NEW HAVEN >> Al Carbone, commissioner for the Southern Connecticut Conference, is a proactive administrator constantly searching for ways to improve the league in every high school sport it serves.
When it comes to hockey coaches and players, Carbone blasted a slap shot from the blue line and scored big when he finalized a merger between the SCC and South-West Conference to form one mega conference last spring.
The SCC and SWC will compete in a Division I, II and III format complete with postseason playoffs for each division. The new league, called the SCC/SWC Ice Hockey League, will consist of 25 teams (16 from the SCC, nine from the SWC) in three divisions. Teams will play one regular-season “counting” game within their division. The leagues will also host postseason competitions in all three divisions. There will be four-team playoffs in Divisions II and III (March 6 and 8) and a one-game championship game in Division I (March 7).
“The SCC and SWC still exists as separate entities, so this is more of a partnership than a new league,” Carbone said. “We have athletic directors from each league (Rob Bleggi of Notre Dame-Fairfield and Steve Donahue of Fairfield Prep) as the liaisons. From an organizational standpoint, the SCC has taken the lead in handling all of the logistics for the first year.
“So far, the response has been positive from the coaches.”
The consensus among the SCC and SWC coaches is this is a win-win situation. Sheehan coach Dave Festa is one coach in particular who is happy. He had been the only Division III team in the SCC (Lyman Hall dropped from D-II to D-III this season) and had to compete against the tougher D-II teams in regular-season leagues games in the past.
“Although playing the SCC Division II teams raised our competitive level, having those 6-7 games per year translated to losses and put us behind the 8-ball to get the eight wins to make the playoffs every year,” Festa said. “Now that the CIAC has changed the criteria to get into the playoffs the eight-win mark is meaningless.
“In the past few years, our non-SCC games were primarily made up of the SWC teams anyway and we have set up a very good, competitive relationship with these teams. I see combining the SWC and SCC as a very positive step forward and I applaud the SCC committee and Al Carbone for understanding the landscape and dynamics of the sport to push for this collaboration.”
Notre Dame-West Haven first-year coach Tim Belcher, who coached previously at Lyman Hall, said the merger is great for Lyman Hall and Sheehan.
“For the last 5-6 years at Lyman Hall we were forced to play all the D-II teams in the SCC and those games were non-competitive,” Belcher said. “Now Lyman Hall and Sheehan can plays teams of comparable talent so the student-athletes have a chance to succeed.”
Former longtime Branford boys hockey coach Larry Vieira of Milford, now coaching New Fairfield/Immaculate of the SWC, has experienced both leagues and calls it a win-win for both leagues.
“Historically the SCC has been the strongest league in the state with all the teams top to bottom being of the highest quality,” Vieira said. “With us playing in the SCC we will have to play at a high level night in and night out to compete with the SCC teams along with the old SWC teams.
“With the junior leagues raiding the area high school teams, it is important that the leagues work together to ensure that we continue to put the highest quality of players on the ice during the high school season. Al Carbone had a vision, and I feel it will only help high school hockey down the road. We at New Fairfield/Immaculate are thrilled with the merger.”
On Friday the two leagues got together when West Haven hosted a jamboree scrimmage with Notre Dame-West Haven and New Fairfield/Immaculate. West Haven defenseman Joe Ayala said his entire team is looking forward to the merger.
“I think it’s great and everyone on our team, we’re all for it,” Ayala said. “It creates good competition in every division and that means players will have to raise their level of competition, which is a good thing.”
New Fairfield-Immaculate goalie Ryan Dobos said, “I was very excited to hear about the merger between the two conferences. I think it greatly increases the competition level. When playing teams you’ve never played before you have to keep in mind that you’re playing a different style of play you may not have seen before. I think the merger will make for a much more competitive conference and it is going to be a very exciting season throughout the state.”
When it comes to SCC Division I teams, coaches agree there isn’t much change since Notre Dame-Fairfield is the only SWC team added to their division.
“Everyone is excited about this, but it doesn’t affect our team in the regular season since we all play Notre Dame-Fairfield in the regular season any way,” West Haven coach Joe Morrell said.
Carbone can’t wait for the hockey season to start.
“I am looking forward to it since both our leagues benefit because it promotes the sport of ice hockey,” Carbone said. “But just like we do for all of our sports, we’ll evaluate it after the season.”
- Top 25 Hockey Players to Watch
- New Haven region Division I preview capsules
- New Haven region Division II preview capsules
- New Haven region Division III preview capsules
- Division I-III state outlooks
- The Register Top 10 preseason hockey poll