Looking back on most memorable ice hockey teams in area history

Published on Monday, 20 April 2020 17:42
Written by RYAN CHICHESTER

@ryanchichester1

The local area has just three boys ice hockey teams, but those groups have provided plenty of memorable seasons over the years, including multiple state championship teams in the past decade.

Newington-Berlin has been the most successful, while Hall-Southington has become a force in recent years and looked poised to make a run this year before the state tournaments were canceled. WMRP also looked like a strong group this year, and likely will be in the years to come.

For now, let’s look back, continuing to recap the most memorable local teams in every sport, and that series continues right now on the ice. Here are the most unforgettable hockey squads we’ve seen in the area:

NEWINGTON, 1998

The Indians put together a solid regular season in during the 1997-98 campaign, finishing with a 15-4 record, tied for the fourth-best mark in Division II. That finish earned Newington the No. 6 seed in the Division II state tournament, where the Indians began their quest to reach the program’s first-ever state championship.

Facing No. 11 Wilton in the opening round, Newington squeaked by with a tough 3-2 victory, then handled Housatonic, a team that had just shocked No. 3 Lyman Hall, with a 4-1 win in the quarterfinals. That set up a classic confrontation with No. 2 Glastonbury in the semifinals at New Haven Coliseum, one that the Indians appeared to have no business winning after the Tomahawks peppered goaltender Myke Coccolla for 47 shots, but Coccolla stopped 44 of them to help Newington secure a thrilling 4-3 win in double overtime after a centering pass from Justin Wengell was tipped home by Steve Morgan, who became the hero that sent the Indians to their first state championship appearance.

Newington managed only 17 shots in the win, but made them count in one of the most unforgettable games the program has ever played. The thrilling finish almost never happened when the Indians were trailing 3-2 with 1:25 left in the game, but Mark Grubin deflecting in a shot to tie the game and force overtime, where Morgan became a local legend.

The celebration was short-lived once Newington reached the final. Pitted against No. 1 East Haven, which had completely obliterated the competition through its state tournament run by scoring a ridiculous 27 goals through three games, the Indians managed just one goal in a 7-1 loss, leaving the program still searching for its first state title, and leaving the school as a whole waiting for its first state championship in any sport since 1980.

Coccola went on to become an All-State selection for the Indians, and is one of the top goaltenders in school history.

NEWINGTON, 2006

The Indians had another chance to grab that elusive state title (as the school’s overall title drought was still active eight years after the hockey team’s loss in the 1998 state title game), and for awhile, it looked like this Newington team was poised to finally break that painful stretch.

The Indians finished the 2005-06 regular season with an 11-9 record, but thanks to their point total, they sealed the No. 1 overall seed in the Division III state tournament. After a first-round bye, Newington rolled over No. 8 New Fairfield with a 9-4 win to advance to the semifinals, where the Indians were again dominant, playing like the top seed with a 4-1 win over No. 5 Fairfield Warde/Ludlowe to advance to their first state final since their loss in 1998.

In the final, Newington met another one of the best teams in the state in No. 2 Cheshire, which was coming off a shutout win over No. 3 Norwalk-McMahon in the semifinals. The Rams had Max Bigler in net, who the Indians attacked for five goals when the two teams met during the regular season. One more solid game against Bigler, and Newington would finally be state champions.

But it was Bigler who had the solid game in the final at Ingalls Rink.

Bigler posted his second straight shutout, blanking the Indians 2-0 behind 35 stops by Bigler to avenge an 8-3 loss to Newington back in February. Matt Langille, who scored six goals for the Indians in that dominant regular season victory, was held quiet in the championship game, while Cheshire scored just two minutes in to let Newington know that this wouldn’t be a repeat performance, and the Indians walked away still looking for a state championship.

NEWINGTON-BERLIN, 2012

The Indians merged with the Redcoats shortly after their loss to Cheshire in 2006, and six years later, Newington was back in the Division III state tournament as the No. 1 overall seed thanks to an 18-2 regular season, and was soon back in the state championship game. But it took an unforgettable comeback to get there.

Facing Rockville-Stafford, a team the Indians smashed twice in the regular season by a combined score of 13-0, Newington-Berlin found itself behind 4-2 with just three minutes left in the third period, spelling certain doom for what seemed to be a promising state tournament run. Suddenly, with their goalie pulled, the Indians pulled to within 4-3 with one minute to go, and with 30 seconds left, Rockville-Stafford appeared to have the game-sealing goal with a puck sent down the ice towards the Indians’ open net, put the puck slid just wide, resulting in an icing. On the ensuing faceoff, Newington-Berlin completed the comeback, scoring with 17 seconds left to force overtime. The Indians won it in overtime and cruised past No. 4 NFA in the semifinals to reach its third state championship game, which the team had still yet to win. Waiting was No. 3 Northwest Catholic, and while Newington as a school had finally broke its state championship curse with a win by the baseball team the year before, this Indians team was still looking to erase years of heartache. Head coach David Harackiewicz brought in Newington baseball coach Eric Frank, who had just won that historic state title for the Indians, to speak before the state championship, and it seemed to help. Goalkeeper Drew O’Leary stopped 22 shots, including a flurry in the third period, while Berlin’s Brandon Ralph picked up a goal and an assist in what was a thrilling 2-1 win, the first hockey state championship for either school.

In just the third year of the Newington-Berlin co-op, the team was state champs. Ralph was a big reason why, finishing the season with 17 goals and 31 assists.

NEWINGTON-BERLIN, 2013

The Indians were back for more in 2013, looking to repeat as state champions. Now also teamed up with Manchester, Newington-Berlin once again earned the top seed in the Division III state tournament, finishing 14-4 during the regular season. After a bye in the first round, the Indians handled New Fairfield 4-2 in the quarterfinals, then dispatched No. 5 Masuk 4-1 to reach their second straight state championship at Ingalls Rink.

Waiting was No. 3 Rockville, which was coming into the game with plenty of momentum after a 2-1 win against No. 2 NFA in double overtime. Both goaltenders were on their game in the state final, but Newington-Berlin’s Marco DiPaola found the back of the net for the decisive goal in what was a 1-0 victory, making the Indians state champions once again. It remains the most recent local state championship in ice hockey.

HALL-SOUTHINGTON, 2017

The Warrior-Knights are the most recent local team to reach Ingalls Rink and the state final, though there were multiple times during the Division III state tournament that it looked like the magic had run out.

After escaping Newington-Berlin in a thrilling 4-3 overtime win in the first round (the Indians were coming off a rough regular season where they went 3-14), Hall-Southington routed No. 3 Housy-NW 6-1 to move to the semifinals and take on another local team in WMRP, and Warrior-Knights goaltender Zach Monti pitched a shutout while Mike DiPietro broke a scoreless ties with 11 minutes left in the game to avenge two previous losses to the Eagles in the regular season and reach the state final.

Hall-Southington was faced with an awfully tough task in the title game, meeting No. 1 Woodstock, which had scored 11 goals in each of its first two state tournament games before crushing Lyman Hall 6-0 in the semifinals. Woodstock’s dominance continued in the final with a 7-3 win over the Warrior-Knights, but it was still a memorable season for head coach Brian Cannon and company.



Posted in Newington Town Crier, Newington on Monday, 20 April 2020 17:42. Updated: Monday, 20 April 2020 17:44.