Spirits are high in the local high school ice hockey realm.
Both the New Milford and Shepaug Valley co-op skaters are enjoying fast starts and quite possibly have upgraded their respective pre-season aspirations.
Coach Dan Moore's Green Wave not only swept its first three matches, but whitewashed all three foes along the way.
The neighboring teams had the opportunity last Friday at South Kent School to test their relative strength, and the Green Wave proved clearly the better for it.
Coach Moore's NMHS squad posted a 7-0 victory in front of a sizable crowd, with plenty of fans cheering for each team.
A 3-1 defeat Saturday to state power Branford brought the NMHS sextet somewhat back to earth, but the Green Wave surely is hopeful of a successful campaign.
"We are off to a great start," admitted coach Moore, whose 2011-12 team posted an 11-13 record. "We have good senior leadership, two good goalies (Matt DePalma and Nick Capriglione), and the scoring has been spread around, which is nice."
Coach Moore knows his 3-1 team must shore up weaknesses before it could seriously threaten the elite of the South-West Conference and opponents in the state tournament.
"We are still looking to improve on defensive zone coverage," he explained, "plus power play opportunities, but the team is coming together nicely."
The Green Wave faced a big test Wednesday in Danbury against SWC rival Newtown.
Coach Mike Gorra's Shepaug Valley/Litchfield/Nonnewaug ice crew, coming off multiple seasons with scarce wins to show for its efforts, quickly put that history in its rear-view mirror with three triumphs in its first five matches.
Defeat last Friday to New Milford certainly put things in perspective for the Spartans, yet there is a fire in their eyes that hasn't been present for many years.
"The players are all working together," said coach Gorra, "and supporting each other. We have one line that knows that their job is to go out there for 30-45 seconds, give the top two lines a rest and get right off."
"Top to bottom, we are quicker," he added, "and more skilled than teams in the past and this has allowed us to be more creative with our system play."
The Spartans began the season by beating New Fairfield/Immaculate, 2-1, and, following a 10-3 schooling by Bethel/Brookfield/Danbury, they bounced back in pre-holiday matches to outplay Fitch/East Lyme/Ledyard, 7-1, and Mt. Everett (Mass.), 7-3.
Along the way, it became apparent the Spartans have a goaltender in Anthony Graziani.
"He played as a forward freshman and sophomore years and, for family reasons, took his junior year off," reported his coach. "This summer he asked to be back on the team and wanted to know what he could do to get the team ready."
"I told him, `transition to goalie,' " said coach Gorra, "as I had graduated all-state goalie Pete Dauten and had no goalies coming into the program."
The one-time youth hockey goaltender worked at his craft throughout the pre-season and now is anchoring a 3-3 hockey squad.
"I am continually amazed he has only been a goalie for only five months," said coach Gorra. "He continues to improve every day and is a quick learner and very dedicated to improving."
"Anthony's attitude is ideal," said his coach, "and he has been one of the leaders by his example of team first."
The Spartans now have several times tasted victory, and they want more.
"The main goal is to make the state tournament," said coach Gorra. " We have not done this for a while, and this year we have a great chance."
"Making the SWC tournament will be a tough one," he concluded. "The league is strong and breaking into the top four (out of eight) to make the tournament will take some big upsets."
The Spartans, who followed their defeat to New Milford with a 6-4 loss Saturday to Sheehan, were set Wednesday to return to the ice at The Gunnery vs. SWC rival Joel Barlow.
They'll play Newtown Saturday in Danbury in a benefit match (see related story).
For more photos, visit www.newmilfordspectrum.com.