After what was probably the most successful boys hockey season in league history, the question begs: What can the FCIAC do for an encore?
Well, think of begging Bruce Springsteen back on stage following a rousing rendition of Born to Run. Or imagine the late George Carlin coming back out after doing his Baseball vs. Football schtick.
In other words, an encore has to be at least slightly disappointing, right?
Last season an FCIAC team was crowned champion at all three state tournament levels. Darien defended its title by winning the Division 1 championship. Fairfield, meanwhile, captured the Division 2 crown and Westhill-Stamford won the Division 3 championship.
Once upon a time it was believed that the best high school boys hockey teams in Connecticut resided upstate, from the suburbs of New Haven up to Hartford. But last year those areas took a backseat to Fairfield County. Now we will see if such a trend continues.
The league lost 15 of its top 18 players to graduation as only one first-team All-FCIAC performer returns and just two from the second team. There were also several coaching changes, none bigger than at Greenwich High, where Chris Rurak replaces Bob Russel, who was one of the most successful coaches in league history.
So, it figures the league will have a different look this season. Whether the results differ remains to be seen. One thing is certain, however: the battle for FCIAC supremacy should be as interesting and entertaining as ever. Last year Greenwich won the FCIAC championship . . . the fourth different league champ in four years (Darien in 2014-15, New Canaan in 2013-14 and Ridgefield in 2012-13).
Odds are one of them will emerge as the team to beat again. But there are other contenders and sleepers.
TEAM TO BEAT
Yes, the Darien Blue Wave didn’t even reach the FCIAC final last year. Nevertheless, the two-time state champion Blue Wave have to be the team to beat despite losing 18 seniors to graduation, including All-FCIAC first-teamers Jake Kirby and Sam Knowlton.
“We will be looking for some guys to step up and raise the level of their game,” Darien coach Mac Budd said. “I like our leadership group of captains Max Romeyn, Harry Congdon and Tom Sulger. They all played a prominent role on the team last year and know what it takes to play for something in March.”
The Blue Wave will also rely on veterans Hunter Hazelton and Connor McCarthy, along with talented prep school transfer Arden Cohen. But as is often the case in this sport, you go as far as your goalie takes you. So the pressure will be on Brendan Bumgardner, who replaces David Voight.
“I would expect (Bumgardner) to be one the best goalies in the state,” Budd said. “But we need to play well in front of him.”
Greenwich, New Canaan and Ridgefield are expected to be FCIAC postseason participants and, along with Darien, will be looking for a second league crown in five years.
Greenwich lost Colin Kelley, Nick Buzzuto, Kristian Cunningham and Mike Mozien. But with forwards Alex Mozien, Owen Johnson and Akira Dunham, the Cards should score enough to make up for inexperience on the back line and in goal.
New Canaan is coming off a tough season but returns 16 players, including its top two scorers, Brooks Gamill and Tyler Hill. And Drew Morris, perhaps the top defenseman in the FCIAC, is also back.
Ridgefield might just be the favorite if Darien’s lack of experience proves troublesome. The Tigers, whose only major loss was forward Will Peters, have a nice balance led by forwards Matteo van Mees and Jack Stafford, defenseman Jonas Chang and goalie Sean Keegans, who was second team All-State with a 92 percent save percentage.
St. Joseph, Fairfield, Westhill-Stamford, Staples-Weston-Shelton and Trumbull are the most likely contenders for the final two playoffs spots beyond the big four.
It might be a stretch calling St. Joseph a sleeper, though, after the Cadets upset Darien in last year’s FCIAC semifinals. The Cadets are another team experiencing a coaching change as Eddy LeMaire takes over. They will be hard-pressed to replace first-team All-FCIAC forward Will Gilbert but they will be just fine in goal as veteran Ryan Wilson returns. Wilson and Ridgefield’s Keegans will start the season as the top two rated goalies in the FCIAC.
Fairfield, with new coach Carl Larouche, lost its two best players, Jake Fuss and Mike Grace, both of whom were first-team All-FCIAC performers, to graduation. The Mustangs may take a step back but with only three seniors from among their top eight players, led by forwards Anthony Beccaria and Gareth Gacetta, the future would appear bright.
