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Hockey Team Has Large Roster, Hunger, And D-III Status All On Its Side

Newtown High School’s hockey team enters into the 2013-14 campaign facing some on- and off-ice changes. Returning skaters are hungry for success following a disappointing finish to the previous season, and given the potential for winning ways under a changed conference alignment and state division placement.

The Nighthawks, who advanced through the qualifying and first rounds before falling in the state tournament quarterfinals a year ago, have been bumped back down from Division II to D-III status in the state. Coach Paul Esposito is somewhat perplexed by the change given his team upset top-ranked Amity of Woodbridge in the first round. Esposito, however, isn’t arguing with the change — after all, he has ten seniors on the roster and the divisional shift makes for a great opportunity to win now, as well as for next year’s substantially younger team to have a potentially more forgiving postseason path.

In yet another change, Newtown will now play in the newly formed South-West/Southern Connecticut Conference. The SWC and SCC merged, and is broken into three divisions. Newtown will be among the conferences D-III teams and will be bracketed with familiar SWC foes Masuk of Monroe, Joel Barlow of Redding, New Fairfield-Immaculate of Danbury, and the Shepaug-Litchfield-Nonnewaug team, as well as SCC squads from Wallingford, Sheehan, and Lyman Hall.

“They deserve a good shot and the opportunity’s there,” Esposito said of his players’ chances for titles in both the state and conference. “There’s no question we should qualify for the newly merged conference playoffs and the state playoffs. There’s no excuse for us not to be in there.”

Newtown will still face rivals including the Brookfield-Bethel-Danbury team and Watertown-Pomperaug of Southbury, which will be in the conference’s second division.

The Nighthawks posted a 10-10 record a year ago, and go into this campaign ranked second in D-II in the state behind Masuk and just ahead of New Fairfield-Immaculate in the Hockey Night In Boston rankings, Esposito notes.

The team will have to overcome the loss of a handful of graduates, but Esposito likes what he’s got on the ice this winter. For starters, a roster of 27 players marks the largest with which the coach has had to work in ten years of coaching in Newtown. He believes there is depth not only in numbers but also in terms of skill. The coach expects the bottom of the lineup to push the top of lineup and compete for ice time.

Newtown has experience and veteran leadership at all positions. Senior returnees include goaltender Patrick McLoughlin, and defensemen Dave Harrison (also a forward), David Gregory, Jack Martin, and Matt Sabia. Final-year high schoolers on offense are Cooper McClean, Connor Hanley, Zach Waller, and Hayden Savoia. Senior newcomer John Lovorn is also a blue-liner/forward. A large group of talented freshmen is led by defenseman Sean Ferris, the coach adds. And sophomore backup goaltender Nick Chaloux has some varsity experience and is pushing for playing time between the pipes.

“We have a roster to win,” Esposito said. “They’re strong characters.”

The team’s captains were to be named this week as the Nighthawks get closer to the season opener when Masuk visits Danbury Ice Arena on December 19, for a 7:50 pm puck drop.

Newtown, after upsetting Amity in the first round as the state’s No. 17 seed, naturally, thought it had a good shot at going all the way. A 5-1 loss to ninth-seeded North Branford ended those hopes and has left those back in the fold with a strong desire to go deeper in this year’s playoffs.

“They’re hungrier this year than last year,” Esposito said.

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