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Junior defenseman Rocco Plano and senior goalie Logan Hamilton helped the Yellowjackets’ ice hockey squad qualify for states for the 34th-straight campaign this winter. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Junior forward Dave Amatruda produced plenty of points for the East Haven co-op boys’ ice hockey team during the 2019-’20 season. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Sophomore Michael Robert was a key cog on defense for this Easties this year. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Old Saybrook junior Cory Benni lit the lamp with regularity to help the East Haven-Old Lyme-Old Saybrook-Morgan-Valley Regional-East Hampton boys’ ice hockey squad make states this winter. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
Morgan’s Tyler Weinzimmer was one of the players who held down the fort on defense throughout the 2019-’20 season. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
Valley Regional freshman Dylan Ingram was one of the players who held down the fort on defense for the East Haven-Old Lyme-Old Saybrook-Morgan-Valley Regional-East Hampton boys’ ice hockey squad during the 2019-’20 season. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/Valley Courier | Buy This Photo)
Valley sophomore Duncan Rider had a knack for finding the back of the net and helped his club qualify for the Division II State Tournament this winter. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/Valley Courier | Buy This Photo)
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Late into February, the East Haven co-op boys’ ice hockey team was still searching for its eighth win that would secure the Yellowjackets’ place in states for the 34th year in a row. There were just four games left in the season when East Haven hosted the Lyman Hall co-op on Feb. 22. It was a back-and-forth contest that ultimately went into overtime with the two sides still locked in a tie. In the OT period, senior Alec Speirs put a shot past the Trojans’ goalie to give the Yellowjackets a 4-3 victory and a berth into the Division II State Tournament.
“It was really exciting. It was a question mark if we would get to eight. We were able to do it against a great team in Lyman Hall,” Head Coach Lou Pane said. “When we came back into the locker room, we realized that after all the hard work they put into it, they achieved one of the goals they wanted. Not only in sports, but in life, you set goals for yourself that are not easily obtainable at times. Once you achieve it, it’s so rewarding, because you know that you really worked towards that goal.”
East Haven entered states as the No. 14 seed and squared off with No. 3 Farmington Valley in a first-round matchup. The Yellowjackets were only down by a goal with seven minutes left in the game, but wound up allowing three goals in the closing minutes in an eventual 6-2 loss.
Despite the defeat, Coach Pane was pleased with the way his team battled against a Generals’ squad that only lost three games all year. Pane felt that performance showed just how much his athletes had improved through the course of the campaign.
“The individual players got a lot better,” said Pane. “Sometimes you have to play freshmen and sophomores that haven’t played in high school before or haven’t seen much ice time. It takes an adjustment. It takes some time, takes some practice, and some maturity. We saw that all come together a little bit, which was nice.”
East Haven finished its season with an overall record of 8-14. The Yellowjackets, who featured players from East Haven, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook, East Hampton, Morgan, and Valley Regional, were led by three seniors in forwards Speirs and Shane Hanson, as well as goalie Logan Hamilton. Speirs goes to Old Lyme High School, and Hanson and Hamilton are East Haven students.
Speirs was the Yellowjackets’ main offense weapon and won the club’s High Scoring Award this year. Hamilton was named to the All-SCC First Team and made the All-State Second Team for his efforts in net. He also received East Haven’s Most Valuable Player Award and the Hobey Baker Character Award. Hanson was the only one of the three seniors who played for the team in all four years of high school.
“Those guys work so hard at it. A lot of credit to them. They were cornerstone upperclassmen as seniors. They led by the effort they brought every day, whether it was practice or a game,” Pane said. “I wish those guys the best, and they know we consider ourselves family. I’m a phone call away for the rest of their lives. We told them to always make good decisions no matter where it takes you. We want them to be successful in life.”
While the three seniors led the team, East Haven still featured plenty of other athletes who made crucial contributions. Junior defenseman Rocco Plano, an East Haven resident, won the team’s Coaches’ Award. Fellow East Haven student Michael Robert, a sophomore, helped anchor the Yellowjackets’ back line alongside Plano.
Coach Pane also noted the contributions of freshman defensmen Dylan Ingram and Tyler Weinzimmer, who attend Valley Regional and Morgan, respectively. Both athletes saw their fair share of ice time this year, and Pane expects their minutes to increase as sophomores.
East Haven sophomore Ethan Roach is slated to take over for Hamilton in goal next season. On the offensive end of the ice, East Haven’s Dave Amatruda and Old Saybrook’s Cory Benni, who are both juniors, will once again be relied upon to produce points for the Yellowjackets. Amatruda was right behind Speirs for the team lead in points this year. Benni finished his season on a high note by recording 12 points in the last eight games.
Valley Regional sophomore Duncan Rider had a nice year for the Yellowjackets. Coach Pane thinks that Rider is one of the players who’s poised to have an even bigger season next winter.
“Duncan’s a tremendous athlete and did some special things for us,” Pane said. “We’re really high on Duncan. We think he’s the type of player that could play at the next level. We’re looking forward to him coming back and having a huge year for us next season.”
Coach Pane added that East Hampton sophomore Josh Berg, Old Lyme sophomore Parker Sprankle, and East Hampton freshman Nicholas Ruggiero are among the key athletes coming back to the Yellowjackets for the 2020-’21 campaign.
Pane has been behind the bench as the head coach of East Haven hockey for the past 34 years. Pane said that he will always remember this year’s team for its heart and the amount of hard work that his athletes put in all season.
“I think this team will be remembered as a hardworking team that gave it its all,” said Pane. “We worked hard every game. We competed every game. When other teams might have had more talent than us, they knew they had to work really hard to beat us. We were coming to play. We played at the highest level possible.”
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