Hockey Notebook New Milford part of intriguing playoff races

February 20, 2019

Despite dropping to Division III this season because of lower numbers, New Milford’s boys hockey team has held its own at a high level.

The Green Wave is 9-9 going into Wednesday’s game against Cheshire, the last of seven Division II opponents it’ll face this year.

“I really didn’t know what to expect at the beginning of the season. We lost three scorers who’d been around a long time,” coach Scott Capriglione said.

“The big thing is we’re playing as a team. Zach (Hook, back from Canterbury) is definitely our best player; the kids lean on him. He’s a great example for the younger guys.”

Evan Golembeske has been a leader on defense. Seniors Hayden Giampetro and Ben Marano have traded off in net. Jack Mayers, Hook and Ian Donohue have made up a good line, and Ian’s twin brother, Sean, has been a key junior contributor on defense.

“This is probably one of the best groups I’ve had,” Capriglione said. “The team chemistry is pretty amazing. From the seniors to the couple of freshmen, everybody’s part of it. Everybody’s engaged.”

The Green Wave kept those seven Division II games on the slate, and they’re 2-4, with wins against East Catholic and Trumbull, both playoff teams.

They’ve played tight losses against tough teams like Branford, Hand, Sheehan and LHK. Capriglione hopes those games will have the Green Wave well prepared for the postseason.

And more or less, the postseason begins Monday night. New Milford hosts JBWA at Canterbury to finish the regular season. If JBWA wins Saturday at Milford, then Monday’s game will determine the last playoff spot in the SCC/SWC Division III playoffs.

New Milford only needs a point, while JBWA needs a win. The Green Wave still have a mathematical shot at passing Hand, which finishes its league schedule this week with games against Newtown and Sheehan.

STARTING POINT: It has been a tough year, results-wise, for Milford in coach Ken Mitchell’s first season.

The bright side: “They’re all having fun,” Mitchell said.

With four games left heading into Tuesday’s home game against BBD, Milford was 2-14 in its first year in Division III.

But Matt Gilebbi and Rich Carino have done well for the team, and Mitchell said freshman Kevin Wokanovicz has been one of the defensemen to shore up the back end, and one of the youngsters to make a good transition from bantam hockey.

Mitchell hopes, with a year under their belt together, the Indians can build next season.

“That’s what I’m hoping,” Mitchell said. “Kind of stay the course, keep adding kids.

“Keep getting better and better, numbers- and talent-wise.”

MOVING UP: In its 14 wins this season, WMRP hasn’t allowed more than two goals. It allowed one or fewer in 11 of those, with two shutouts.

“The boys are playing well,” coach Dennis Tulimieri said Monday on the way home from a 4-1 win at Enfield. “I think it’s the depth of the team. We’ve also got some pretty decent speed up front. Our goaltending has been solid, and I can’t forget the (defense).”

Senior Jake Peckrul has “made some exceptional saves,” Tulimieri said, carrying a save percentage above .910. Ben Mroczka, Trevor Piecewicz and Aaron Cholewa have been productive. Riorden Mertens is a solid defenseman for the Eagles, unbeaten in the CCC South.

They reached the CIAC Division III semifinals two years ago and a quarterfinal last season. This year, they were moved up to Division II.

They had won four in a row going into Wednesday’s game against the Eastern Connecticut Eagles, another team that jumped to Division II, those Eagles after a championship.

WMRP sat seventh in the Division II standings, giving itself a shot to host a first-round playoff game.

“I’m not overconfident, but I’m confident in our abilities,” Tulimieri said.

FLIP YA FOR IT: Fairfield’s 5-4 win over Trumbull on Monday night set up an unusual scenario. If the Mustangs beat Wilton on Wednesday night, they’ll tie Greenwich for fifth in the FCIAC at 6-4-1. Fairfield and Greenwich tied each other. They each beat the same six teams in conference play, each lost to the same four, so the usual tiebreaker — which team beat the higher-ranked team — doesn’t apply. (Greenwich’s non-league win over Darien in the Winter Classic doesn’t count.)

Via colleague Dave Stewart and FCIAC commissioner Dave Schulz: If that standings tie comes to pass, a coin flip will determine which team gets the fifth seed and a date with Westhill/Stamford in Saturday’s quarterfinals, and which gets sixth and a meeting with New Canaan.

Now, if Fairfield loses to Wilton? Trumbull still has a chance to sneak in at 6, with games against St. Joseph and Staples, and with the Staples game scheduled for Saturday.

Elsewhere, with a win Wednesday night over West Haven, Hamden can clinch a spot in the March 1 SCC/SWC Division I championship game. Fairfield Prep finished a 6-0 league season on Monday and had already qualified for the final.

The SCC/SWC Division II field is set: Branford, Cheshire, Guilford and Watertown/Pomperaug, in an order to be determined.

It’s LHK, Sheehan, Hand and, as mentioned, either New Milford or JBWA in SCC/SWC Division III. LHK is the top seed; the others are still to be set.

Ridgefield has clinched the top seed in the CIAC Division I tournament, and Hand has it secured in Division III. Division II is still to be claimed, with Guilford holding a lead on Watertown/Pomperaug.

TIGER TRACKS: The Bridgeport Sound Tigers’ Hockey Weekend in Connecticut festivities this coming weekend will have a local high school component. Saturday’s game will honor the Capalbo family, with former Fairfield goalie Charlie battling cancer a second time. Sunday’s will bring in the West Haven community, honoring West Haven High principal Pam Gardner, who died Oct. 25.

Special ticket packages are available for Saturday at fevo.me/capalbostrong and Sunday at fevo.me/playforpam. Some of Saturday’s proceeds go to the Capalbo family; some of Sunday’s toward creating a scholarship fund in Gardner’s name.

mfornabaio@ctpost.com; twitter.com/fornabaioctp