believes the CIAC Division II boys hockey tournament is as wide-open as any he's seen in years, and that the teams that played harder schedules have given themselves a bit of an edge.
Vicenzi did what he could to toughen up his Watertown/Pomperaug (Watertown, Conn.)
team as they've played - and beaten - some of the state's best Division II competition.
"I try to do that every year," Vicenzi said. "I say to myself, ‘I would be happy to be 9-10 or 8-12, just as long as we get in.' It's about playing tough games and getting better.
"Numbers don't mean much to me. It's about getting the kids to improve every game and every practice."
The Indians will be seeded third when the state tournament starts next week. They were 14-5-1 headed into Thursday's South-West Conference playoff semifinals
, and two years removed from winning the state Division III title, the first in program history.
W/P has wins over two of the best Division II teams — top-ranked Amity and Southern Connecticut Conference champion Hand. It also beat longtime Division I contender Notre Dame-Fairfield.
"We certainly get up for those big games," Vicenzi said. "Any of those SCC teams (such as Amity and Hand), we know that they're tough, and we've fared very well against them this year.
"The kids get (fired up) playing against some of those top teams."
Experience has played a big role in the Indians' success. They have 11 seniors who played on last season's 10-11 team.
"The senior class that we have, they're all tremendous kids," Vicenzi said. "What we lack in skill, we certainly make up for in hard work and effort. I have to attribute that to our success. A lot of games that we lost year, we're winning this year just because they have given that extra effort and have that extra year of experience.
"The heartbreak of losing some of those games carried over to this year," he added. "They've willed themselves to win."
Center Kevin Murphy
, forward Garret Young
, and defensemen Gabe Dispoto
and Bobby Narciso
are the team's senior co-captains.
Depth has also helped the Indians. Senior goaltender Trevor St. Onge
(1.15 goals against) injured his ankle in the practice before the Hand game (Feb. 2). Junior Chris Boutot
and sophomore Carl Larosa
have played well in his absence as W/P has won five of nine games without him and tied another.
"I hate to call them backups," Vicenzi said. "(St. Onge) is an all-state caliber goalie and has played really well."
Junior center Jon Manzer
has a team-high 17 goals with five assists for the Indians while senior right wing Kyle Block
has 11 goals and nine assists.
Murphy has 10 goals and eight assists, and Young has a team-high 19 assists.
"Kevin Murphy is certainly one of our most complete players," Vicenzi said. "He's a smaller guy, but he's not afraid to throw his body around. He can play a physical game as well as some of the finesse aspects of the game.
"On the defensive side, Bobby Narciso, he's been playing since he was a sophomore, and we really on him for our power play and penalty kill. I'd say that he's raised his play the last five or six games. He's played extremely well."
The defense has allowed 1.7 goals a game. That strength should help them during states.
"I feel we have as good a chance as anybody (to win)," Vicenzi said. "In the past few weeks, we've had the fortune to either play against, or be able to watch, pretty much half of the quality teams. We're all the same. We have a few solid forwards and a couple of good defensemen. Pretty much everybody has a decent goalie. It's just how well you perform on any given night and how much your second-and-third lines help you out.
"I haven't seen anything like this in many years. You usually don't see this much talent spread out. You usually have four-or-five top teams, and everyone else is struggling to play catch-up."Ned
Griffen has covered high school, college and professional sports in the
Northeast since 1992. A 2003 New England Associated
Press News Executives award winner, he may be reached at email@example.com