Wethersfield seniors (l-r) Ryan Mazur, Anthony Zabielski, and Shane Mazur after helping the Eagles win their first ice hockey state championship since 2007.
Wethersfield ice hockey did the improbable, winning a state championship just two years after transitioning from a co-op team to a town team.
The Eagles won the Division II championship game, defeating North Haven 3-0 at People United Center on the Quinnipiac University campus in Hamden on Monday, March 21.
It was the program’s first state title in 15 years, dating back to when they defeated New Milford in the Division III championship in 2007.
“I forgot how good it feels. You lose your memory after a while,” joked longtime head coach Dennis Tulimieri, who has been coaching the program for nearly four decades. “I’m just very grateful that I have this group of kids to coach.”
The underdog—No. 3-seed—Eagles played spectacularly from start to finish, matching intensity with the top-seeded North Haven team from the opening face-off.
Goalie Matthew Ruck was particularly brilliant between the pipes. Ruck made 28 saves to register a shutout against a normally high-octane offense that had scored at least one goal in the previous 23 games this season.
Ruck, a sophomore, gave credit to the stout defenders that protected the crease.
“The defense played amazing; I just made the saves,” said Ruck. “I stayed calm and stayed in my groove. I knew if we don’t let in any goals we would win a state championship.”
With under a minute to play in the first period, Ruck thwarted a North Haven attack by making consecutive saves as the teams battled to a scoreless stalemate through the first 15 minutes.
Seven minutes into the second period, Jack Millen broke the ice when he found the back of the net (assist from Will McCarter and T.J. Mayfield) at the 8:07 mark.
Colby Quinn duplicated that feat five minutes later, scoring a power play goal by weaving through multiple defenders and firing a blast past goalie Jared Anderson with 1:05 to play in the second. Shane Mazur was credited with the assist.
Quinn said a 4-1 loss in the regular season finale to North Haven on Feb. 26 added a redemption element to the already emotional-filled title game.
“That was huge motivation,” said Quinn, who added the team diligently studied the film from the loss. “We knew we could win this game and it feels absolutely amazing.”
McCarter put the finishing touches on the title game, adding an insurance goal with 1:17 left in regulation on an assist from Mayfield and Jay “The Mayor” Socha.
It was only fitting that the final goal in the title tilt was scored by the multi-sport McCarter, who achieved a championship double-dip.
In the fall, McCarter scored the game-winning goal for the WHS soccer team in the semifinal triumph 1-0 over Gilford, advancing the Eagles to the state championship where they would defeat Fitch in November.
“It’s better each time,” McCarter said of his two state titles in a four-month period. “The first one was awesome, but to do it again is absolutely unbelievable.”
Wethersfield’s ice hockey championship performance was nearly flawless, but that wasn't the case at multiple points this season for the Eagles, who overcame early-season woes and had to rally from a massive deficit in the quarterfinals of the state tourney.
Midway through January, Wethersfield stood at 4-2-2 and had struggled in losses to South Windsor and Sheehan.
The tide began to turn after a 4-3 overtime victory over Glastonbury on Jan. 15, prompting a seven-game winning streak.
“We just worked hard every day and we kept getting better each day and it showed. We all came together and kept pushing.” said Millen.
Then things again looked bleak when the Eagles trailed the co-op of Watertown/Pomperaug 3-0 in the quarterfinals on the state tourney on March 11. Goals from McCarter, Quinn, and a pair from Shane Mazur—including an overtime game-winner—erased the deficit, keeping the Eagles title hopes alive.
“I think it was a big wake up call for us. Being down 3-0 we turned our whole game around. We went hard after every puck and won every battle we had to win,” Quinn said of the epic comeback. “That translated to [the rest of] the tournament and now we are state champions.”
With all the peaks and valleys this season, coach Tulimieri credited the players for staying resilient through the tough times. Tulimieri has been with the program through several transitions, taking them from a town team to a co-op team and back to a town team during his tenure.
“I am of the opinion that this is the greatest sport in the world. Ice hockey is a fraternity of brothers,” said Tulimieri. “The co-op taught us a lot and when you go away from a co-op there are some support functions you lose.”
Tulimieri stated that he could tell the team was going to be special this season, adding the team’s eight seniors helped that transition from the co-op to the town team, “The seniors were critical; they did a great job. They made me a much better coach.”
Quinn, McCarter, Socha, Mayfield, [Shane] Mazur, [Ryan] Mazur, Charles Martindale, and Anthony Zabielski were the elite eight that celebrated together on the ice as Queen’s “We are the Championship” played over the loudspeakers.
“We are a brotherhood here and we all wanted to fight for each other. Nothing was going to stop us,” said McCarter.
Quinn added, “After four long years of high school with COVID breaking up the tournaments, it’s unreal. I’m at a loss for words.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin