WALLINGFORD — At an ungodly hour a few mornings a week at Choate’s Remsen Arena, before the sun rises, two numbers go on the scoreboard. The visitor is winning 6-2.
Sheehan practices under that score, by which crosstown rival Lyman Hall/HK/Coginchaug beat the Titans in the CIAC Division III final last year.
There is unfinished business on this side of town.
“Oh, of course,” Titans senior co-captain Devin Napoli said. “You see on the scoreboard: We have 6-2 up every single practice. That really drives us every single drill. We have a big target on our back, and we want revenge.”
Napoli’s arrival a year ago helped the Titans make their run to their first CIAC final. He remains a key piece of Sheehan’s deep forward corps and its chances to get back to Ingalls Rink for the last two tournament rounds, perhaps to win their first title. They are 12-2-1, second in the Division III point standings to Newington.
“It’s been great having him back,” said junior Luke Festa, Napoli’s linemate and a friend since they were 4 or 5. “He’s a big leadership addition, and scoring: He can put the puck in the net, which is something we need and something we get out of him.”
Napoli went to Notre Dame-West Haven for two years. He returned home for his junior year last year.
He stepped in at midseason for Sheehan and scored 20 goals and 35 points for the Titans on the way to the final. Napoli’s arrival helped balance out the lines, coach Dave Festa said, and he had an effect off the ice, too.
“I think one of the biggest things, you’ve heard it again and again, but it’s leadership,” the coach said. “He understands the dynamic of the team. I think that’s one of the big things about him. He knows when to push, and he knows when to help somebody.”
In his first 14 games this year, Napoli had 18 goals and 30 points. He already had about time and a half the shots he took last year. And he has won 64 percent of his faceoffs.
The Titans returned much of last year’s crew, except for their goaltender and a couple of forwards. They’ve been competitive with good Division II teams and beat Division I Immaculate early in the year. Napoli is one of only two seniors, in fact, on this year’s team, but he goes back a long way with a lot of his teammates.
He started skating when he was 4 with his mother at Ingalls Rink in New Haven, which he said made going back for the state semifinals and final even more meaningful last March. He began playing hockey with the Wallingford Hawks program, and he started as a goalie.
“We were joking the other day about a state championship in Mite B or early Mite A when he was on the team,” Dave Festa said.
“You could tell back then. He was always looking to win, always looking to play, very intense. But it’s funny, because he comes to the rink and he’s always got a smile on. It’s a true leader. He comes in. He knows what job he needs to get done. But he’s then able to get everyone else up to task.”
Napoli said he switched to skater full-time around 10 years old. (”I miss the pads,” he said, “but it’s all right.”)
Lacrosse was another love, starting in first grade when his cousin, former Lyman Hall standout Zach Taylor, put a stick in his hands. Napoli helped Sheehan to the Class S semifinals last year. Playing in college was a goal, and he will play attack at North Greenville University in South Carolina.
“Gonna have to leave the skates here,” he said.
And last but not least, NLI #17 of 17:
— NGU Men's Lacrosse (@NGUMensLacrosse) November 16, 2019
Lacrosse kept him off skates for a while last year when he suffered a lacerated kidney playing lacrosse. Between defending players, one hit him from the right, sending him into the other from the left, whose stick went into Napoli’s midsection, under his rib cage.
“I was throwing up on the sidelines. They said, yeah, we’ve got to call the ambulance, so I went to the hospital,” Napoli said. “I thought I was going to leave that night. It turned out to be four days. Luckily my grandmother is a nurse, so I was in the house for the next week. But I still went to school.”
He was back in time for both games against LHK last year, though, and he was delighted to see both of those games on the back half of the schedule. The Trojans moved up to Division II this season, but they’ll still play the Battle of Wallingford twice. The teams tied at Northford last month. They meet again Saturday night at Wesleyan, with Hall/Southington, another top Division III contender, coming to Choate on Monday.
The playoffs, both in defense of their SCC/SWC Division III championship and their attempt at a CIAC Division III title, loom not far past that. Napoli will help make them a favorite in both.
“He makes the little plays that will translate to the puck going north for us. He’s not afraid to go into the dirty areas and make the plays,” Dave Festa said.
“He’s able to go in and change the dynamics of the game.”