Boys hockey preview: Wilton to rely on strong work ethic

Tenacity over talent. Chemistry over slick individual skills. Effort over end-to-end rushes.

That will be the mantra for this season’s Wilton High boys hockey team.

“We don’t have any superstars,” said head coach Brett Amero. “But we do have a bunch of guys with a great work ethic and a real blue-collar approach who have fun playing the game. As a coach, I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Wilton enters the 2013-14 campaign following an uncharacteristically subpar 5-15 season last winter. The Warriors won their first and last games but dropped 15 of the 18 contests in between those two and failed to make the state post-season.

Although the Warriors suffered minimal graduation losses in terms of numbers, they did lose some quality with the exits of leading scorer Alex Pagliaro, defenseman Henry Lee (second team All-State) and goalie Nick Wells, a three-year starter.

Production was a problem for Wilton, which scored just 44 goals in its 20 games, with 13 of those scores coming in two games.

“We really struggled finishing,” said Amero, whose team was shut out three times and held to one goal in seven other contests. “We can’t have that happen again this year.”

Losing Pagliaro hurts, but Amero believes the Warriors will have more offensive balance.

“All three lines have scored goals in the scrimmages,” he said. “I think we will have a better distribution of goal scoring than we did last year, when we relied on Alex a lot.”

Junior Kyle Jonas will center Wilton’s first line with classmates Ned Zawislak and David Craven on the wings. Jonas, one of the Warriors’ most skilled players, has played well in the pre-season, snagging three goals in a scrimmage against Cheshire.

“Those three guys work well together,” said Amero. “They played as a line in the fall league, so that familiarity and chemistry are there.”

The second line features junior Christian Hansson centering fellow junior Luke Rizzo and sophomore Henry Hovland, while the third line has freshman Alex Biegen with junior Mitch Alexander and senior Jack Walsh (the lone 12th grader among Wilton’s top-nine forwards).

Senior captain Joey Cullinan, who was one of Wilton’s top forwards last season, moves back to defense to help compensate for Lee’s graduation.

“We needed another solid skater on defense,” said Amero. “Joey switched to defense in the fall league because he knew it was a real need for us.”

Cullinan will likely team with junior Mark Donohue on one defensive pair, with junior Jameson Hill and senior Josh Worley on the other unit. That would give the Warriors one offensive threat (Cullinan, Hill) and one stay-at-home player (Donohue, Worley) on each pairing.

Senior Brendan Turk and sophomore Derek Thomas (a converted forward) could also see time on defense.

In goal, senior Derek Prario takes over for Wells. Prario was the back-up last season and played in several games.

“He’s a solid, technical, hard-working goaltender,” said Amero about Prario. “He’s been impressive in scrimmages. That position is not a question mark for us.”

Depth may be, however, as the Warriors do not have another true goalie in waiting. “Derek has to be the workhorse,” said Amero. “We don’t have a proven backup.”

Notes: The Warriors have a busy start to the season, playing three games in five days. After opening against Tri-Town on Thursday at the Enfield Twin Rinks, Wilton meets Newtown on Saturday at the Danbury Arena and then faces Milford on Monday at the Winter Garden in Ridgefield.

Wilton will compete as a state Division II team once again this season.