Rocky Hill’s Dom Violette celebrates a goal during the Terriers upset win over New Milford in the first round of the state tournament on March 6. Photo credit – Brian Beausoleil Photography.
After starting the season with four straight losses, the Rocky Hill co-op ice hockey team closed the 2022-2023 campaign with a bang by upsetting New Milford 3-0 in the opening round of the Division III state tourney and then knocking off Tri-Town (6-1) in the quarterfinals round.
The multiple town team—featuring players from Rocky Hill, Middletown, Plainville, Haddam-Killingworth, Bristol, and Vinal Tech—entered the state tournament as a No. 15-seed following a 7-13 regular season and pulled the biggest upset in hockey this season, eliminating the No. 2-seed of New Milford, who won 17 of 20 games in the regular season.
“The boys did a nice job at preparing themselves both physically and mentally, and then they just executed,” Rocky Hill head coach Dave Dubos recalled. “They were confident and focused on what we needed to do.”
Rocky Hill’s tourney win was shocking on many levels. Along with a 15-seed eliminating a 2-seed in the state tournament for only the second time since 2008, they also avenged a 5-0 loss to New Milford on Dec. 28.
At the time, the December loss at New Milford dropped the Terriers to 0-4.
Despite the discrepancy in records and the early-season shutout loss, the Terriers felt like they were equals heading into the tourney bout.
“I felt like we were going to win; I believed that we would come out on top,” recalled Dubos. “We knew we could compete with them and match them, and that’s what we went out and did.”
Rocky Hill flipped the script in the tourney rematch as goalie Kyle Kundrath (Vinal Tech) put in a masterful performance in the opening round win, shutting out a New Milford team that was averaging nearly seven goals per contest in their previous 10 games—all wins.
Dubos praised Kundrath for his dedication, saying he is one of the first players at the rink every day.
“He’s an amazing teammate and outstanding goalie,” added Dubos. “To shutout a team like that is really commendable.”
Tyler Poulin (Rocky Hill), Dom Violette (Rocky Hill), and Olaf Talar (Plainville) netted the goals for the Terriers.
It was an extra special night for Poulin, who was coming back from a broken collarbone he suffered in the team’s second scrimmage this winter.
Because of the time table for recovering from the injury, the only way Poulin would play again is if the team made the state tournament.
After losing 11 of their first 13 games this season, the Terriers ended the season by winning five of seven, including four of their final five games.
The late-season push earned the battle-tested Terriers a spot in the tourney and allowed Poulin to finish his senior season on the ice.
“We have a lot of ‘whys’ and getting Tyler back on the ice and making states was one of them,” said Dubos. “Having him back has been huge. That has helped us tremendously with our confidence.”
In the quarterfinals win over Tri-Town, the offense ignited for six goals, the team’s second most in a game this winter.
Talar netted two goals, while Poulin, Violette, Cole Bates (Rocky Hill), and Zachary Harmon (Bristol) also scored.
Kundrath was again stellar between the pipes.
Captaining the team on the ice through the memorable season are Poulin, Violette, and Tanner Phillips (Middletown).
Dubos said his captains have been “tremendous” with helping mesh all the pieces together by organizing workouts in the offseason and calling the trio “an extension of the coaching staff.”
“All three of them have been here since the birth of this program three years ago. They live and breathe our values,” added Dubos. “These guys have set the expectations high and held everyone accountable.”
This is the third season for the local co-op in Rocky Hill. They were previously part of Wethersfield co-op before the Eagles turned into a town-only program prior to the 2020-2021 season.
Following last season’s 6-13-1 finish, the Terriers reapplied for the co-op and added the Bristol schools and Vinal Tech in the offseason, welcoming in more players and more moving parts.
12 of the 22 players this year had never played together and the early–season struggles reflected a growing period.
Dubos said it took a while to find the right chemistry but the commitment was there from day one.
The team practices in the wee hours of the morning, getting to the rink around 4:15 a.m. and starting practice at 5 a.m.
“It’s 22 guys that didn’t know each other coming together like brothers, creating a family. In three months they did that and that is pretty powerful,” stated Dubos.
Along with winning a pair of memorable state tournament games, the Terriers also closed the regular season with a 5-0 win over Northeastern as the team played their Cancer Awareness Charity Game, collecting donations for a good cause and honoring families that have lost loved ones.
Dubos said the charity game was a reflection of the player’s willingness to play for a cause greater than hockey, which they have done all season.
“They played selflessly and they are committed to each other and committed to the program,” added Dubos. “They are giving us everything they have.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin