Branford Boys’ Ice Hockey Ready for Return to Postseason Play
The Branford boys’ ice hockey team has improved vastly upon its previous campaign thus far this winter. In the process, the Hornets have locked in a trip back to postseason action while collecting some signature moments and victories.
A year ago, Head Coach Jim DiNapoli and Branford had a tough run for their 2021-’22 season on the ice, finishing with an overall mark of 4-16 and missing out on qualifying for state tournament play.
Yet this season, Branford has easily put away the bitter taste of that slate. The Hornets have headed into the home stretch of the regular season as one of the hotter teams in the Division II rankings of the state–playing to a 9-7 record overall to clinch a spot in the DII state draw and putting themselves in contention for an additional berth in the SCC/SWC Division II Tournament.
“Everybody is trying to work hard towards our common goals and put last year in the rearview mirror,” said DiNapoli. “They are committed to working hard and improving. This is a great group of guys, and we are very happy with this year so far.”
A watershed moment for the Hornets this year recently came when they knocked off previously unbeaten North Haven with a 3-2 triumph on Feb. 1 at the Northford Ice Pavilion. The Nighthawks had entered the contest with an unblemished mark of 12-0 while sitting atop the DII state standings.
The victory added to DiNapoli and his squad’s belief that they certainly belong in the conversation with the elites in Division II, while it additionally showed one of the entertainment tropes of sports in why games are played on the ice and not on paper.
“The North Haven game was a huge win for us,” Coach DiNapoli said. “There is a lot of parity in Division II. When you look at the top echelon of it, the parity is quite unique. We feel we are right in the mix there. There have been games where we have both overachieved and also underachieved. But the North Haven game was a game that showed the cliche that anyone can knock off anyone on any given night. It was a win and a message that resonated within our locker room.”
DiNapoli went on to praise his group for coming together extremely well in developing cohesion and camaraderie on and off the ice. He additionally noted that the boys have very much bought in to not only the Xs and Os of competition but also the ultimate team goals as they inch towards the completion of the regular-season.
“They are playing well, and they are starting to buy in. They have systematically bought in over the course of the season so far,” said DiNapoli. “They have confidence in themselves, and our last few games will be big tests for us.”
While Branford boasts a postseason berth already in hand, the Hornets are certainly not resting on any laurels or trapping themselves into a state of complacency. As the squad recently pulled off an upset with the North Haven decision, the Hornets will enter each game focused with a winning mindset to avoid being on the unfavorable end of a similar result.
“We have already qualified for states, which is something we are very proud of,” said Coach DiNapoli. “We are especially proud of it after last season. We will approach these last few games the same way we approached the previous 17. We will take it one game at a time, and we will have to come to each game prepared and ready to play. We are on the cusp of making the conference tournament, which we absolutely hope to qualify for, as it would be quite an accomplishment.”
Branford concludes the regular season by hosting Farmington Valley on Saturday, Feb. 18, at the Northford Ice Pavilion at 5 p.m. and then travels to Cromwell Rink to face East Catholic on Wednesday, Feb. 22, for 7:20 p.m. puck drop in the finale.
For the SCC/SWC Division II Tournament, the top four squads in the league qualify for the draw. With the entire tournament being held at West Haven High School’s Bennett Rink, the semifinals are to be held on Wednesday, March 1 at 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. The finals will be played on Friday, March 3 at 8 p.m.
The Division II State Tournament kicks off with first-round play on Monday, March 6. The quarterfinals will be held on Friday, March 10. The semifinals are being contested on Tuesday, March 14, and the final will be played on Monday, March 20. The semifinals and finals will take place at Quinnipiac University.
Previously on the regular season, Branford defeated Masuk (7-6 on Dec. 21), Sheehan (6-5 on Dec. 28), Lyman Hall (7-0 on Dec. 31), Milford (by a 9-5 final on Jan. 7), Cheshire (6-4 on Jan. 14), Hamden (5-2 on Jan. 16), North Branford (4-3 on Jan. 25), North Haven (3-2 on Feb. 1), and the Eastern CT Eagles (6-5 on Feb. 4). The Hornets’ losses came by way of Glastonbury (5-1 on Dec. 14), Woodstock Academy (11-1 on Dec. 17), East Haven (6-2 on Jan. 4), Watertown-Pomperaug (4-2 final on Jan. 11), Trumbull (6-5 on Jan. 18), Amity (7-1 on Jan. 21), and Lyman Hall (4-2 on Jan. 23).
The Branford roster is made up of seniors in sole captain Matthew Morgan, Timothy Shields Jr., Sean Bosworth, Colin Deane, Sean Cleary, Alexander Milne, Michael Farricielli, Jack Linder, Michael Linder, Nicolas Michaud; junior Kellen Grehl; sophomores of Michael Loomis, Jack Francis, James Moran, Dylan Bosworth, Maxwell Voets, Michael Maler, and Dante DiLegge. DiNapoli is aided on the bench this winter by Assistant Coach Chris Annino.