The Glastonbury and South Windsor hockey teams have shared plenty of praise over the past five years.
But this past postseason, the two high school programs, which have consistently traded the title of best team in northern hockey and played some of the best games in the state since 2007, experienced a first.
The Tomahawks and Bobcats both saw memorable seasons end at the hands of the same opponent. In the Division I tournament, Notre Dame-West Haven, the eventual champion, defeated South Windsor in the quarterfinals in its toughest game and then beat Glastonbury in the state final.
This season, the rivals will try to build on the legacies they've established, but change the ending.
"I think you have a little success and it snowballs," Glastonbury coach Ken Barse said. "This group of seniors wants to outdo what last year's seniors did."
The same can be said of South Windsor.
"We strive to be stronger at the end of the year than we are at the beginning of the year," South Windsor coach Neil Rodman said.
Both programs lost integral parts. Glastonbury graduated two of the best forwards in the state in Drew Mozzer and Ethan Holdaway, and South Windsor said goodbye to talented Joey Bonazelli and David Ouellette. Still, neither coach is dwelling on the losses.
"We don't spend a lot of time talking about the past," Barse said.
Instead, the Tomahawks and Bobcats are looking ahead. And the future appears fairly bright.
In contrast to recent years when its offense caught everyone's attention, Glastonbury is looking to its defense to be the point of conversation. Led by returning goalie Chase Gabor and defenseman Tyler Walles, who Barse calls "215 pounds of cement on defense," the Tomahawks are more physical and capable of standing teams up. It held Hamden to two goals in a scrimmage.
"It is exciting to have a different chemistry and different mind-set," Barse said.
South Windsor will also have a new look. Without Bonazelli and several other fixtures from teams that went to the semifinals and quarterfinals the past two years, South Windsor hopes to spread out its scoring and build on the physical hockey it played last year.
"I think it is an identity — this is how we're going to play and how we're going to compete," Rodman said.
The Bobcats and Tomahawks aren't the only teams looking to make noise in Division I. After ending a two-year postseason drought with a surprising turnaround last year, Simsbury is back in the CCC North conversation and should challenge Glastonbury and South Windsor. Led by forwards Ryan Carpenter and Connor Rice, the Trojans, who had 11 wins last season, could be a team to reckon with. … Xavier lost to South Windsor in the Division I tournament the past two seasons and hopes to get more to show for its hard work. Led by senior Dan Dupont, the Falcons should get another tournament berth. … Cheshire's change will come in net, where Tyler Carbone used to be the foundation. But new starter Scott Romano and defender Tom Dupont will try to lead the way.
Division II Field Bigger
Northwest Catholic did a funny thing this offseason. It was the only team to move up a division and is now playing in Division II.
The move seems like the logical and necessary step for Northwest Catholic, which lost to Newington/Berlin last season in the Division III final and advanced to the semifinals for four straight years.
Led by seniors Jeff Greenwood and Patrick Melanson, who combined for 106 points, the Indians' should feel at home in Division II.
And they'll need to. They've got plenty of company in the crowded division, which is the biggest in the state. Conard, Tri-Town, Windsor/Farmington/Avon, Fermi/Enfield/East Granby/Stafford, Amity and Trinity Catholic have all moved down to the division. … Conard will look to new coach Greg Raymer and senior forward Danny Kycia and goalie Charlie Fisher to lead the way. … One year after forming a rivalry with rival Enfield, Fermi has added East Granby and Stafford and is part of a four-team co-op. Forward Avery Boissy and goalie Aaron Lickwar will be key. … Tri-Town coach Paul Dowe has praise for goalie Cam Pinkham, whom he calls one of the best in the state. He's hopeful Pinkham can help the co-op of Ellington, East Windsor and Somers improve on a six-win season. … Tri-Town and the co-op of Suffield, Granby and Windsor Locks are no longer with a league. The NHC has folded. But it shouldn't change the mind-set. Anchored by senior Drew Ash, Suffield/Granby/Windsor will be aggressive and tough to play. … Windsor/Avon/Farmington has Jeff Demers and Austin Grouten. … Wethersfield has Pat Dowd. … East Catholic coach Drew Clarkin says the Eagles have plenty of potential and will be led by Matt Urrichio.
RMR Grows In Size, Skill
After having just nine skaters on his team last year, Sean Cole can't be blamed for being happier these days. Cole will start the season with 16 skaters and three goalies.
But that's not what has him most excited.
Led by standouts Kyle Whalen and Brendon Quirion, who combined for 93 points last season, the co-op of Rocky Hill/Middletown/RHAM has the potential to erase last season's disappointing end when it failed to get one last win to get into the tournament. The co-op has one of the better offenses in Division III but needs to shore up its goalie situation.
"I'm excited about our team and I definitely think we're going to be better than last year — we won't be an easy out," RMR coach Sean Cole.
Newington/Berlin coach Dave Harackiewicz finally picked up his first state title after 20 seasons when the co-op of Newington and Berlin beat Northwest Catholic last year. Now Harackiewicz wants his second. The co-op, which added Manchester, is one of the favorites. The Indians will be led by goalie Drew O'Leary and forward Brendon Richard. … Rockville joined rival Manchester and won a state title in 2008. This season, the Rams will try to do the same thing with its latest rival. After dropping Manchester as part of its co-op, Rockville has joined with Bolton, Coventry and Lyman Memorial. Rockville defeated Bolton for the title in 2008 and have been rivals since. But with a solid combination of skilled players, including forward Mike Leardi and goalie Cam Earle, the co-op will contend again in Division III. … James Allanach leads the most experienced team the co-op of E.O. Smith, Tolland and Windham has had in two years. The Bucks should be a surprise team in the CCC South. … Owen Kantor is a go-to player for Hall/Southington, which figures to be a threat in Division III and CCC South.