End of an Era
Long-time coach Joe Morrell steps down
By MIKE MADERA
(June 25, 2019) - For close to three decades, it has always been hockey first for long-time West Haven coach Joe Morrell. That is about to change.
With an opportunity to go back to school and pursue added career opportunities, Morrell, 55, informed his team he has decided to step down from coaching the Westies effective immediately.
“I have the opportunity to go back to school,” Morrell said. “For a lot of my coaching career, it has been West Haven hockey first. I have always preached to the kids, family, school, hockey. It has not always been that way for me or my family. I have been doing this for 28 years, 21 as a head coach. I have spent a lot of time away from home. My wife (Jackie) has always been 100 percent behind me. I could not have asked for a better partner in life. My kids (Jocey and Jolie), all they know is their father coaches West Haven hockey. I am known as the coach of West Haven hockey and I love that. West Haven hockey has been a big part of my life.”
West Haven coach Joe Morrell (l.) with Niko Kyle (r.). Photo courtesy of Todd Dandelske.
A physical education teacher at West Haven High and also the head coach of the school’s softball team, Morrell is looking to the future as he pursues his sixth year degree in administration and leadership. With an opportunity to broaden his career, Morrell is taking the step forward.
“It is just something that I feel I have to do,” Morrell said. “I want to be able to give all my effort to going back to school. I have to be fully committed. That’s the way I am.”
Said superintendent of schools Neil C. Cavallaro, “Joe is old school West Haven hockey. One of the things about Joe is how he takes the game of hockey, and the tradition and history of West Haven hockey. That is a big part of his coaching philosophy. The kids understand what it means to wear the West Haven High School jersey. Joe is really passionate about West Haven hockey and he gets that message to the kids.
“I think above all else, Joe is a teacher. He is a consummate professional, whether it is coaching or teaching physical education, or scheduling. He gets involved at the Bennett Rink, and he is involved with West Haven Youth Hockey. Joe is all about promoting the kids. He gives his time and effort to the community.”
West Haven coach Joe Morrell (r.).
In his 21 years at the helm of the Westies, Morrell qualified for the state tournament in 20 of those campaigns, only missing the postseason during the 2005-2006 season. Morrell compiled a regular season record of 223-170-23 and overall mark of 234-190-23.
Said West Haven athletic director Jon Capone, “Words can't describe what West Haven hockey meant to Joe. It's been a huge part of his life both as a player and a coach. He has so much respect for this program and he instilled that in all his players. I can't thank him enough for all his hard work and dedication to the West Haven High School hockey program.”
While Morrell looks ahead, there are plenty of fond memories to look back on, including his 234 career wins in his storied career at West Haven. The long-time coach came to the Westies after one year as an assistant at Guilford and six years of being an assistant coach across town at Notre Dame.
“I just want to thank all who supported me, including Neil Cavallaro, Jon Capone, and (the late) Pam Gardner, who was a huge supporter of me,” Morrell said. “I know she would be happy with my decision. The West Haven High School Penalty Box Club played a huge role in the program, and I would like to thank all the past and present members for doing what they do every year.”
Known for getting the best out of all his teams, Morrell was admired for having his teams ready to go, especially against teams which drew from more than one town.
With the hockey numbers down, Morrell and his staff, which also included long-time assistants Steve McCarty, Gene Pacapelli, John Ascenzia, Jim Lafo, and Eric Dillner, always seemed to get the best out of the team. Morrell could also turn to alumni such as Jim Perno to make sure his team was prepared in every aspect as well.
The Westies never won that elusive state title under Morrell, but reached the semifinals four times under his guidance, the latest time coming during the 2016-2017 season when the Westies were eliminated at Ingalls Rink in the semifinals by Ridgefield. That year saw the Westies upset third-seeded Xavier in the tournament.
“I am happy with the amount pf times we made the tournament, but that one thing, a state championship, eluded us,” Morrell said. “It still bothers me. A lot of coaches were rooting for us because they knew how much that meant to me. That was the one thing I wish I could have gotten for this program.”
Xavier would prove to be a thorn in the side of the Westies as the two teams squared off in the postseason in six of the last seven years, with the Falcons coming out on top in five of those contests, including the last two seasons.
