Even though the Guilford boys’ ice hockey team parted ways with several key players from last year’s state semifinalist squad, the Indians still look to have the right combination of leadership and talent to ignite another postseason run this winter.
Last year, Head Coach Ralph Russo’s club won its first two games in the Division II State Tournament to move on to the semifinals, where Guilford dropped a contest against Fairfield Warde/Ludlowe to finish with an overall record of 15-7-2.
This season, the Indians have stormed out of the gate to the tune of a 3-1 start, including wins over SCC/SWC Division II rivals North Branford and Hand, as well as Yarmouth, Maine. As pleased as he is with the strong start, Coach Russo stressed that it’s imperative for Guilford to maintain that same high level of play throughout the regular season, so his team can smoothly reach its peak come March.
“For each year, we want to grow as a team as the season goes on. We are a young team, so it’s different than last year with some of the underclassmen carrying the experience,” said Russo. “They have to learn how to play as a team every day and I want to see them handle the long haul of the year. I want us to play our best at the end of the year.”
The Indians feature a pair of seniors in the captain’s role this winter with forward Ricky Sandella and goalie Kyle Dwyer. Coach Russo said that both athletes set extraordinary standards for their teammates when it comes to possessing the right fire to excel on the ice.
“Kyle brings a great work ethic to playing goalkeeper and to the team in general. He was an active guy in the offseaso, and he studies and trains tirelessly to be the best he can be. He was a late comer to hockey, but he’s picked the game up quick, and it’s fun to watch and see what he’s accomplished,” Coach Russo said. “Ricky has a nice skill set. He has great hand-eye coordination and good sense for the ice and what’s happening. He’s passionate about his team being successful.”
Guilford also has a nice mix of youth and experience on its defensive front behind veteran juniors Tom Cattaneo and Joe Neleber, sophomore Cam Bagnall, and freshman Jack Kane. At the forward position, the Indians’ key contributors are sophomores John DeLucia, Jack Ring, and Jake Watrous, along with freshman Jack Dacey. DeLucia put up 53 points as a freshman last year.
“Our defense has been playing great. Tom and Joe have the size and strength. Cam is a good skater, physically strong, and a student of the game. Jack Kane has stepped in and handled himself well. He handles the puck well and is a smart player,” said Russo. “John had an injury during soccer season, but he’s hitting his stride and works well with Ricky. Jack Ring is a high-energy guy and helps make everyone better because of it. Jack Dacey is a good utility guy who can play with anyone. Jake is an elusive player with the puck, but he can control it.”
The Indians took their first loss of the season by a 4-2 final against Westfield, Massachusetts in the Coast Guard Foundation Invitational on Jan. 2. Ring scored twice for the Indians with Sandella, DeLucia, and Bagnall assisting on goals. Dwyer made 21 saves against 25 shots in net.
The Indians then defeated rival Hand 5-3 on their home ice at DiLungo Rink in East Haven on Jan. 4. Guilford’s goals were scored by Ring (one with 11:57 left in the first period and another with 10:32 remaining in the third), Bagnall (with 4:58 to play before the second intermission), Neleber (with 1:52 to play in the second), and Sandella (in the closing seconds of the middle period).
In the previous week’s action, Guilford netted a 6-1 victory over Yarmouth, Maine on Dec. 30. Sandella scored two goals, as did DeLucia, while Ring and Bagnall notched a goal apiece for the Indians. Handing out assists for the Indians were Ring (3), Sandella (2), Bagnall, and Kane. Guilford won the shots on goal battle 36-21 with Dwyer making 20 saves.
Throughout the regular season, the Indians will tangle with familiar SCC/SWC Division II foes like reigning league champion North Branford, in addition to last year’s runner-up Cheshire, plus Branford, Hand, North Haven, East Haven, and Milford. Coach Russo said that the key for the Indians to navigate their way through the daily grind is for them to go out on the ice and compete as hard as they can on a daily basis.
“I’m always proud of the guys when you see them compete,” said Russo. “I’d like to see the kids go and compete every single day, both in games and in practices, because that’s the key to getting better.”
From the Sidelines
Ralph Russo is in his 15th year as the head coach of the Indians’ boys’ ice hockey squad.
Bill Graves is Guilford’s assistant coach for this season.
Guilford’s last appearance in a state final came in the 2011 season, when the team took a 3-1 loss to Cheshire. The Indians’ last state crown came the year prior with a 7-3 win over Brookfield-Bethel-Danbury in the Division III final.