When you lose nine games in one season, then say good-bye to 13 players who either graduated or transferred, it's not exactly a recipe for a championship the following season.

Try telling that to New Canaan High School boys ice hockey coach Bo Hickey.

"We lost a lot, but we've got a good group coming back," Hickey said. "We've got some people who can really play."

The Rams were 13-9-1 last season while Ridgefield was beating Darien for the FCIAC championship. Not bad for a lot of teams. But the Rams lost a combined five games the two previous seasons (22-4 in 2009-10 and 25-1 in '10-11). So, while many FCIAC teams would give anything for a 13-win season, it was considered a down year at New Canaan.

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New Canaan: F Harry Stanton, F Puck Richardson, F Patrick Hompe, F Jack O'Rourke, F Luke Amero, F Peter Reinhardt, F Parker Lewis, F Ben Patch, F Davis Bruch, D Steve Mettler, D Trent Nader, D J.P. McMahon, G Chris Koennecke, G Theo Christian Darien: F Trent Bergin, F Brendan Hathaway, F Jack Knowlton, F Tommy Watters, F Robbie Juterbock, D Dana Wensberg, D Nick Allam, D Kevin Love, D Jack Massie, D Michael Collins, G Mike Colon, G Christian Miller St. Joseph: F Christian Keator, F Ryan Corcoran, D Andrew Gore Stamford: F Cole Savona, F Justin Nizolek, F Brian Powers, D Andrew Tuccinardi, D Billy Santore, D Christian Mallozzi, D Ryan Palmer, G Hunter Alderman G Jimmy Sexton Trumbull: F Brendan Strobel, F Sean Gallagher, F AJ DiMasi, F Brendan McGill, F Vincent Rusello, D Sam Watson, D Jake Crowe, G Matthew Paolini Ridgefield: F Chris Morrow, F VinRella, F Jack Tregurtha, D Henry Gough, D Ian Ball, G Dusty Rausa Greenwich: F Paul Macken, F William Waesche F Luke Finneran, F Mark Schmeiler, F Matt Lodato, F Decker Curran, F Alex Bastone, D Reed Brady, D Jack Corrigan, D Tommy Rogan, D Kevin Piotrzkowski Westhill: F Evan Shaulson, F Neil Smolinski, R Ryan Silk, D Dan Rotkewicz, F Max Puk, F SzczepanMisiak, D Scott Reville, D Matthew Abt, D Jeff Kuraman, D Gunnar Eriksen, G Tyler Phillipson Trinity Catholic: F Steve Lambrinakos, F DJ Davis, F Sean Dolan, F PatrikOdeirno, F Kyle Odeirno, F Tyler Stenquist, F Griffin Northrop, F Erik Weiglos, D Will Egan, D Jordan Skiba, D Colin Bernard, D Drew Scanlon Fairfield Co-Op: F Mike Auila, F Kevin Robinson, F Matt Larouche, D Dan Silvestri, D ConorScharlop, G ConorFrawley Staples/Weston/Shelton: F Wyatt Fern, F Zach Speed, F Thomas Meyers, F Sean Stewart, F Ryan Gawricki, F Jack Mendillo, D Liam O'Leary, D Eric Zurmuehle, D Steven Shulman, G William Englehart Norwalk/Brien McMahon: F Lars Hammer, F Joe Deering, F Ryan Suchsland, F Jake Flewellen, D Alex Farris, D Will Ayles, D Anthony Arena, G Anthony Chiaramonte, G Phillip Uva The following team did not return requests for information: Wilton.

Factor in that this season's team is filled with sophomores and the word "rebuilding" comes to mind. In reality, Bo Hickey doesn't know the meaning of that word.

"It's really a good group of sophomores who are going to be really good," Hickey said.

Two juniors, forward Harry Stanton and defenseman Steven Mettler, who Hickey calls "one of the best defensemen in the state," are the Rams' top players.

Hickey should find out a lot about his team when the Rams open against perennial state power Notre Dame of West Haven Wednesday. As usual, the Rams will have one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the state.

"I don't schedule anybody I can beat," he said. "What good does that do? But we will separate fact from fiction Wednesday. We'll find out quickly how good we are."

Five teams to watch

1. Ridgefield: The Tigers won 11 of 12 FCIAC games last season and then beat Darien to win the title. With high-scoring forwards Chris Morrow and Vin Rella back, a repeat is not out of the question.

2. Darien: The Blue Wave at least followed their loss to Ridgefield in the FCIAC final by knocking arch-rival New Canaan out of the state tournament in the first round. Nice, but this time they want more.

3. St. Joseph: The program has come a long way in a short time but lost in the first round of the state tourney, and is still in search of its first FCIAC title. It's time to take the next step up the ladder.

4. New Canaan: A list of FCIAC contenders can't be complete unless it includes the Rams. They're young but they're deep and talented and determined to bounce back from what was, for them, a down year.

5. Fairfield Warde/Ludlowe: It's not easy cracking the top echelon of the FCIAC but this team has virtually everybody back, an experienced senior goalie in Conor Frawley and great size on the blue line.

Sleepers: Greenwich, Trumbull, Stamford, Trinity Catholic.

Five players to watch

1. Brendan Hathaway, Darien: One of the top snipers in the league after scoring 22 goals in 24 games last season. Stop him and the Blue Wave are beatable.

2. Christian Keator, St. Joseph: One of the top playmakers in the FCIAC after recording 44 assists to go with 18 goals in 19 regular-season games last season.

3. Chris Morrow, Ridgefield: On an offensively balanced team, he might not post big numbers but he is the most dangerous of a dangerous group of Tigers.

4. Steve Lambranakos, Trinity Catholic: The high-scoring forward was one of the main reasons the Crusaders did so well (8-4) in the regular season.

5. Dana Wensberg, Darien: At 5-foot-10, 165, he is not the prototypical bruising defenseman. But he can hit, and added four goals and six assists.

Off the bench: Harry Stanton and Steve Mattler, New Canaan; Kevin Robinson, Fairfield Warde/Ludlowe; Cole Savona, Stamford, Brian Strobel, Trumbull.

Five games to watch

1. Darien-Ridgefield, Feb. 16: Just like last season, there's a good chance this will be the first of at least two meetings between the league's top powers.

2. New Canaan-Darien, Feb. 18: The two rivals also play on Dec. 19, but this is the regular-season finale and the Rams remember last year's state tourney opener.

3. St. Joseph-Trumbull, Jan. 23: This rivalry was built on other sports, but with St. Joe's emergence and Trumbull winning the Division II title, that's all changed.

4. Trinity Catholic-Stamford, Feb. 6: Westhill may have something to say about it, but a city title and possible Tier I playoff berth should be on the line.

5. Greenwich-New Canaan, Feb. 2: A late season battle between the two old warriors who have regularly dominated the league is always worth watching.