That 2016-2017 team embodied everything Morrell and his staff preached with solid goaltending and defense, and scoring from numerous players. The bottom line always came back to hard work.
“I always told the kids it would come down to hard work,” Morrell said. “We may not have been as talented as some teams, but we were going to outwork them. I think for the most part, we did that. I think the team really understood what it took to play at West Haven. Our teams outworked other teams to be successful.”
Morrell and his teams suffered heartbreak twice in a span of three years going back to the 2001-2002 and 2003-2004 seasons as the Westies fell in overtime of the semifinals of the state tournament in both seasons.
Despite an epic comeback in the final minutes or regulation as the second seed, West Haven lost to New Canaan in 2001-2002, before falling in a gut-wrenching 4-3 double overtime contest to second-seeded Fairfield Prep in 2003-2004. The Jesuits would go on to defeat Notre Dame-West Haven for the state title.
“I enjoyed winning,” Morrell said. “You obviously want to win as much as you can and you don’t want the kids to be afraid of losing. In the quarterfinal and semifinal games, everything was this close. It was the bounce of a puck. Against Ridgefield a few years back, we were tied going into the third period. We just had to get that bounce and we didn’t get it. In the postseason, it is true when they say it is a game of inches.”
Over the last 10 seasons, Morrell’s teams had three golden opportunities to take home the program’s first state title since 1994.
The biggest opportunity never panned out during the 2009-2010 campaign as the Westies entered the postseason as the top seed with a 17-3 record, but were upset in the first round by Darien. Two years later, West Haven fell to Notre Dame-West Haven in the semifinals, before suffering the same fate against Ridgefield during the 2016-2017 season.
Morrell will always be known for his softer side when dealing with players and tough situations. He will also be known for how serious he took practices.
“My wife would always get mad at me because I always said no one does it like Joe Morrell and I had the same philosophy,” Pacapelli said. “His way was the right way and no one else came close as far as I was concerned. He put so much into everything he did, whether it was practice with a 5-year-old or a high school game. He gave it his all no matter what. It was just his positivity in any situation. He was upbeat about everything. He could look at anything and look at the bright side of that situation. He just had a great attitude.”
“Practice is what I loved,” Morrell said. “Practice was like gold to me. One of the best things to me was seeing all the alumni who came back to help. I knew how much this program meant to them. I will miss that a great deal. I love being the coach of West Haven.”
The search to replace the long-time coach will begin immediately. Cavallaro feels the job is an attractive one with the history of the program and a new school set to be in place.“I believe with all my heart, this is a very attractive job,” Cavallaro said. “We will start today to begin that process.”
Harris at the Helm
Former Hamden Hall coach tabbed to lead Westies
By MIKE MADERA
(July 19, 2019) - The list of head coaches for the West Haven hockey program is few. Steve Harris can now consider himself one of a handful in the storied program’s history.
With the expected approval from the Board of Education this Monday evening, Harris will join a list which includes Edward L. Bennett, Art Crouse, Art Delucia, Gordie Smith and most recently, Joe Morrell, who stepped down after 21 years at the helm.
“It is absolutely amazing,” Harris said. “I have been part of the West Haven Youth Hockey program where I started and to see all those guys and what they have done is amazing. I am right back where I started. It is an absolute honor to be the head coach at West Haven. I have very big shoes to fill with Joe Morrell. He was amazing with the kids and he was one of my coaches along with Mike Violano when I was at Notre Dame. He knew how to get the most out of his players.”
Said superintendent of schools Neil C. Cavallaro, “Steve is really committed to hockey. He has worked extremely hard to get to this point. He has a strong passion for hockey and he has worked many years to develop his coaching skills.
“I watched him turn Hamden Hall around. He is going to take the time and work hard to make the program better. We feel like we got the right guy. He coached my son (Connor) and I watched him in action. He is committed. He is good to the kids. He has prepared himself for this point. He has coached two or three teams in a season. His goal was to become a better hockey coach.”
Harris has an impressive youth hockey and prep school coaching resume, most notably coaching at Hamden Hall for eight years, with seven of those years as head coach. Harris made an immediate impact on the program of the Hornets as he was winless in his first year at the helm, but followed with a semifinal appearance one year later.
“Steve brings a great deal of experience coaching at all levels to our program,” West Haven athletic director Jon Capone said. “He has a tremendous amount of respect for the history of our program. My job is to assist him in the transition, and I’m excited to begin working with him.”
