It is not often a high school parent gets to watch his or her children on the same playing field at the same time. Whether it is different sports, different ages, or numerous other factors, seeing two children play at the same time has been less and less over the years.
Parents have been forced to split duties, watching separate games at the same times.
If that is not hard enough, throw into the mix families which have more than two children around the same age which are student-athletes. The accomplishment of watching all three kids at the same time is nearly impossible.
For Sal and Denise Carfora, they had no such worries during the 2019-2020 hockey season as senior Nick, sophomore D.J. and freshman Ben, all helped the West Haven boys hockey team to an 11-8-1 regular season record, before COVID-19 ended the season prematurely for the trio.
“When we had to travel, we relied on a lot of help all the way around,” Sal Carfora said. “We had very good support. We could not be everywhere. We would have different people help us with rides. When one game was done, we would get in the car and travel to the next game. We could not have done it alone. We had a lot of help, and that includes grandparents. We always did our best to not miss games. This year was really thrilling. It was a long road to get there and it was intense to see.”
“It was fun,” West Haven hockey head coach Steve Harris said of coaching the trio. “It was a different dynamic than what you may think when you have brothers playing together. Usually, you have brothers and sisters competing with each other. We never saw that in games. It was always what can they do to help the team? They (D.J. and Ben) loved to play on the same line together. You don’t usually see that.
“They fed off each other. They would compete in practice against each other, talking about who had the better goal, but you never saw that in a game. The family competition was in practice only. They knew what they had to do in games.”
The last two years have been a dream for the Carfora family as Nick and D.J. played for the first time together over the last two years, D.J. and Ben played for only the third time together, and Nick and Ben played for the first time together. These first time occurrences took place despite the fact Nick started skating at the age of four, D.J. at the age of two, and Ben at just 18 months.
For the parents, it was a dream come true watching the trio play together. For the program, it was a saving grace as Ben came on to the scene in a big way, scoring 10 goals and adding 11 assists for 21 points in his freshman campaign.
D.J. finished with five goals and four assists in a season which saw Nick play despite recovering from a significant shoulder injury.
“To play together with all three of us has been great,” D.J. said about playing with his brothers. “With Ben out there, we are always creating. We just work together well. It’s always been like that. We know where we are going to be. Nick played on the line against Immaculate for a shift and it was great.”
For Ben, it was a case of adjusting to the speed of the high school game after dominating on the youth hockey scene for a number of years. Ben played on championship winning teams as he moved up the youth hockey ranks and looked to take that winning edge to the Westies.
“It was just a different speed to the game,” Ben said about adjusting to high school hockey. “I had to get used to that. At the beginning of the season, I was nervous for the first five minutes of the first game. But, then I was just like it is just playing hockey. I knew the seniors expected a lot out of me because they saw what D.J. could do. There was a lot of pressure on me, but that gave me the fire to go out and play.”
While his scoring numbers were impressive, it was the little things which made the transition of the freshman even more impressive. Ben led the team in plus/minus, which is the amount of times on the ice when a goal is scored for your team and against your team, with a plus-15.
Ben was at a 97% rate when it came to shots on net, while winning 222 faceoffs for a rate of 57%. The freshman was also not afraid to get in the way of an opponents’ shot, blocking 18 in his first year.
“I thought he made a huge impact on the team,” Harris said of Ben. “I thought he made the transition very well from youth hockey to high school. It was a seamless transition. He scored some big goals for us, and he had a couple of big goals right from the start to get going. He definitely made an impact on the team this year.”
For Nick, the senior has seen it all in his four years on the ice at West Haven. As a freshman, he was part of a team which was 16-6, advancing to play at Ingalls Rink in the state tournament. The team won just four games in his sophomore campaign, before posting 10 wins his junior year, and 11 this season.
Nick finished with one assist in each of his first three seasons, but was unable to get on the scoreboard his senior campaign as a tough shoulder injury had an impact on the eldest Carfora the last two years.
