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Senior captain defenseman Donny Funaro garnered All-Conference and All-State First Team honors for the North Haven boys’ ice hockey squad this year. Funaro helped the Indians enjoy a turnaround campaign that saw the team record 13 wins, including a pair of victories in the playoffs. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Senior captain Alan Tancreti III proved a key component for a stingy Indians’ defense that refused to give its opponents much space to work with this winter. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Jake Wentworth kept North Haven’s athletes unified both on and off the ice while leading the team as a senior captain in the 2019-’20 season. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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The North Haven boys’ ice hockey squad put the rest of the state on notice this winter. After winning just four games in their first season with Head Coach Chris Avena, the Indians turned things around and made a rapid rise up the ranks during the 2019-’20 campaign. North Haven qualified for both the SCC/SWC Division II Tournament and the Division II State Tournament and then won a game in each bracket on its way to finishing with an overall record of 13-7-3.
“This year was a huge success. We were playing our best hockey at the end of the season,” Coach Avena said. “We wanted to beat some teams that were better than us on paper, and we did that a few times. It was great to watch the seniors have a successful campaign after what they had been through the last three seasons.”
The Indians were determined to return to states after missing out on the playoffs last year. North Haven got out to a decent start by splitting its first six games, then went on a roll by going 7-1-3 in its next 11 contests. North Haven qualified for the state tourney with a 2-0 victory over Watertown-Pomperaug on Jan. 29.
In addition to making states, the Indians also qualified for the SCC/SWC Division II Tournament this season. North Haven advanced to its first conference final in team history with a 2-1 semifinal victory versus Hand in a game that came down to a shootout, which the Indians won by a 2-1 margin. North Haven went on to take a 1-0 loss against defending champion Branford in the final.
The Indians then entered the Division II State Tournament as the No. 7 seed and hosted No. 10 Trumbull for a first-round matchup. North Haven blanked Trumbull by a 3-0 score to earn its first win in states since 2016.
Coach Avena felt that one of the keys to the Indians’ success was the way the team’s veterans meshed with the underclassmen as the campaign unfolded.
“The older kids felt comfortable with the younger kids. We played quite a few freshmen and sophomores, and the upperclassmen believed in them,” said Avena, who was named the SCC/SWC Division II Coach of the Year. “The underclassmen stepped up at the right time with an understanding of what we were looking for when they touched the ice. All of that accumulated at the end, and everyone just ran with it.”
North Haven featured three seniors on its roster, and all three athletes led the club as its captains. The Indians’ senior captains were defensemen Donny Funaro and Alan Tancreti III and forward Jake Wentworth. Funaro had four goals with eight assists en route to earning All-SCC/SWC Division II First Team honors, as well as a spot on the All-State Division II First Team.
“Donny played 35 minutes a game while going up against the other team’s top line and just battled and battled and battled,” Coach Avena said. “Donny plays the game the right way, was focused on having a good senior season, and took the team on his back.”
Tancreti saw some time at forward before shifting back to defense to help stabilize that unit, finishing the year with two goals and seven assists. Wentworth did a great job of fostering chemistry among the Indians by making sure that everyone on the squad was always on the same page.
“Alan played the best games of his career at the end. Those last three games were the best I ever saw him play. He was physical, made great decisions with the puck, and was beating people one-on-one,” said Avena. “Jake was great with the young kids. He always made sure that they were involved in whatever the team was doing. Jake was a calming influence on the team and, if there was ever any turbulence, he did whatever he could to squash it.”
Along with Funaro and Tancreti III, North Haven’s defensive corps was also led by junior Nick Howlett and freshman Owen Quick. The Indians’ last line of defense—and one of the biggest factors behind their success—was junior goalkeeper Andrew Sacco, who transferred to North Haven after helping the Lyman Hall co-op team win the Division III state title the previous season. This year, Sacco won nine games in goal while posting a save percentage of .920 to go with a goals-against average 2.00 on the year. Sacco was even better in the Indians’ three playoff games, recording a save percentage of .972 and a goals-against average of 0.67.
Backup goalie Jared Anderson notched four victories in net for the Indians. A sophomore, Anderson picked up the win when North Haven clinched its place in states by defeating Watertown-Pomperaug.
“Andrew was very vocal in practice and in the locker room and always had a different take, almost like a coach’s viewpoint, but he also put his money where his mouth was by giving us a chance to win every time he was on the ice. For Andrew to allow just two goals against top teams in our three playoff games was impressive,” Avena said. “Andrew also pushed Jared to the heights that Jared achieved this year. Jared could have started for 80 to 85 percent of the teams in state. He was phenomenal in practice every day, and that made our shooters better, because it was hard to get pucks by him.”
North Haven’s two top scorers were junior forwards Aaron Racino and Eli Brubacher, who both played on the first line. Racino, a center, had 13 goals and eight assists, while Brubacher scored eight goals to go with 13 assists on the season.
The Indians’ second line primarily featured sophomore Jake Hines at center with junior Will Fiore and freshman Tommy Guidone on the wings. Hines had five goals and five assists, Fiore scored eight goals and dished out four assists, and Guidone scored five goals with four assists. Hines and Fiore also saw time on the first line, as did Wentworth.
Junior Mason Sullivan put together a nice year on North Haven’s third line. Sullivan had nine goals and three assists, netting several clutch goals for the Indians throughout the year. Sophomore Nick Tondalo centered the third line with freshman Alex Petersen and Will Sullivan seeing action on the wings.
North Haven’s fourth line featured sophomore center Ayden Mindlin, along with sophomore wingers Mike Anquillare and Brian Jooss.
Coach Avena said that everyone on the Indians contributed to the team at some point during the season. The other athletes on North Haven’s roster were junior defenseman Justin Marks, sophomore defensemen Justin Pniewski and Caden Doheny, and freshman goalie Bryce Petersen.
North Haven’s assistant coaches were Mike Tantorski, Alan Tancreti, and Lloyd Jacques.
In addition to feeling great about the recent campaign, Coach Avena is optimistic about what the future holds for North Haven. With the bulk of this year’s team returning, Avena feels Indians are primed to have more successful seasons for years to come.
“The fact that we had guys put the team first before any individuals is something that we can really build on,” said Avena. “I know that we can play with anyone. We have a positive culture, we’re highly competitive, and I truly believe that we do it the right way. This is something that we can ride out for the next three to five years, if not longer.”
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