SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

December 13, 2013

The Blue Line Report: Grateful for hockey

Taking a start of the season musical journey with one of America's most beloved bands

Blue Line Report
Phil Stacey

---- — For all of the books, blogs, magazine articles and other bits of information I’ve devoured about the man and his band over the years, I never once have come across an instance where the words “hockey skates” and “Jerry Garcia” were mentioned in the same story.

He didn’t hold a Bauer Nexus 600 or an Easton V9 composite in his hands; Garcia’s twig of choice was usually his famous ‘Wolf’ or ‘Tiger’ electric guitars. Like an on-ice playmaker or all-world goalie, the Grateful Dead centered around the zen-like Garcia; everything fed off of him.

It seems like an unlikely pairing. But if you combine the Good Ol’ Grateful Dead with hockey fanatics’ favorite sport, it actually works.

The last few years, we’ve combined two great passions — music and hockey — and come up with a season-opening column that combines the two. You know the drill: each of our 10 area teams gets their own song (and this year, a set of lyrics from said tune that best apply) to help tell their story and what we can expect from them this winter.

For the 2013-14 season, everyone gets a little dose of the Dead. So as Jerry and the boys would croon, might as well ...

BEVERLY PANTHERS

”Jack Straw”

Gotta settle one old score

One small point of pride.

Analysis: An easy song choice, and not just because the Panthers employ skilled senior wing Jake Straw. Head coach Bobby Gilligan says he still has a “pit in his stomach” when he thinks about how last season ended, when the 18-1-1 Panthers were upset by Danvers in the first round of the playoffs. With all but three players back from a year ago, Gilligan’s team will not only have a bull’s-eye on their backs again; they’ll be one of the favorites to win that ever-elusive Division 2 state title. Beverly can run four lines up front without much dropoff, has four skilled defensemen back for a third year together and have the two preseason favorites for NEC Player of the Year in senior center Connor Irving and junior goaltender Tim Biarelli. Forward Graham Doherty has also emerged into an elite talent. A beefed up non-league schedule should help the Orange-and-Black in the postseason — where they realize is where the true measure of their 2013-14 season will be judged.

DANVERS FALCONS

”The Wheel”

Won’t you try just a little bit harder?

Couldn’t you try just a little bit more?

Analysis: The Falcons said goodbye to a good chunk of their offensive production (59 of 79 goals) from a year ago, a season which ended on a magical ride to the Division 2 North title game. Success this season will come through a standard Danvers mantra — team-wide commitment to defense in from of junior goalie Alex Taylor — and cashing in on the offensive opportunities that present themselves. While there are no true snipers on the roster, captains Jay Calcagno and Matty Flynn (both bigger and stronger this winter after committing themselves to the weight room) should prove problematic for opposing defenses to move out of the goal crease. Seniors Ryan Cassidy, Alec Littlefield and converted forward Jon Milne, along with junior Stephen Ganley, can expect to see a lot of minutes on defense. Freshman Robert Tibbetts should contribute right away up front, too, while second-year senior captain Kevin Hodgkins is an invaluable leader.

PEABODY TANNERS

”Saint of Circumstance”

Well I sure don’t know what I’m going for

But I’m gonna go for it, that’s for sure.

Analysis: Only three players — current captains Derek DeMild, Andrew Bisconti and Mike Vadala — saw varsity minutes in 2010-11, the last time the Tanners made the state tournament. So to make a run at, and qualify for, the postseason dance will be an entirely new experience for coach Mark Leonard’s club. Do they have the scoring, depth and goaltending to punch their ticket? A couple of factors will determine whether or not those dreams come to fruition; namely, the Tanners need to focus first and foremost on team defense and limit opportunities that their foes have. At the other end of the ice, getting both bodies in front of the net and pucks to the net could result in some ugly, but certainly worthwhile goals. Team speed is a big plus; Peabody must use it transitioning the puck up ice and into the attacking zone, particularly along the walls and cutting towards the net.

SALEM WITCHES

”St. Stephen”

Talk about your plenty, talk about your ills

One man gathers what another man spills.

Analysis: The addition of two former St. Mary’s of Lynn skaters — junior center Derek Zwiercan and senior defenseman Jackson Jennings — should pay immediate dividends for the Witches, who lost only three players from a year ago. They’ll gladly take these two transfers into the fold, with Zwiercan set to center the first line with wings Adam Ngo on the right and exciting freshman Mike Gillis on the left, while Jackson will play regularly on D along with Eli Spector, Eamon Williamson and Ishmael Telemarco. Four-year starter Brett Harring is back between the pipes and would love to guide his team to a playoff berth, which would be the school’s first trip there in six seasons. There’s depth, there’s speed ... is there a postseason appearance in Salem’s future?

MARBLEHEAD HEADERS

”Deal”

Since it cost a lot to win and even more to lose

You and me bound to spend some time wonderin’ what to choose.

