By BRIAN JENNINGS
2016-17 REGULAR SEASON
Overall Record—17-3 (7-2 home, 10-1 away).
Division I Record—0-0.
Division II Record—3-3.
Division III Record—14-0.
CCC South Division Record/Ranking—9-3/2nd/7.
CCC South Champion—Farmington Valley (16-4, 11-1).
CCC South Runner-Up—Wethersfield-Middletown-Rocky Hill-Plainville (17-3, 9-3).
CCC South Tournament:
Semifinals (at Avon Old Farms)—No. 3 EO Smith-Tolland 3, No. 2 Wethersfield-Middletown-Rocky Hill-Plainville 1.
CCC South Championship—No. 1 Farmington Valley 7, No. 3 EO Smith-Tolland 4.
Division III Tournament:
1st Round (at Newington Arena)—No. 2 Wethersfield-Middletown-Rocky Hill-Plainville 6, No. 15 Eastern Connecticut Eagles 0.
Quarterfinals (at Northford Ice Pavilion)—No. 2 Wethersfield-Middletown-Rocky Hill-Plainville 3, No. 7 Redhawks 1.
Semifinals (at Ingalls Rink, New Haven)—No. 6 Hall-Southington 1, No. 2 Wethersfield-Middletown-Rocky Hill-Plainville 0.
Division III Championship—No. 1 Woodstock Academy 7, No. 6 Hall-Southington 3.
Head Coach—Dennis Tulimieri, entering 32nd season.
Assistant Coaches—Eric Fanelli, Dan Logan.
Key Losses (9 graduated):
Zachary Forrest (graduated)—forward, captain, all-conference, all-state, 12 goals, 26 assists.
Tyler Piecewicz (graduated)—forward, captain, all-conference, 10 goals, 20 assists.
Stephen Vaughan (graduated)—goalie, captain, all-conference, all-state, 485 saves.
Paul Wheatley (graduated)—forward, captain, all-conference, 28 goals, 8 assists.
Michael Gionfriddo (senior)—forward.
Braydon Mertens (senior)—defenseman.
Benjamin Mroczka (junior)—forward.
Jake Peckrul (junior)—goalie.
Other Key Returners:
Cole McNamara (junior)—defenseman.
Connor McNamara (junior)—forward.
New Key Additions:
Luke Reynolds (senior)—forward.
Patrick Creel (sophomore)—goalie.
Cameron Partridge (sophomore)—defenseman.
Kevin Avery (freshman)—defenseman.
Aaron Cholewa (freshman)—forward.
The Observer asked Tulimieri the following questions about the upcoming season:
Observer—What were your overall thoughts about last season? What did the team/program gain or accomplish?
Tulimieri—It was just a tremendous season, and really, it all starts with the quality of the student-athletes. There were a lot of accomplishments on and off the ice. Off the ice, we had a charity game for cancer awareness. On the ice, we got the most wins in the team’s history with 19 overall wins. Seventeen wins might have been a regular season record also.
Observer—Wethersfield won its only Division III title during the 2006-07 season as an independent team. Wethersfield advanced to the semifinals of the Division III tournament last year, which was the furthest the team has ever gone in the postseason as a co-op. What does that say about how far the team has come since becoming a co-op?
Tulimieri—I’ll attribute it to the game of ice hockey. It really is a fraternity, and it’s not unusual for a group of hockey players, for no specific reason, to get together and play the game as one.
Observer—What can be taken from last season into this season?
Tulimieri—I think it created an excellent winning tradition and work ethic. My teams have always worked hard, but it just takes a little to progress as much as we did on the ice. So, I think we instilled a winning tradition. The slogan for this year is, “Together we soar,” and I think that was really initiated by last year’s team because of their togetherness.
Observer—What stands out most about this team? What is unique, different, or interesting about this team?
Tulimieri—What strikes me is their ability to work hard. They’ve been working in the fall season and a little bit even in the summer, off ice, on strength and conditioning. Their continued effort and focus has even surprised me.
Observer—The Eagles finished the regular season with a 17-3 record, earning a No. 2 seed in the CCC South and Division III tournaments. The team was one game away from a trip to the championship game. What did you learn from those experiences in the state tournament? What are the keys to having a successful team/program for the upcoming season, in order to make an even deeper run through the state tournament?
Tulimieri—It’s going to take discipline and focus to do it. We have some skill coming in, and there’s a lot of young skill on the team. It’s very difficult for a freshman to go from December to March, remain focused, and not get overtired. It’s just a very long season, and it particularly may wear on the younger players that are not used to it. They’re used to playing maybe 60 games a year. The intensity at practice is as high, if not higher, as a game because everyone is working for a position. They’re kind of not used to that. They’re going to have to learn how to stay focused and energized, and how to keep that work ethic up.
Observer—Having Stephen Vaughn is goal last year was a huge help to the defense. Aside from Vaughn though, defense was one of the strong suites of the team last year. Speed was also a strength of the team last year as well. What are the team’s strengths this season? What positions/events or areas of the playing field is the team strongest in?
Tulimieri—Defense is again this year, and I believe it is even stronger. We have two underclassmen that are defensemen, and they’re good hockey players that are ready to play varsity hockey. Speed was another strength last year, and it will be a strength again this year. If we continue to work at it, we’ll have decent team speed. We have kids that can go north and south. What we don’t know yet is what they’re going to do with it yet, and you won’t know until they get into a game situation.
Observer—The loss of Vaughn will obviously be big skates to fill. What are the team’s weaknesses? What does the team have to work on or improve most, in order to be prepared for the upcoming season?
Tulimieri—Defensive zone coverage. It remains to be improved, and honestly, our goalies don’t have any varsity experience. We’ll show that we can be competitive all-around. It’s just going to take improvement over the course of the year to for us to be at the championship level.
Observer—Why should people follow the team?
Tulimieri—Because we’re going to be having a lot of fun, and we’re going to be exciting to watch.
Observer—If you had to headline the upcoming season, what would it be?
Tulimieri—Eagles Will Soar (Roll Eagles).
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at bjennings@ southingtonobserver.com.