Several local hockey teams look for success in 2021
Crowds left small hockey arenas in Manchester, Concord and Plymouth just over three weeks ago, excited about a full day of hockey at SNHU Arena in Manchester in a few days.
Then, poof! The season plug was pulled, and high school hockey fans, coaches, and players all had to shift their thoughts to next season, whether they set to be in the finals or not.
And in Nashua, it could be a promising season.
“Oh yeah, I have a good feeling about next year, and future years after that,” Nashua North-Souhegan coach Matt Osgood said. Osgood’s Titans made the tournament for the first time in the five seasons of the co-op, and have a good nucleus coming back.
Still, with two teams making the semis – Bishop Guertin and Merimack in Division I and II respectively – and a third, Hollis Brookline, seeded in the top four in Division III, no area team was headed to the finals for the fourth year in a row. In in girls, Bishop Guertin gave top-seeded Concord a rough time in the quarters, but still fell.
Here’s a look at what is potentially ahead, based on how the winter went:
Of course, all eyes will be on Bishop Guertin again. The Cards finished 14-7, running out of gas in the third period vs. Bedford in the semis that fateful final night at JFK Coliseum.
The Cards managed just four shots in that third period, and had the type of team in which the scoring could come from anyone.
But after losing three out of four years in the semis, Cards head coach Gary Bishop knows what his team is missing.
“That difference maker,” he said. “Again, Concord was the only one with that difference maker.”
And that was Matt Hauschild, who will be graduating this spring. Guertin loses a key piece of its team as well, offensive catalyst Patrick Madden, along with another key forward in Ben Young, among a few others. The Bishop ordained “Bunch of guys named Joe” will need a few more Joes to put the puck in the net next year, but junior forward Mike Kiely can lead the way. It will also need new goaltending.
We’re happy with the year,” Bishop said. “We had a good year. The kids got better. To be able to play (in the semis) with two of your top defensemen in the stands (injured juniors Mike Schaff and Declan Wilkie) shows our depth.
“We’re happy. To be able to get that far, basically your four, five and six defensemen playing regularly, we’re pretty happy.”
So were the Titans, as Osgood said. They finished 6-9-3 but recoverd from a 1-6-1 start. “We didn’t quit,” Osgood said. “The kids got through that rough stretch, didn’t get down and were there for each other. … We had a few more kids develop and that really helped us.”
The Titans lose a defensive presence in Ryan Dancoes and the scoring of Jack Belter plus the leadership of Josh Constant, but freshman Jordan Joyal is being counted on heavily for his sophomore year as a presence on and off the ice. The Dodge brothers, Mike and Will, should return, as well as goalie Colin Duckless. The nucleus is there.
“We should be in good shape,” Osgood said, “and a lot of the top teams are losing key players.”
So is Nashua South-Pelham, which had a disappointing 5-12-1 year after hoping to make the playoffs. The Kings had trouble scoring, but unfortunately had no trouble staying out of the penalty box. They lose a centerpiece player to graduation in forward Johnny Pinksten, forward Nolan Foss, defensemen Jacob Guerriero and Dante Young, plus sensational goalie Nate Serrentino, among a few others. But slated to return is forward Chris Skelley, defenseman Brandon Rheaume, and host of others. The key will be goaltending, replacing Serrentino.
“Murphy’s Law this year,” Kings coach Shawn Connors said. “At the beginning of the season we couldn’t put the puck in the net. … We need to fix our game when it comes to penalties, obviously it reflects on our scoring ability and things like that.
“I have a lot of kids coming back, and I think I can rely on them.”
Consider this, though: Co-champions Concord and Bedford are losing each just four seniors. They could dictate things in the division again, barring any other losses to prep or juniors.
Merrimack, which finished the season as the tourney’s No. 2 seed (13-4-1) before bowing to No. 3 St. Thomas by a goal in the semis, hopes to be a strong contender again.
The only problem is the Tomahawks will have to do it without one of the state’s best scoring threats in graduating forward Zach Stimeling and his school record career 128 points.
But returning should be some key familiar names, such as forwards Dom Carozza (14 goals, 17 assists) and Evan Roy (16 goals, 17 assists as a freshmen.) Of course Tomahawks coach Dan Belliveau has always planned defense first then break out, and slated to return are defenseman Joe Pillsbury and All-State goalie Ben Hardy.
“We’re looking forward to the return of all our underclassmen,” Belliveau said, “and with the core group we have, we plan on getting back to the playoffs and more.”
Just getting to the tournament will be the goal of Alvirne-Milford, which suffered through a tough but perhaps beneficial rebuild. The Admirals finished 2-16 and lost their final 14, not an easy thing to go through.
“I knew it would be a rebuild for sure,and we told the parents that before the season,” Admirals coach Dave Thibeault said. “The kids didn’t quit, they stayed with it and didn’t get down on each other. Five losses were by one goal, and two were in overtime.”
But here’s the best part – the Admirals lose just one senior – defenseman Anthony DeRosa. Everyone else is due to be back.
“That’s promising,” Thibeault said. “And I think we’ll have four freshmen coming in, so the numbers are great.”
Youth meant lack of size for the Admirals, but that should change as well. Thibeault has given them workout programs (of course, some of that may be limited now with staying at home).
Some schools like Goffstown and Dover lose just four seniors so should contend; co-champion Keene loses seven, and that could be more impactful.
It was quite a year for the Hollis Brookline-Derryfield Warriors, who finished as the division’s third seed at 13-4-1, but one that ended too soon with a quarterfinal upset loss at the hands of Kennett.
But the Warriors lose just four seniors, and have top scorers Paul Vachon and Cole Giersch (34 goals between them) likely to return. They will, however, miss senior goalie Christian Slater (1.40 goals against).
“We had a strong run this year and losing your senior group is always tough,” Warriors coach Joel Sanborn. “But HBDS will continue to be competitive and fun to watch with a solid group of juniors, sophmores and freshman next season.”
In a division in which anything is possible.
Optimistic should be the Cardinals (10-10), who gave Concord a great run in a 7-4 loss in the quarters and played their best hockey down the stretch after a 2-6 start.
“If the team continues to play at the beginning of next season like they ended the second half of last season, we should be a legitimate contender,” Cards coach Scott Ciszek said.
And why? Because one of the state’s best players, forward-defenseman Lindsay Hult should return. All Hult did was score 24 goals with 20 assists. Brooke Yabroudy and Julie McLaughlin (a combined 54 points) are also set to return, as well as goalie Sarah King.
“The core group will be returning next season,” Ciszek said.
Souhegan (7-10-1) had an up and down season, but played Exeter tough in the tourney prelims. But the Sabers will have some rebuilding to do, as a core group is gone, led by goalie Elle Byram, All-Stater Clare Woodford, Ryleigh Tobin and others. Keys for next year could be forwards Abby Hawkes and Olivia Harnisch.
But as Hanover didn’t make the finals for the first time in the history of NHIAA girls hockey, there seems to be hope for everyone. We’ll see.