season.
NFI has gone 4-0-1 in its last five games including an impressive 4-1 win over SCC/SWC D-II rival East Haven. Led by one of the state’s best goalies (all divisions combined) in Shane Conciatore, NFI is 13-2-2 overall including 10-1-1 against D-II teams.
“With the move up to Division II and fielding a majority of underclassmen, we were hoping to be a .500 team, and quite honestly, I am pleasantly surprised at our success,” Vieira said. “The reason is very simple. The coaching staff is blessed with a supportive administration, booster club and a group of dedicated and hard-working student athletes.
“They enjoy coming to the rink every day, improving their skill sets and they have bought into the concept of T (team) before I. Since New Fairfield and Immaculate combined as a co-op, this is the best start in NFI’s history.”
NFI was coming off a 2-17-1 season when Vieira was hired in 2012. In his first season (2012-13), NFI went 11-11 and lost in the CIAC D-III quarterfinals.
In 2013-14, NFI went 15-6-3, won the SCC/SWC D-III tournament and lost in the CIAC D-III quarter-finals. In 2014-15, NFI was 14-11 and lost in the CIAC D-III first round and last season went 21-4, won the SCC/SWC D-III tournament and lost in the CIAC D-III semifinals.
“The team’s strength is on the back end,” Vieira said. “We feature six defensemen.”
The back line is led by junior Matt Carlucci (four goals, four assists), sophomore Danny Manning, senior Jimmy Hayden (two goals, three assists), junior Cedric Dinatale and sophomores Nate Ralston and Mitch Kindred.
“Along with the ‘D’ we have in my opinion one of the best, if not best, goalie in the state with Shane Conciatore,” Vieira said. “Shane is a very quick and agile goalie who has been a stalwart in goal sporting a 9-2-2 record, 1.52 goals-against average and .941 save-percentage.
“We have allowed just 24 goals all season. Offensively we are led by Sam Mitchell (18 goals, nine assists), Alex Hallahan (eight goals, 10 assists) and Jameson Brown (nine goals, 14 assists).”
One of the signature wins for NFI this season was the victory over East Haven.
“Beating East Haven is never easy to do, especially at DiLungo Rink,” Vieira said. “They are well-coached and so talented. To be honest, we had this game circled on our calendars all year and were extremely excited to come out on top.
“We are hoping this victory can help galvanize this team and propel us into our next three games against Watertown/Pomperaug (today), Hand (Friday) and Farmington Valley (Feb. 25). This has been a very enjoyable season and we just hope this ride continues deep into March.”