Hockey: Team development key to North Branford’s success

In the last three weeks, North Branford has been one of the hottest teams in Division II boys hockey with a seven-game win streak after starting the season 2-2.

During the win streak the Thunderbirds have outscored opponents 39-13. North Branford coach Ralph Shaw credits the quick maturation and development of the young players on the team for the recent success.

“I was very happy with our play through the first five games,” Shaw said. “We played some quality opponents with games against South Windsor, Guilford and Watertown. We lost in OT to South Windsor and by two goals to Watertown with the score zero-zero most of the game.

“We have some young players that are adjusting to high school hockey. It’s been a quick learning curve for them but I think they are buying into our style of play and the result is we are having success.”

Balanced scoring, a tough, talented group of defensemen and a solid goalie with John Lovelace have combined to turn the season around for the Thunderbirds.

“The older players have stepped up their play and have helped to create a team-family atmosphere,” Shaw said. “Overall, I think this group’s closeness and willingness to play hard for one another has made the difference. They leave it all on the ice every game.”

Among the top players on offense for the Thunderbirds are junior Sean McKee (15 goals, seven assists), freshman Matt Pedersen (11 goals, 11 assists) and sophomore Nick Vecchio (seven goals, five assists). The defense has been led by junior Nick Mancini (three goals, eight assists) and senior Brendan Dupuis (one goal, 10 assists).

“Defensively, Nick Mancini and Brendan Dupuis have been the anchors on the blue line for us,” Shaw said. “John Lovelace has been solid in net and has made a real impact on this team’s success.”

Shaw has been impressed with his team’s play this season and he is cautiously optimistic with the team’s potential as it heads toward the postseason.

“We have a lot of hockey left in the season, but I am happy with the team’s play to this point,” Shaw said. “We need to stay focused, play one game at a time and work on improving every shift.

“If we can do that, I would expect this team to achieve their goals. We have the potential, we just need to need to make it happen.”

Success is nothing new for the Amity/North Haven/Cheshire girls hockey team.

In 2015-16, the Blades started 11-0, won the SCC Division II title and ended up 16-6-1. In 2016-17, the Blades lost in the SCC D-II final and ended up 14-8-1. This season, the team is off to a 12-3 start with four shutouts and have outscored opponents 70-36.

“We have been successful the last two years and this is another good start,” Amity co-op coach John Peschell said. “We are competing at a higher level than we have before.”

Peschell credits a combination of items for the team’s success in 2017-18.

“There are multiple reasons for our success,” Peschell said. “The main reason is our depth. We have a lot of kids who can play with the best girls in the state. We also have great leadership from our senior captains Olivia Dittman and Grace Kosh as well as our junior assistant captains Shannon Reilly and Meaghan Hogan.

“We have had impact players the past two seasons. This year, freshman Cally Dixon leads the team in scoring (16 goals, seven assists) and Megan Spring (four goals, eight assists) leads on defense. Our sophomores Tess Csejka (14 goals, six assists), Melissa Montesi (three goals, 16 assists) and Haley Cable (four goals, four assists) have complemented our juniors Shannon Reilly (nine goals, six assists), Andrea DelVecchio (seven goals, eight assists) and defenseman Meghan Hogan (five goals, five assists).”

Peschell said another key to the team’s success has been the return of experienced senior goalie Julianna Daddio, who has a 2.00 goals-against average and .910 save-percentage.

“Julianna Daddio helped us win the SCC D-II title two seasons ago but skipped her junior season,” Peschell said.

Peschell believes the combination of “great leadership” and depth have been the strength of the team this season.

“All three towns involved with our co-op do contribute to our success,” Peschell said. “We have 11 Amity players, seven from North Haven and three from Cheshire. As far as the postseason, I feel we have a good a chance to go far in both the SCC and the state tournaments.

“There are a lot of teams that are very good this year. But we have had success in tight games, winning three out of four in OT. I feel we will be as prepared as anybody and also can carry our regular-season momentum into the playoffs.”