Grizzlies Ready to Roar on the Ice
Defenseman Steven Tortora will lead the Guilford boys’ ice hockey team as a senior captain during the 2021 winter season. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Seniors Kent Mackowiak and Thomas Ring are two of the four seniors who will be relied upon to bring a veteran presence to the ice for the Grizzlies this year. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Junior forward Michael Torre and the Guilford boys’ hockey squad are hitting the ice for another season with Head Coach Ralph Russo this winter. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Thomas Ziemba is a junior forward on a Grizzlies’ squad that’s been looking for a place to play its home games now that DiLungo Rink in East Haven is closed for maintenance. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
In addition to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic that’s wreaking havoc throughout the state of Connecticut, the Guilford boys’ ice hockey team is facing another predicament this winter: Where are the Grizzlies going to play their home games?
It won’t be at DiLungo Rink in East Haven, which is where Guilford has been playing for the past 40 years. The rink is currently closed due to maintenance, but that hasn’t stopped Head Coach Ralph Russo from looking for arenas for the Grizzlies to compete in during the 2021 campaign.
“We have a scheduling challenge in the wake of East Haven’s rink being closed for the season. The plan is to work with West Haven and Northford in terms of securing ice time,” said Russo. “This is the first time in over 40 years that we wouldn’t be using East Haven’s rink, and it’s just another challenge to an already difficult season.”
Despite the challenges, Coach Russo feels confident that his squad will make the most of the upcoming season. Guilford is being led by senior captain defenseman Steven Tortora, whom Russo calls a natural leader. The team’s three other seniors are forwards Thomas Ring, Kent Mackowiak, and Zach Sperry.
“Steven is a natural leader with high-energy play. He’s an agile skater who will contribute offensively and defensively,” Coach Russo said. “Thomas plays with great passion. He improved tremendously last year after being off from hockey for a couple of years. Kent has got nice puck-handling skills and a great shot. Zach Sperry is a four-year player who has quick reflexes and a nice shot.”
Guilford finished with an overall record of 5-11-1 last year, taking a loss to Hand in the first round of the Division II State Tournament. Coach Russo knows that the 2021 season can get canceled at a moment’s notice, so he wants to Grizzlies to take advantage of every game that they get to play.
“Our season outlook is to focus on development in hockey skills and interpersonal team skills,” said Russo. “We look forward to competing in as many games as our abbreviated season will allow us to play.”
The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference allowed hockey teams to start practicing on Jan. 19. If all goes well, the regular season is slated to get underway as early as Monday, Feb. 8. There will be no state tournaments this year, and postseason play will instead consist of local league tournaments.
As his team prepares to compete, Coach Russo is eager to see how his up-and-coming corps of sophomores develop throughout the course of the campaign.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing how these underclassmen perform,” Russo said. “We had eight freshmen last year who will be sophomores this season, and they will have a major impact on our team.”
Guilford’s sophomore class includes forwards Logan Bertrand, Leo Hergan, Sam Mackowiak, Gabriel Mongelli, and William Petrick; defenders Shane Considine, Jacob Ellison, Ben Markowski, Ryan McMahon, Sean Melvin, and Mitchell Ward; and goalie Eric Lawton.
“This is a big class, and I really want to see a big effort from each sophomore as this will be a great year for them to develop,” said Russo. “Everyone except Logan Bertrand, who is a new player, was part of the team last year and experienced some varsity playing time. Shane Considine played very effectively as a freshman defenseman last year, holding his own against the best competition we faced. Steve and Shane will anchor the defense.”
Guilford also has four juniors on its roster. The athletes in Guilford’s junior class are defenders Thomas Booth and James Murray, along with forwards Michael Torre and Thomas Ziemba.
“Thomas Ziemba is a leader by example in our junior class. He demonstrates a great work ethic, team spirit, sportsmanship, and concern for his teammates,” Coach Russo said. “Michael Torre is a gifted skater, shooter, and playmaker. We will be looking for big contributions from Michael and Tommy this year.”
The Grizzlies also have two freshmen on the team in Jacob Corso and Nathan Dean.
With the puck about to drop, Coach Russo’s message to his club is to fight through the adversity and persevere as a unit this winter.
“Part of sports is learning to deal with adversity,” said Russo. “This is going to be an exercise in doing that. We have to answer to that challenge.”