Greenwich boys hockey back on its game, eye deep playoff runs

Greenwich High School boys ice hockey goalie Bryan Archino makes the save on his teammate during Tuesday’s practice at the Dorothy Hamill Rink. — John Ferris Robben photo

Greenwich High School boys ice hockey goalie Nick Buzzuto makes the save on his teammate during Tuesday’s practice at the Dorothy Hamill Rink. — John Ferris Robben photo

With a talented roster that head coach Bob Russel said he hasn’t seen since the 2009 season, the Greenwich High School boys ice hockey team is aiming high this winter season.

“I am always optimistic,” Russel said. “This should be a very strong year for us. We are loaded with seniors and are more talented than we’ve been. We have probably as much talent as 2009. The question is can we keep them all together and how do they gel and work as a team. Certainly the raw ingredients are there for us. It’s just a question of injuries and a little good luck at the right time.”

Last season, Big Red finished the regular season 9-10-1 overall. After falling to New Canaan in the opening round of the FCIAC tournament, they entered the CIAC Division I hockey tournament as the No. 13 seed and fell to FCIAC foe Darien High School 3-1 to end its season.

With most of the team returning this season, the expectations are quite high this season.

“There’s a lot of talent on this team and that is very exciting,” Rogan said. “We have been moving the puck well and playing together as a team, so there are high expectations here. We want to go far in the FCIAC and state tournament.”

Leading the way for the much-improved Cardinals will be senior captains Kevin Piotrzkowski, Tommy Rogan, Matt Lodato and Ian Fulton.

“It’s great to lead this team and I’ve always grown up wanting to be a captain here,” Fulton said. “Being able to do that is a great experience and an honor. The expectations here are really high, but we can’t get ahead of ourselves. We need to take this year one game at a time. Last year we had a lot of new guys, so having them all back this year is great because they have more confidence on the ice. We have been working hard in practice and that will help on game day.”

Piotrzkowski and Rogan will be playing at defense for Big Red, while Fulton and Lodato will be playing the forward positions.

“It feels great to lead this team,” Piotrzkowski said. “To see the people before me that have been leaders, I have had great role models like Paul Macken, Will Waesche, Luke Finneran and others. It’s great to know that people can look up to me, not just high schoolers, but everybody that’s younger and wants to play hockey here. Our expectations are a lot higher than they have been in the past few years. We are looking to beat some of the top teams in the state and FCIAC.”

Greenwich High head coach Bob Russel instructs his team during Tuesday’s practice. — John Ferris Robben photo

Greenwich High head coach Bob Russel instructs his team during Tuesday’s practice. — John Ferris Robben photo

What makes the captains so strong for Russel is their leadership ability.

“They are all really solid citizens,” Russel said. “The captains are your hardest working guys all the time, especially in practice. They set the pace that other people can’t ignore. If your captains are dogging it, there’s no way you’re going to be successful because people look at them and they are supposed to set an example. You want them to push themselves to the end of their ability. We have excellent leadership and I have no concern at this point.”

While the season started up this week, Russel is still working with matching up which athlete will play on what line.

“Sometimes there are certain guys that work really well with each other and there’s a mental chemistry,” Russel said. “They sort of read off each other really well. We had a scrimmage against New Canaan and had one set of lines, but then we changed them for our scrimmage against Milford. We are closing in, but we aren’t there yet.”

In the final scrimmage of the preseason, Lodato was playing between Brian Silard and Naoya Fukuchi.

“They are three seniors with a lot of experience and really skilled,” Russel said. “Naoya is fast, Matt is an all-around good player and Silard is a talented goal-scorer.

In that same scrimmage, Fulton played between Montana Larson and Makenzie Larson.

“They are intense and you could play them against anybody’s best line,” Russel said. “They are fearless, aggressive, tough and fast. The big challenge is to keep them in position because they are so aggressive sometimes. There are three seniors in that group.”

Other forwards that Russel believes will stand are seniors Tommy Feda, junior Kristian Cunningham, Mike Mozian, Charlie Whiteley and Calvin McKinney, as well as freshman Oliver Fulton.

“We have a good group of juniors, as well as seniors and that’s very similar to our 2009 team,” Russel said. “We have pretty good balance.”

Greenwich will be looking to replace recent GHS alum Luke Finneran, who scored one-third of the team’s goals last year. Along with Mark Schmeiler’s speed and stickwork, Big Red lost a talented duo to graduation.

“I was nervous about replacing those two, but with the guys that we have coming back, I think we are a little more balanced,” Russel said.

On defense Rogan and Piotrzkowski are stellar in their positions on the ice.

“We are going to have scoring a little more spread out,” Piotrzkowski said. “Last year we had Luke Finneran that put in a lot of our goals, but this year we have Brian Silard and other kids like Kristian Cunningham, Matt Lodato and Ian Fulton. They can all put in goals.”

Rogan has been on the team for four years and Piotrzkowski for three years.

“I have been on the team for four years and I have seen three other captains before me, so I know what being a captain here means,” Rogan said. “My freshman year we were 3-17 and every year we have been getting better and better. This year we have the high expectations and being a captain here to help get us to where we want to be is an amazing feeling.”

In addition to senior Philip Glasser and juniors Colin Kelly, Ben Van Duyne, Ben Pratley, senior Decker Curran has moved from forward and will joining the defensive unit.

“We weren’t sure how it was going to work out, but it’s going really well so far,” said Russel about Curran’s move to defense. “He’s a huge body and he’s talented. He’s calm under pressure and that’s very hard to do when you’re jumping into a new position.”

All three goalies have been with Greenwich High for a while and leading the way as of press time will be Bryan Archino.

“Bryan has a lot of experience,” Russel said. “With goalies, it’s all about confidence, so we need him to believe in himself and we need to support him. When goalies believe in themselves, they are twice as good as when they start to wonder.”

In addition to Archino, Nick Buzzuto has been with the team for three years and Daniel Gazaille has been with the club for two.

“I feel pretty good about the team,” Russel said. “I think that we have the chance, if we do the right things, to really be back in mix with Darien, Ridgefield and New Canaan.

This year, the FCIAC changed the format of its tournament. The top two teams get a bye in the first round, so one of Russel’s goals is to try and be one of those top two teams to earn that extra few days of rest.

In addition, the Cardinals would like nothing more than to get some victories in the state tournament, a feat that Big Red has been unsuccessful at accomplishing in recent years.

“It would be nice to advance,” Russel said. “We haven’t had a lot of success in the state tournament. Even when we had some good teams, it seems like we were coming off a high of an FCIAC and lose in the first round. I would love to see us get deeper in the state tournament. We have the tools to compete to win an FCIAC this year.”

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