“The experience you get in being part of a team is irreplaceable,” Nick said of his West Haven hockey years. “There is no feeling like that. You have to do the little things. It is a feeling of knowing you contributed.
“I had the two shoulder surgeries and it was real difficult at times. But, the driving force was my siblings and my entire team. We are all brothers.”
“Nick was great,” Harris added. “He accepted his role on the team. He supported every single player on the team. He was a great supporter of the team and his brothers. He knew what he could do and what he couldn’t do. It was great to see them all around each other.”
D.J. came on to the scene as a freshman a year ago with two goals, 16 assists and 18 points. Not afraid of contact, he recorded 27 hits and blocked six shots in his initial year.
“His speed was at a different level,” Harris said of D.J. “I haven’t seen that out of a player. His speed would help spread the ice out. We had Richie Greene on that line with D.J. and Ben and we called that our speed line. Richie also has great speed, and D.J. could put the puck in the net. It is very rare when you can say all three guys on the line have the speed, can score and have that physicality. D.J. was not afraid to go in corners and was not afraid of contact.”
Paired with Ben this season, D.J. had five goals and four assists for nine points, was a plus-9, had a 92% shooting percentage, and added 13 hits in 16 games played.
“I thought it was pretty great,” D.J. said of the year and playing with his brothers. “It was a great feeling to be with them and then play on a line with Ben. My parents would tell me my speed was a God given gift. I was a lot faster than the other kids when I was younger. I used that to my advantage. It is great to have. I think my speed makes me he player I am.”
While the season is over, hockey is still on the minds of the Carfora’s. For Ben and his mother Denise, a planned trip to Italy to play in the premier Mountain Cup Challenge has been changed a couple of times, first to Munich, Germany and now to Sweden and Finland. With the outbreak world-wide of COVID-19, those plans are on hold right now.
Ben was picked among select kids from various programs for his age group in the United States and Canada.
“I thought Ben just brought a different level,” Harris said. “I thought the older guys saw what Ben could do with the puck and saw his vision with the puck. D.J. fed off that. I think he knew when Ben had the puck, there was a good chance there was going to be a scoring opportunity with that line. I saw the chemistry from day one, which was kind of a shock to me. It felt like they were playing three or four years together.”
With such an intense hockey family, the brothers have always gotten an honest assessment regarding performance from their parents. To this day, a quick glance into the crowd at their parents says all they need to know without words being exchanged.
“Without them, we have no chance of being where we are,” Ben said of his parents. “If we have a bad game, they tell us. It is motivation to me to prove them wrong. There were a couple of times this year I looked at them during the game and I could tell I should have done something else. But, I can also tell when we do something well and my dad is clapping and nodding his head.”
“It is good to have their support,” D.J. added. “They would drive hours any time just because they love to go see another game. We could not have done anything without them.”
With positive results and continued success comes higher expectations. D.J. and Ben know there will be plenty expected next season.
“I expect even more from them next year,” Harris said. “They have played with each other at the high school level. Ben knows what the high school level is about. D.J. will be a year older. I expect the two of them to be even better than this year.”
For the Carfora brothers, hockey is not the only success they have seen. D.J. and Ben also excel on the baseball diamond, and the trio have continued to excel in the classroom. Nick is still deciding on the best college fit for him as he pursues his dream of becoming a lawyer.
“Words can’t say how proud of them I am,” Denise said. “I brag about them to anyone who is willing to listen. I have seen them grow and develop. It has been so amazing to see. I just tell everybody to enjoy the whole thing as much as they can because it flies by.”
With the sports world on hold, all three brothers are looking forward to next year. Nick will start the process of practicing law, while also continuing to be the biggest supporter of his younger brothers, while D.J. and Ben anxiously wait for another high school hockey season to begin.
“We didn’t get a chance to accomplish our goal,” D.J. said. “We will go into next year with more fire.”
With the Carfora’s a key piece to the puzzle, opponents should expect nothing less.