SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

December 26, 2013

The Blue Line Report: Balanced scoring could pay big dividends for Masconomet this winter

The Blue Line Report
Phil Stacey

---- — It wasn’t that long ago — seven years, to be precise — that New York Ranger Chris Kreider was scoring 28 goals and 41 points as a sophomore for the Masconomet hockey team.

Is there a potential Kreider on this year’s Chieftains roster? Perhaps, but more than likely no.

The 2013-14 squad is one that will rely on offense from any number of sources, using a scoring-by-committee approach to succeed. So far it’s working as Masconomet, a team that desperately wants to return to the postseason, is unbeaten (2-0-1) after three games.

“It’s a process that we’re building on towards getting better,” said head coach Andrew Jackson, whose team has scored back-to-back wins over Newburyport (4-2) and, in its home opener, Danvers (2-1) heading into tonight’s matchup with rival North Andover in the first round of the Hillies Christmas Tournament in Haverhill.

“We can see flashes where we’re really clicking (offensively), and want to become more consistent in doing those things. And it’s not just one guy or one line; it’s everyone that can — and will have to — contribute for us to have the kind of success that we want.”

Like the majority of high school teams, Masconomet’s best chance to find the back of the opposing net won’t come off of highlight reel snipes or end-to-end rushes that leave fans’ mouths agape. Instead, it’s the so-called ugly goals that will bear the most fruit for the Chieftains: crashing the crease for rebounds, having a willingness to battle and pay the price for prime position out front, and throwing everything at the net.

Where Masconomet has a leg up on many of their foes is overall team speed. That allows them to come aggressively through the neutral zone, whether it’s going wide down the wings and funneling the puck into the slot through one-time passes or aggressively attacking head-on through the center of the ice.

Center Ryan Duval has been skating with Stephen Pease and Jake Esposito to form an all-senior first line. Three-zone workorse Jared Brann centers the second line with fellow senior Tyler Costello and junior Nick Aleckna, and the third unit has junior pivot Mike Castro skating with wingers Vitaly Knowles, a junior, and Joe Emma, a senior. Another 12th grade winger, Tommy Cashin, has also found the scoresheet already.

All nine of those forwards have already scored at least one point, with Castro’s two goals and four points leading the way. And don’t believe that the line designations are an indication of player talent; Castro, for instance, could be a top line player on several area teams, but balance in the forward ranks allows Jackson to use him as a scoring option on a checking line.

The offensive options don’t stop up front, either. Senior defenseman Joe Griffin may well be his team’s most gifted player offensively; he’s always had the skating ability and a booming shot, and now that he’s in better shape this season, said Jackson, his game has exploded.

Griffin is paired with fellow senior Mike Jesi, while sophomore Nick Pease skated with another talented senior, Jake Jesi. Junior Jake Giacchino and sophomore Brendan Crowther are two other rearguards that get worked into nightly mix, protecting the cage in front of second-year starting goaltender Mitch Nekorowski.

“We like the balance that we have,” said Jackson. “We’ve got a lot (15) of seniors who really want to get back into the playoffs, but it’s like you always hear: one game at a time. That’s the mindset we have to take.”

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With so many new faces in the St. John’s Prep lineup this season, there have certainly been some newcomers who have played big roles in the team’s 2-0 start. One of those is senior forward Mark Etherington of Danvers, who saw scant few varsity minutes a year ago, but has made up for lost time this season.

Etherington had a goal and an assist in the Prep’s 8-1 season opening win over Bishop Fenwick, then had a terrific two-way game Saturday night as the Eagles pulled out a 2-1 win at Hingham.

“Mark’s a solid two-way player with a great work ethic,” said Eagles’ head coach Kristian Hanson. “He’s a very coachable kid and a good leader.”

It’s a big week for the Eagles, who resume play this afternoon against one of the state’s best clubs, Catholic Conference rival B.C. High, at UMass Boston (2:20 p.m.). A Saturday night matchup with host Woburn at O’Brien Rink (8 p.m.) follows, and then the big one takes place next Tuesday: a 2:30 p.m. contest with Malden Catholic at Fenway Park on New Year’s Eve.

