ENFIELD, CT — To paraphrase a great song from the Beatles’ landmark “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album, “it was 40 years ago today…” that arguably the greatest day in the history of Enfield athletics took place.
On March 12, 1983, a pair of high school hockey teams from Enfield made the 59-mile trek down Interstate 91`to the New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum for what turned out to be an historic afternoon. Enfield and Fermi were slated to skate in the Division I and II finals, respectively, in back-to-back games before a crowd of 4,331 fans.
The two teams arrived at the championship games in diametrically opposite fashions. Fresh off a Div. II title in 1982, Enfield was in the midst of a 43-game winning streak which extended into the 1983-84 season. The Raiders were anchored by rock-solid defensemen Rob Hudson and Kevin O’Coin and an explosive offense headed by Craig Janney, Steve Palmer, Gary Blackwood and Kevin Meunier.
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Meanwhile, Fermi was coming off a miserable 6-14 season in 1981-82, and began the 1982-83 campaign plodding along at 7-6-1. Suddenly, the Falcons caught fire, winning five of their last six regular season games (the only loss being 4-2 to Enfield) to earn the No. 6 ranking in Div. II. Their offense, led by seniors Scott Kertanis, Chris Smith and Gaetan Letourneau and juniors Marc Fiore, Chris Driscoll and Jeff Mule, kicked into high gear come tournament time, accounting for 25 goals in three games heading into the finals. The Falcons also were bolstered by the play of relatively inexperienced goaltender Bill Marino, pressed into full-time service after the midseason departure of the team’s starting netminder.
The Div. II title tilt began at noon, with Fermi taking on top-seeded South Windsor in the first-ever “all northern” championship game in state history. Since Hamden captured the inaugural state tournament in 1948, teams from New Haven or Fairfield counties had won every crown until the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) split hockey into two divisions in 1976. Since then, South Windsor (1976), Suffield (1979) and Enfield (1982) had won Div. II titles, with southern teams continuing to dominate Div. I.
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Despite losing to South Windsor twice in the regular season, Fermi raced to a 4-0 lead in the first 12 minutes, then survived a Bobcat comeback which found the score knotted at 5-all early in the third period. A goal by Smith proved to be the game-winner, and insurance tallies by Letourneau and Smith cemented an 8-5 championship victory for the Falcons.
“I think our goal, especially the seniors, was just to make the playoffs,” Marino said. “We only lost two out of our last eight games, one to South Windsor in overtime, and 4-2 to Enfield. We actually outshot Enfield, so we felt pretty good going into the playoffs. After winning the first game versus Trumbull, the confidence was just building and the conditioning that Coach [Rich] Miltz pushed all season long was finally paying off. We just jelled at the right time and ended beating South Windsor for the title.”
Enfield goaltender Dan Burnham told Patch, “We were getting ready in the locker room before our game and you could hear the roar of the crowd for every goal scored in the Fermi game. I still wish I could see their entire game to this day.”
After winning its final 14 games in 1982 and defeating East Haven 5-4 in the Div. II finals at Wesleyan University, Enfield was moved up to Div. I for the 1982-83 season. After breezing to a 19-0 regular season record and earning the top seed, the Raiders blew out their first two tournament opponents by a combined 21-3 score. A pair of goals by Palmer enabled them to edge Darien 2-1 in the semifinals, earning a berth in the finals against defending champion Notre Dame of West Haven.
In the second period, Enfield was trailing 3-2 when Burnham tore cartilage in his leg and had to be carried from the ice on a stretcher. On a hunch, head coach Phil Clarkin replaced him with third-string sophomore netminder Scott Kokoszka, who kept the Raiders in the game.
“Scott came in as a backup and played a hell of a game,” teammate Paul Grigely recalled. “He made some tremendous saves to keep the game close and allow our team to come back and tie the game.”
Teammate Chris Rudolph said, “I think that may have been the best coaching move of the game. Scott played great and, consciously or subconsciously, we played harder.”
A back-and-forth affair found Enfield trailing 3-1 with just under 10 minutes to play, but two goals by Janney and one by Tom Gattorna gave the Raiders their first lead of the day. The Green Knights rallied to tie it late in regulation time, setting up a scoreless overtime period. In the second overtime, Meunier slammed home a pass from Janney for a 5-4 victory, prompting fans from both schools to scale the plexiglass sideboards and join the on-ice celebration.
Marijean Panella, a Fermi sophomore at the time, recalled, “It was such a great day for Enfield. I always loved the rivalry games between Fermi and Enfield, they were always so much fun. But to see them both playing for championships was even better. It really brought the whole town together.”
To this day, the 1983 finals remain the only time in state history that two public schools from the same town won both the Div. I and II titles. With the decline in numbers leading to most Connecticut programs operating on a multi-school co-op basis, and with the CIAC’s advent of the 3-division alignment in 2006, that scenario is unlikely to ever be duplicated.
In 1998, the two squads became the first team inductees into the Enfield Athletic Hall of Fame. Janney went on to an outstanding career in the National Hockey League with the Boston Bruins and several other clubs, was a charter member of the Enfield Athletic Hall of Fame in 1996, and was elected to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2016. Clarkin, who coached Enfield to all three of its state titles (the third being in 1987), is also enshrined in the Enfield hall, inducted in 2002.
