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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Souhegan may be poised to make a run

Hockey Journal

They’ve enjoyed countless years of glory in Division III high school boys ice hockey. But it’s been a couple of years since the Souhegan High School boys team has been in the spotlight.

Since falling to Kennett in the Division III title game three years ago, the Sabers haven’t reached the semis. Last year, they got pushed around by a physical Hollis Brookline team in the quarterfinals. ...

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They’ve enjoyed countless years of glory in Division III high school boys ice hockey. But it’s been a couple of years since the Souhegan High School boys team has been in the spotlight.

Since falling to Kennett in the Division III title game three years ago, the Sabers haven’t reached the semis. Last year, they got pushed around by a physical Hollis Brookline team in the quarterfinals.

They’ve taken some knocks this year, too. But these Sabers can take a licking and keep on ticking, all the way to a 9-3 record. The Sabers are idle until Saturday, with a week to savor last weekend’s 5-4 overtime win over Belmont/Gilford, their biggest win of the regular season, by far, because it was against a quality opponent (8-3). The Sabers have suffered one-goal losses to unbeaten, top-ranked Berlin and 9-1-1 John Stark/Hopkinton.

What will it take to record more such wins?

“The keys for us is for us to keep moving our feet,” Sabers coach Dan Belliveau said. “Maybe it’s because of the age, they’re a little bit younger, but maybe it’s that star-struck thing where they get caught up in the whole environment of the game. They kind of get caught staring sometimes, not moving their feet.

“We need to hustle, and we need to keep moving our feet.”

Belliveau says the Sabers don’t discriminate in terms of competition. A win over a lower-ranked team counts just as much and comes with the same degree of difficulty.

“I think every team comes to play, and they play pretty hard,” Belliveau said. “From what I can see, there is a disparity, there’s no question about that, but everybody skates pretty hard. We’re going to go out there and play a hockey game, no matter who it is.”

Belliveau has preached his system, constant motion.

“We’ve been improving every night,” he said.

Souhegan has a big scorer in junior forward Mike Hayden, and this year he’s gotten some help from freshman Joe Nutting, who has been a nice surprise with a team-high 18 goals, including a hat trick last Saturday.

“We’re fortunate to have some of these goal scorers that we have,” Belliveau said. “But they’re team players and the rest of the team feeds off of that. They show up for practice whether they’re bumped and bruised. It’s an attitude that infiltrates
toward the whole locker room.”

Every team needs the unsung hero, and thus far Belliveau says it’s junior forward Mike Belanger, who took a big hit in overtime last Saturday and was shaking it off after the game, walking the hallway in front of the Sabers locker room.

“He doesn’t score a lot of goals, but I’ll tell you, he is a key winger for us,” the coach said. “Every night, whether it’s practice, dry land training, or a game. He gives us that hustle and toughness that the other kids feed off of. He’ll also score a goal here and there to pick us up.”

Add to that the goaltending of senior goalie Ryan Peterson (40 stops last weekend, GAA just over 2.00), and the ingredients for a lengthy postseason are there. Now they just have to figure out a John Stark (whom they visit Saturday) and a Berlin.

“It’s building blocks,” Belliveau said. “We’re improving every week. Even in those games, we were building upon something here.

“We’ve got a long way to go. we’re going to keep working hard, we’re going to play our game, and in the end, I’m confident, if we play tough, play our system, have quick feet, stay out of the penalty box, we’re a team that’s hard to beat.”

Divisional payoff

Berlin forward Connor Jewett (49 points at last look, including 30-plus goals) is the real deal. But would he be dominating Division I, the Mountaineers’ division last season, as he has in Division III?

“That kid should be playing in Division I somewhere,” Holllis Brookline coach Ken DiCredico said after Jewett skated around his Cavaliers with ease, scoring five goals a week ago in a 7-0 win.

Berlin dropped down from I to III because of numbers, and when you looked at both benches last week, it had about the same number of players as HB. Berlin head coach Mike Poulin and his team, though, won’t concern themselves with any of that. It’s a two-year deal, so they are where they are.

“Honestly, we’re just going with the flow,” he said. “There’s some great teams in Division III, some great teams in Division II, and some great teams in Division I. So far, so good. We’ve had a good run so far, but the season is far from over.”

Is it enough competition for Jewett?

“He’s been heavily marked every game,” Poulin said. “He’s finding the open spaces, doing the little things to get open. He’s just finishing more.”

But it’s unlikely another year of Division III hockey will benefit Jewett, so perhaps the junior or prep school game could be calling?

“I’m not holding him back,” Poulin said. “I’d want him to play at the highest level he can play at.”

Big games

Don’t write off the Nashua High School North Titans just yet. They’ve gone unbeaten in their last three games, are now 3-7-1, but have tough stretch with top-ranked Manchester Memorial and Salem back-to-back at Conway Arena this Saturday and Wednesday.

Game of the week

Unbeaten Merrimack, which sits alone at the top of Division II, visits Goffstown in a rematch this Saturday at 1 p.m. at Saint Anselm College. The Grizzlies have won seven of their last nine and will be looking to avenge a season-opening 3-0 loss to the Tomahawks.