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So what does the Peabody High hockey team need to do to get their first win?

“Keep at it,” said head coach Mark Leonard. “We have to find a way to create some offense for ourselves, and it’s going to take continual hard work and the attitude that we can get it done.”

Peabody (0-3) has netted just three goals in its three goals, with senior captain Derek DeMild netting two and Bobby Caproni scoring the other on a shorthanded breakaway.

The Tanners played well for the first 20-plus minutes Saturday night in Gloucester, taking a 2-1 lead. But the Fishermen rallied to score the final four goals as breakdowns at inopportune times cost Peabody.

One team from the Tanner City is hoping to earn their first win of the young season this morning when Peabody (0-3) meets Bishop Fenwick (0-2) in the first round of the Kasabuski Christmas Tournament in Saugus (10 a.m.). The winner plays in tomorrow’s title contest (4 p.m.) against the Wakefield/Saugus victor; the two losing squads will play at noon in the consolation game.

Like today’s opponents, Fenwick is also having trouble scoring early on with two tallies in its first two contests. Look for Bobby Lombardi (Fenwick) vs. Freddy Robitaille (Peabody) in the nets today.

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There’s plenty of other holiday tournament action taking place over the next few days.

The aforementioned Kasabuski Tournament will also feature Danvers meeting Lynnfield today at noon. Depending on whether they win or lose, the Falcons will meet either Melrose or Winthrop tomorrow.

Ted Hanley’s Salem High club, which rallied for a 4-4 tie with Swampscott in its last outing, meets Ashland in the East Boston Deep Freeze Tournament tonight at 8 p.m. (ironically, taking the place of Swampscott). The Witches will then face either O’Bryant or East Boston tomorrow .

The Lynn Christmas Tournament begins tomorrow with the host Jets taking on Swampscott (8 p.m.). The Big Blue, who will be without the services of their leading scorer, sophomore Noah Maercklein (broken thumb in season opener vs. Revere), will then face either Everett or Northeast Regional tomorrow at 6:30 p.m.

Lastly, the popular Cape Ann Savings Bank Tournament begins tomorrow night at Talbot Rink in Gloucester featuring Beverly vs. Triton (6 p.m.) and Marblehead vs. the host Fishermen (8 p.m.). The losers meet Saturday at 4 p.m., the winners in the title match at 6 p.m.

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Speaking of the unbeaten Beverly Panthers, they’ll play 40 percent of their schedule before before New Year’s Day — more than any other North Shore team.

The Panthers (5-0), who have scored 22 goals while giving up just two (junior goalie Tim Birarelli hasn’t let a shot by him in 11 periods of work so far), will play today and tomorrow in the Cape Ann Savings Bank Tournament and host a non-league game vs. Canton next Monday at Salem State (7:30 p.m.).

Marblehead is close behind; the Headers (who will play 22 regular season contests) have four games in the books and three more on tap before the calendar turns: again, a pair in the Cape Ann Tournament and a non-leaguer of their own against East Longmeadow Monday at Salem State (5:30 p.m.).

Danvers, Peabody, Swampscott and Masconomet are next; six games will be in the books for the Falcons, Tanners, Big Blue and Chieftains, respectively, by the time the ball drops in Times Square.

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Bishop Fenwick will only play a total of five games before 2013 ends, but the last three of those come on back-to-back-to-back days: today vs. Peabody, tomorrow vs. Saugus or Wakefield, and tomorrow against visiting North Reading (6 p.m.) in Peabody.

The Crusders also have three games scheduled in the first four days of 2014, skating at Arlington Catholic on New Year’s Day, in Stoneham against Matignon Friday (1 p.m.) and hosting St. Mary’s of Lynn Saturday (6 p.m.).

All told, Fenwick will play six games in the next nine days — a schedule that would leave even the fittest of NHL clubs looking for a breather on the bench whenever possible.

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The Blue Line Report, a column on North Shore boys hockey, appears every Wednesday in The Salem News during the winter sports season. Contact sports editor Phil Stacey at pstacey@salemnews.com or 978-338-2650, and follow him on Twitter @PhilStacey_SN.