Prior to the hockey finals, the Coliseum, built in 1972, was home to the New Haven Nighthawks of the American Hockey League, and had hosted concerts by musical acts as diverse as Alice Cooper, Stevie Wonder, Black Sabbath, Kiss and Bob Seger. The building began falling into disrepair, was closed in 2002, and was demolished in 2007.
The site on which the Coliseum sat became a parking lot, leaving only memories. Four decades after making history, however, the memories of the young men from Enfield who participated in that unforgettable day are as vivid as they were in the 1980s.
Burnham said, “When you think about it, the members of the Enfield and Fermi hockey teams grew up playing with each other for years. Together, they were the closest of friends. It’s unimaginable that we both won the state championships in the same year. That’s surely something that will never be repeated, and I’m just thankful to have been a part of it. The game I was most worried about was Darien. They had one of the best defenses in the state, and to me, if we could beat them, anything was possible. The ups and downs of the Enfield title game were better than any movie script you’ll ever see. And to win in double overtime. Quite a day for us, our school, and our town.”
“We were deep in talent, but we also had strong leadership with [Steve] Chaput, Burnham, Janney, Hudson, Meunier and O’Coin,” Enfield’s Joe Tinnirella said. “Championship teams have great leaders, and we had an abundance of them.”
Letourneau, a Fermi tri-captain, recalled the sweet feeling of defeating South Windsor, after losing twice to the Bobcats earlier in the season.
“The second loss to South Windsor was in overtime, and we also lost twice to Enfield,” he said. “The second Enfield game was very close, 4-2, and we even outshot them, but Craig Janney got all four of their goals – great game! That was the last game we lost; we just got better and better and won the next 10 games to win the states.”
Rob Harmon, who made the Div. II All-State team as a junior defenseman, said, “The only thing I always remember saying is Enfield was supposed to win that year. Fermi wasn’t, but we just came together at the right time.”
Sadly, seven members of those championship teams have passed away: Enfield’s Don Leitao (2006), Meunier (2009), Hudson (2009) and Kokoszka (2012), and Fermi’s Chuck Sutherland (1992), Jeff Perkins (2015) and Paul Lessard (2019).
Here are the box scores from the championship contests.
Fermi 8, South Windsor 5
F – Scott Kertanis (Chris Driscoll), 0:51
F – Todd Swenson (Tom Gauvreau, Rob Harmon), 1:26
F – Kertanis (Jeff Mule, Driscoll), 4:42
F – Driscoll (Kertanis, Mule), 11:30
SW – Jeff Main, 13:09
SW – Main (Mike Nowak), 14:20
F – Marc Fiore, 11:58
SW – Main (penalty shot), 13:06
SW – Chris Kiene (Main, Mike Turgeon), 1:29
SW – Nowak (Chris Kilshewitz), 2:31
F – Chris Smith (Jeff Perkins, Fiore), 6:45
F – Gaetan Letourneau, 8:02
F – Smith (Fiore), 13:17
Shots on goal
Fermi 29, South Windsor 23
F – Bill Marino, 18
SW – Andy Lanier, Leo Bonazelli, 21
All-Tournament players (Fermi)
MVP: Scott Kertanis
1st team: Bill Marino, Rob Harmon, Scott Kertanis, Marc Fiore
2nd team: Eric Rauschenbach, Jeff Mule, Chris Driscoll
Enfield 5, Notre Dame 4 (2OT)
ND – Marty Benson (Ben Vaill, Sean Dolan), 12:33
E – Craig Janney (Kevin O’Coin), 6:58
ND – Paul Carriere (Nick Scirocco), 13:24
ND – Carriere, 0:28
E – Janney (Steve Palmer), 5:10
E – Tom Gattorna (Janney), 9:13
E – Janney (Palmer), 12:02
ND – Ernie DeMartino (John McDevit, Vaill), 12:34
E – Kevin Meunier (Janney), 4:42
Shots on goal
Notre Dame 27, Enfield 33
ND – Bill Affinito, 28
E – Dan Burnham, Scott Kokoszka, 23
All-Tournament players (Enfield)
MVP: Craig Janney
1st team: Kevin O’Coin, Craig Janney, Steve Palmer
2nd team: Rob Hudson
CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM MEMBERS
Coaches: Phil Clarkin, Bill Stone
Players: Gary Blackwood, Dan Burnham, Tim Carpenter, Steve Chaput, Tom Gattorna, Paul Grigely, Kevin Hogan, Rob Hudson, Craig Janney, Don Leitao, Kevin Meunier, Scott Murray, Kevin O’Coin, Steve Palmer, Marc Parent, Tim Peucker, Rob Renna, Chris Rudolph, Billy Sullivan, Joe Tinnirella, Ron York
Coaches: Rich Miltz, Jim Forbes
Players: Troy Bruno, Paul DeGregorio, Chris Driscoll, Marc Fiore, Tom Gauvreau, Dan Giordano, Eric Haglund, Rob Harmon, Scott Kertanis, Kevin LaCroix, Paul Lessard, Gaetan Letourneau, Bill Marino, Dan Merritt, Jeff Mule, Jeff Perkins, Eric Rauschenbach, Chris Smith, Chuck Sutherland, Todd Swenson
Photos: Enfield Historical Society
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