Analysis: The Headers make the move up to Division 2 this winter and certainly belong there; they could be one of the elite clubs in the North if everything goes according to plan. In the Headers’ highly technical system, split second decisions during a game can make a difference between winning and losing, and with no gimmes on this year’s schedule those decisions will need to be made faster and smarter. Two standout goalies (Myles Barry and Harrison Young) return; so do seniors Liam Gillis and Trevor Gelineau on D (along with experienced sophomores Kyle Koopman and P.J. Roy). There’s still plenty of firepower in the forward ranks, too, with senior Tom Koopman, his sophomore brother Matt Koopman, seniors Erik Powers and Dean Fader, and sophomores Tim Kalinowski and Owen Picariello all capable of turning the goal light red any time they hop over the boards.

SWAMPSCOTT BIG BLUE

”He’s Gone”

Like a steam locomotive rollin’ down the track

He’s gone, he’s gone and nothing’s gonna bring him back.

Analysis: Having lost 11 players to graduation or prep school (including 5 of their top 6 scorers) from the best team in school history last winter — one that reached the Division 3 state final at the TD Garden — the Big Blue can’t worry about who isn’t back. Instead, this young squad (with just 3 seniors) will focus on finding cohesion among the lines, tightening up defensively and allowing their talent to emerge at the varsity level. Sophomore Noah Maercklein scored 29 points last season and will be asked to do even more this time around; so will captain Griffin Hunt, a converted forward now back on the blue line. Goalies Trent Gallagher and Tristan Bradley will be asked to steal a few games, too. Four freshmen (forwards Ryan Donnelly, Mike Johnson and Louis Olivieri, and defenseman David Peterson) should all contribute right away.

ST. JOHN’S PREP EAGLES

”Fire On The Mountain”

The more that you give, why the more it will take

To the thin line beyond which you really can’t fake.

Analysis: No one is going to have any sympathy for the Eagles after the No. 1 seed in last year’s Super 8 tournament lost 18 players to either graduation or prep school (including all but 10 of their 99 goals from a year ago). Playing in the state’s best league against the top non-league foes it can find, St. John’s schedule is again a landmine, something this young squad will need to get accustomed to facing each night or find themselves forever playing catch up. Game situations will tell who’s capable of stepping up and becoming a leader; grinding it out every day in practice and learning the Eagles’ systems will earn playing time from the coaches. Captain Jimmy Currier, fellow senior Mark Etherington and junior Teddy McNamara should lead the offense; sophomores Kyle Lynch and Chris Newton figure to help. Six-foot-4 Ean Mendeszoon and Evan Leclerc are the leaders of a solid defensive corps, and any one of three goalies — seniors Anthony Selvitella and Brian Conry, as well as talented freshman Zach Laramie — could wind up as the No. 1 guy.

BISHOP FENWICK CRUSADERS

”Ripple”

Ripple in still water

When there is no pebble tossed

Nor wind to blow

Analysis: Translation: make your own waves, which can start small but eventually lead to bigger and better things. Now in Year 3 of their foray into Division 1 hockey, the Crusaders are looking to improve upon last year’s four-win campaign. They lost four of their top five scorers and their starting goalie, Pat O’Leary (to prep school), but the players back in uniform are hard working and hungry for success. Nick Finan had 18 points a year ago and would love to add to that total significantly; along with fellow senior captain Brian Corcoran and assistants Brian Bassett and Nick Coccolutto and junior Tim Sullivan (a junior who transferred in from Hebron Academy), they’ll be the offensive leaders. Juniors such as Brandon DeBerardinis, Matt Garofalo and Dylan Maida will be asked to set up their games on defense.

MASCONOMET CHIEFTAINS

”Box of Rain”

What do you want me to do

To do for you to see me through?

Analysis: One of bassist Phil Lesh’s most beloved and heartfelt songs speaks to a tight-knit group, led by 15 seniors. The Chieftains will look to use their ample speed and depth to create scoring chances; they may take a scoring-by-committee approach early on until someone can step up and be the team’s go-to guy up front. Seniors Tyler Costello at left wing and Jared Brann at center have chemistry together on the top line and will likely pair up with Nick Aleckna; speedy wings Vitaly Knowles and Joe Emma form a nice second line with center Mike Castro. Defensively, Joe Griffin and captain Nick Jesi lead an athletic five-man unit in front of netminder Mitch Nekoroski, while fellow senior Jon Anderson will push him for playing time.

PINGREE HIGHLANDERS

”Uncle John’s Band”

Well the first days are the hardest days

Don’t you worry anymore.

Analysis: The Highlanders and their head coach, Gino Khachadourian, suffered growing pains in their first season together a year ago, winning just four out of 28 games. Better results are expected this winter for a sophomore-heavy group that not only has a year of varsity experience, but also are more familiar with Khachadourian’s systems. Captains Chris Usseglio at center and Sean Khachadourian at left wing will center the first line along with gifted sophomore right wing Mike Riley; they’re speedy, skilled and can all bury the puck. Optimism abounds for a team that believes it can get to the .500 mark or better.

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The Blue Line Report, a column on North Shore high school hockey, will appear each week in The Salem News on Wednesdays for the duration of the winter sports season. Contact sports editor Phil Stacey at pstacey@salemnews.com or 978-338-2650, and follow him on Twitter @PhilStacey_SN.