Westhill-Stamford lost state championship hero Chris Clemmenson and rock solid defenseman Gunnar Eriksen to graduation. But it’s another “graduation” that might have the greatest effect on the season: By winning the D3 title, the Vikings move up to D2. But they will have Nick Rich, a first-team All-FCIAC forward, and top goalie Chris Compolattaro back so it is doubtful anyone will take them lightly.
Staples-Weston-Shelton is undergoing quite a change. Besides having a new coach, Chris Avena, the Wreckers, like Westhill-Stamford, will move up to D2 after losing in the state D3 final last year. They also lost all of their top scorers and leaders in ice time. So, forward Sam New will be heavily relied up and could emerge as one of the top players in the league.
Trumbull has two factors that might be enough to get the Eagles into the FCIAC playoffs: Brady Jensen, who has led the team in scoring the last three seasons and is closing in on his 100th career point, and depth. The Eagles’ third line matches up against any other team’s third unit.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Tyler Hill, New Canaan forward
Drew Morris, New Canaan defenseman
Matteo van Wees, Ridgefield forward
Jack Stafford, Ridgefield forward
Max Romeyn, Darien forward
Brendan Bumgardner, Darien goalie
Alex Mozien, Greenwich forward
Ryan Wilson, St. Joseph goalie
Nick Rich, Westhill forward
Sam New, Staples-Weston-Shelton forward
DARIEN – Max Romeyn, Harry Congdon, Tom Sulger, Arden Cohen, Colby Ravosa, Alex Kostrzewski, Hunter Hazelton, Connor McCarthy, goalie Brendan Bumgardner.
GREENWICH – Alex Mozien, JT Lawrence, Kevin Wright, Owen Johnson, Akira Dunham, Matt Baugher, Oliver Fulton, Matt Davey, Charlie Graves, Trevor Disbennett, Connor Santry, Dylan Madden.
NEW CANAAN – forwards Brooks Gamill, Harry Gelnaw, Tyler Hill, George McMahon, Anton Adding, Gunnar Granito; defensemen Drew Morris, Ben Webster, Quinn Hays, Jack Webster; goalies Peter Windas, Liam Mooney.
NORWALK-BRIEN MCMAHON — Kevin Remson, Remy Gibson, Dylan Person, Quinn Sander, Pat Auz, Danny Frattaroli, Will Haskel, Derek Lue, Nathaniel Gordon.
RIDGEFIELD – forwards Jeff Pracella, Matteo van Wees, Nick Culligan, Jack Forrest, Kiernan McGowan, Landon Byers, Jack Stafford, Joe Signorelli; defensemen Jonas Chang, Jack McGeary, Harrison Chuma, Ty Fujitani; goalie Sean Keegans.
ST. JOSEPH – defensemen Andrew Van Etten, Andrew Gilbert; goalie Ryan Wilson.
FAIRFIELD – forwards AJ von Brauchitch, Anthony Beccaria, Gareth Gacetta, Kyle Mazza; defensemen Will von Brauchitch, Rutger Gaillard; goalies Dawson Gunn, Charlie Capalbo.
WESTHILL-STAMFORD – Nick Rich, Owen Kilian, Gavin Dolan John Nilsen, Cooper Healy, Ryan Hart, Everett Dolan, Jordan Marchese, Ricky Corbo, Josh Mensah, Nick Smeriglio, Griffin Smith; goalie Christian Compolattaro.
STAPLES-WESTON-SHELTON – Sam New, Casten Ernberg, Evan Mancini, Sam Zaritsky, Aiden Conte, Sebastien Zeman, Chris Cyr, Robert Wemhoff, Brian Grey, Hunter Wilson; goalie Zack Bloom.
TRUMBULL – forwards Brady Jensen, Martin Birnbach, Alex Jackel, Matt Mocker, Eric McCabe,Damian Styrc. Will O’Brien, Trevor Rochelle; defensemen Jake Lebowitz, Luke Lebowitz, Dustin Maher, Marco Minopoli; goalies Will Guttman, Alex Tsymbaluk.
TRINITY CATHOLIC – Connor Scanlan; goalie Zach Lockwood.
(Wilton did not provide information for the preview.)