With just four seniors, Notre Dame-West Haven has relied on depth to reach state boys hockey final

There hasn’t been a CIAC Division I boys hockey tournament to reach a conclusion since 2019, so maybe this is not the year to talk about “experience.”

At the same time, in a sport where older players are often at an advantage, Notre Dame-West Haven has been a unanimous No. 1 in the GameTimeCT Top 10 most of the year with four seniors.

Perhaps naturally, they play key roles for a Green Knights team (19-4-0) that’ll meet No. 6 Darien (15-8-1) on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at Quinnipiac for the state championship. The four seniors include a top defenseman and three top forwards. But they’re not the only ones in key roles.

“All of the underclassmen, they’ve found their niche,” said junior forward Tye Battipaglia, the Green Knights’ leading scorer with 23 points and 14 goals, on the CIAC’s online press conference.

“They’ve been working all year to get up to speed with all the upperclassmen. It’s really formed a great brotherhood here.”

Senior Grant Curtis’ defense partner is Logan Hurd, one of a slew of sophomores on the defense corps. The goalies are juniors, with Peter Alfano getting the bulk of the minutes this season.

And while Mike Pilato, Ashton Delmonico and Curtis are three of the next four leading scorers after Battipaglia with a junior in the middle, the next two are a junior and a sophomore.

“The four seniors we have have been absolutely amazing this year picking up everybody, so it doesn’t matter too much that there’s not a lot of seniority on the team per se,” junior forward Santino Chancio said. “There’s always a bunch of leadership going on from everyone.”

Notre Dame made a surprising run to the final in 2019, falling there to Fairfield Prep with hopes of being a favorite the following year. It was the top seed in the 2020 tournament that was canceled on the day Division I was to play its first-round games.

The Green Knights thought they had the team last year, too. There was no state tournament, and the SCC Division I final was canceled.

In this semi-normal late-(please-)pandemic season, they played eight of their 12 games against out-of-state teams, and all but one of those eight on the road.

“We stole a page from Matt Sather and Fairfield Prep,” coach Larry Vieira said. “Historically they play a lot of out-of-state teams. We not only took that page, but we doubled the amount.

“We had the support of the administration here at Notre Dame, and to be able to travel, there’s an expense and there’s a time limit involved. But you cannot replicate the foot speed, you cannot replicate the skill levels of the top Rhode Island and Massachusetts teams, the grit and what those teams show.”

That schedule produced a group that Vieira called gritty and resilient. He has spoken during the year about a group that comes to work, and he says they work just as hard off the ice and in the classroom.

And regardless of how many players they’ll graduate in a few months, they have a chance to win Notre Dame’s first championship in a decade.

“Our seniors, our older guys have really helped us younger guys to break through the pressure,” sophomore defenseman Robert McCarthy said, “feel calm on the ice and just play like we know how to play.”

mfornabaio@ctpost.com; @fornabaioctp