NEWINGTON - When Newingtonâ€™s co-op ice hockey team takes the ice at Yaleâ€™s Ingalls Rink on 7:30 p.m. tonight, there will be a bit of nostalgia for some of the Indians.
The last time Newington advanced to the Division III semifinals, the program went on to win state championships in 2012 and 2013, and several of this yearâ€™s players - seventh-graders or younger at the time - were in the building watching the Indians capture the state crowns.
Following his teamâ€™s practice on Saturday, Indians head coach David Harackiewicz wanted to give them a reminder of those special seasons, inviting his players over for a pasta dinner at his house and dipping into the game film vault.
â€śWeâ€™re gonna show them the state championship video of the two games so they can get a little taste of the championship game just to get a feel [for the] positive message we wanna send,â€ť Harackiewicz said prior to the weekendâ€™s practice session.
What many of this seasonâ€™s players - including senior Tyler Ralph, whose brother Brendan was on the 2013 title team - will see on the game tape is something the Indiansâ€™ 22nd-year coach has already observed.
â€śOne of the keys to those years and this team is you peak at the right time during the last quarter of the season going into the tournament, and Iâ€™ve seen that in those teams and obviously this team,â€ť Harackiewicz said. â€śWeâ€™re playing pretty good hockey so I think there are a lot of similarities there. I think the players are driven like my other teams were.â€ť
There is a noticeable difference in this seasonâ€™s group, however.
When the Indians powered through the 2012 and 2013 tournaments, they were the top-seeded favorites in the D-III bracket.
This season, itâ€™s not as if Newington is a Cinderella story. But the No. 3 seed Indians (17-5-0) have been a bit of an underdog, Harackiewicz says, and they have set up their semifinal match with No. 2 Lyman Hall/Haddam-Killingworth/Coginchaug (16-6-0) behind a strong defensive identity.
Coupled with the defense is an offensive attack led by Ethan Ranger (33 points this season), Andrew Graham (27) and Matt Lavoie (27) who helped the Indians defeated Trinity Catholic 9-0 in the first round and Tri-Town 3-2 in the quarterfinals.
â€śOur defense is one of our strengths, and theyâ€™re very good offensively and defensively,â€ť Harackiewicz said. â€śI think that makes us especially difficult to play because we play four defensemen, and all four can defend and rush the puck. Theyâ€™ve had a number of games where theyâ€™ve gotten points. To have four guys that have over 10 points, for a defensemen is pretty impressive. All four of ours can play defense and rush the puck. Itâ€™s a little unique that weâ€™re able to have those four guys join the rush and attack the puck and also get back defensively. You donâ€™t usually see that at the D-III level where you have the [offense and the] defensive capability to match it.â€ť
Will that stout defensive zone be enough to carry the Indians to a state championship bout with either No. 1 Daniel Hand (18-3-1) or No. 4 Sheehan (16-5-1) on Thursday?
It could. But it will have to slow down a potent, aggressive Trojans offense that has netted six goals in each of its tournament games thus far.
â€śWeâ€™re facing a very good offensive team. They have four or five guys that are dynamic, especially with the puck,â€ť Harackiewicz said. â€śI think our offense will take care of itself, but I think the key will be our five guys on the ice getting back and getting in good defensive position and really taking away the time and space of some of their top players. How we play in the defensive zone is key.â€ť
Harackiewicz knows there will be some nerves in anticipation of the seasonâ€™s biggest game. He expects and wants that anxiety from his club.
â€śI told them if youâ€™re not nervous, somethingâ€™s wrong,â€ť Harackiewicz said. â€śAt this point, usually the first shift youâ€™ve got the butterflies, but then when the game gets going, you get into the pace of the game. I donâ€™t anticipate that being an issue. Itâ€™s special to get to Yale. Not many teams get to go there. Itâ€™s a special environment. Playing at that rink is fantastic. We want to play with urgency and passion, but you have to have a sense of calmness. The goal is to get to Thursday, and I think itâ€™ll be a really good game.â€ť
Zack Carpenter can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org