Harris has also been impressive at the youth hockey levels where he took the Yale U14/U15 Tier 3 squad to the New England quarterfinal game last season and took the Ct. Oilers to the EJEPL finals and Atlantic Youth Hockey League quarterfinals.
“He is the consummate professional,” Yale Youth Hockey President Charlie Andriole said. “He is a very diligent teacher of the game of hockey. He always handles himself with the calmest of demeanor. That is not to say he doesn’t expect good things from his players He does it in a very calm way, which I find rare. He will be a great fit for West Haven. He is a great teacher with expansive knowledge. He coached all three of my kids so I know his methodologies and his philosophies.”
Said Harris, “Coaching the different age groups has really helped. You get to see how the kids develop, and then to watch them go from youth hockey to high school, you see the older kids help mold the younger kids. It is a big part of the way everyone transforms. You get to see the mindset of the specific age groups.”
Harris expanded his coaching last year, serving as the advance scout and skills instructor at Notre Dame – West Haven under then first year coach Larry Vieira.
“In my opinion, he is one of the most outstanding young coaches in the area,” Vieira said of Harris. “He has a presence about him. The kids respond when he walks in the room. His hockey knowledge is off the charts. He has a little bit of an edge to him. He has that “it” factor. That is an excellent hire. We will miss him here.”
Harris is no stranger to high school hockey in the area as he starred at cross-town Notre Dame from 1996 – 1999, where he was known for his sharp shot and nose to come up with the big goals. Harris needed just three years to join the 100-point club for the Green Knights and took home a state championship as a sophomore.
“I grew up in West Haven and was a West Haven kid,” Harris said. “I went to Notre Dame for four years, then college, but came right back to volunteer in the West Haven Youth Hockey. I was never that far removed from West Haven.”
The new West Haven coach went on to play prep school at the Gunnery, before attending Johnson and Wales University.
With the Westies having qualified for the postseason 20 of the past 21 years, Harris has one goal in mind and that is to bring a state title back to West Haven for the first time since 1994.
“My message is an easy one and that is let’s win a state championship,” Harris said. “I really think with seeing them play last year and what they did, and with the returning players and group coming in, if we follow the system and work hard, it is an attainable goal. We first want to get to the SCC t tournament and win that, but the ultimate goal for everyone is to win a state championship. We need to bring a banner back to the Bennett Rink.
“I am not a yeller or screamer. I like to give the kids the benefit of the doubt. I like to give them opportunities, but if I tell them once, I don’t want to see it done again. Respect is earned, not given. That has worked out for me. “
Harris will name his assistants shortly, with long-time assistant coach Jim Lafo expected to be retained.
“I am not going to change tradition here,” Harris said. “There is plenty of tradition at West Haven. I am looking to keep the alumni involved. I’m excited to be here.”
Harris, who has an 18-month old daughter with his wife Michelle, works for the city of Milford.
THE HOME OF WEST HAVEN SPORTS
BOYS HOCKEY 2019-2020
State Champions - 1949, 1961, 1964, 1976, 1984, 1988, 1990, 1994
All-State Players - Ray Luedee '75; Mark Carlo '76, '77; Marty Crouse '77, '78; Don MacMillan '77; Eddie Merola '79; Bob Serenson '84; Jay Andrew '84; Mark Anquillare '84; Mike Gilbert '87; Mike Woznyk '87; Paul Mulligan '88; Darrell Galasso '90; Rob Kryznel '93; Keith Dupee '94; Shaun Jackson '00; Aaron Beauvais '00; Tom Withington '00; Mark Heffernan '00, '01, '02; Brandon Fanelli '02; Jim Lafo '02; Chris Quagliani '02; Ron Baia '03; Nick Quagliani '03; Chris Shore '04; Joe Pereira '05; Ken Comfort '06; Joe Innamorato '07; John Ascenzia '10; Tim Baylis '10; J.P. Withington '11; Kyle Leyerzapf '12; Mike Troiano '12; Austin Hansen '13; Mike Savino '14; Alex Scranton '14; Mike Savino '15; Tyler Paine '16; Pete Richetelli '17; Brendan Serenson '17; Alex Lynch '17; Niko Kyle '18