SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 1, 2014

The Blue Line Report: Danvers, Peabody need to start the new year off right

The Blue Line Report
Phil Stacey

---- — Let’s do some real quick hitters — 30-second shifts, in hockey parlance — to start off the New Year:

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The third annual Mike Clifford Memorial Game this Saturday at Salem State’s Rockett Arena (2:20 p.m.) isn’t just a big game for the Danvers and Peabody hockey programs because Clifford stood behind the bench for both squads, but also because they’re both in need of a victory to start the new year off right.

Both are coming off of heartbreaking losses: the Tanners surrendered three goals in the final 206 seconds yesterday at Methuen to fall to the host Rangers, 4-2, ending their modest two-game winning streak; Danvers, meanwhile, gave up the game-winning goal to Division 1 Melrose with four seconds to play in falling, 3-2, in the Kasabuski Christmas Classic’s American Division championship game.

The Falcons and Tanners will enter Saturday’s game with matching 2-4 records. With the calendar turning to 2014, points are at a premium for both of these playoff hopefuls.

Peabody seems to have settled its goaltending situation with sophomore Freddy Robitaille between the pipes — although talented freshman Aaron McConnell will continue to push him for playing time. Defensemen like Guiseppe Zarro, Cam Smullen and Donny Shaw must continue to focus on getting the puck out of their own zone and providing clear shooting lanes for their goaltender.

Up front, Peabody speedsters like Derek Demild, Mike Vadala, Bobby Caproni, Reed Foster and Andrew ‘Biscuits’ Bisconti have to play aggressively in all three zones, battle for rebounds out front and bury the chances they get offensively.

It’s more of the same for the Falcons, who will be hosting just their second game of the season. Scant few practices prior to the season beginning didn’t help in terms of the Blue-and-White jelling, but now that they’ve had a chance to do so (they’ll enter Saturday’s game not having played in eight days), the team cohesion factor should be markedly improved. Accepting, and moving on, from a tough loss against Melrose will also help the maturation process.

Winners of the first two Clifford Games, the Falcons have continued to get solid goaltending from second-year junior starter Alex ‘A.T.’ Taylor. Junior Steve Ganley has looked very good on defense through a half-dozen games, as has Trevor Daly (3 goals) as a pivot on the second line with senior wings Tyler Dustin and captain Jay Calcagno. A shakeup on the first line has two-time captain Kevin Hodgkins skating with Matty Flynn and gifted freshman Robert Tibbetts, who buried his first varsity goal last week. Sean Lundergan has earned his spot as the team’s third line center while hustle guy James Curley lines up next to him at right wing.

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It’s called Being A Teammate: During yesterday’s Frozen Fenway contest against Malden Catholic at Fenway Park, St. John’s Prep sophomore center Scott Newton unselfishly gave up his own skates so that his teammate, senior defenseman Evan Leclerc — who is on the ice much more — could continue to play after the latter broke a skate.

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It’s been a tough start to the season for Swampscott, as the defending Division 3 North champions sit at 1-4-1. Injuries have really demolished the Big Blue; sophomore Noah Maercklein, who scored 29 points a year ago as a ninth grader, could be gone for the season after breaking a thumb in his team’s season opener against Revere. Fellow forward Steve Dandreo (broken foot, which he also broke a year ago) and defenseman Joey Faia (still nursing a football injury, both hoping to return this weekend) have also been hampered by ailments, and sophomore goaltender Tristan Bradley (school rules violation) remains out of the lineup.

The execution and effort have been there, said head coach Gino Faia; his team just isn’t getting the end results. If they keep playing the way they have been, he feels, they’ll pick up some W’s along the way.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that some varsity newcomers are stepping up to help quell the tide. Specifically, the all-freshman line of Ryan Donnelly, Mike Johnson and Louis Olivieri have scored 12 of the Big Blue’s 18 goals to date.

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A tip of the scalley cap goes to converted defenseman Mike Rosengren, who earned his first varsity win for Salem in its 11-1 pasting of O’Bryant last weekend. With Witches’ four-year netminding stalwart Brett Harring just getting back to full strength after a preseason injury, Rosengren has stepped between the pipes and held the fort down. Against O’Bryant, the senior stopped 15 of 16 shots for a well-earned triumph.

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Another goaltending nod goes to Marblehead junior Marc Scribner, who in his first varsity start two nights ago turned aside all 14 shots that Nantucket fired his way in a 10-0 Headers’ win. It can’t be easy being the No. 3 guy behind seniors Myles Barry and Harrison Young in Marblehead’s goalie rotation, but Scribner has bided his time well and shined when given his chance.

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Marblehead (5-2) would love to score some revenge Saturday night at Salem State (6 p.m.) when it meets Northeastern Conference North rival Beverly (7-0-1) for the second time in eight days. The Headers held a 3-0 first period lead over the Panthers in the final of the Cape Ann Savings Bank Tournament last Saturday, only to see Beverly scoring six of the game’s final seven goals in a 6-4 loss.

The high powered Headers’ first line of brothers Tom and Matt Koopman, along with freshman right wing Braden Haley (a combined 14 goals and 35 points) gave the Orange-and-Black some trouble with their speed, size and net tenacity. Young got the start four nights ago, but if Marblehead’s goalie rotation holds true, looking for Barry to get the call this Saturday.

Coming off of its first non-victory of 2013-14 — a non-league 1-1 tie with Canton — the Panthers will be focusing on conditioning to get ready for Marblehead after playing four games in eight nights.

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

Local Hockey Leaders POINTS LEADERS Player, School Pts. 1. Connor Irving, Beverly 20 2. Nick Albano, Beverly 17 3. Tom Koopman, Marblehead 15 T4. J.J. Bachini, Beverly 14 T4. Liam Gillis, Marblehead 14 6. Matt Koopman, Marblehead 12 7. Jimmy Currier, St. John's 10 8. Mike Johnson, Swampscott 8 T9. Mike Castro, Masconomet 7 T9. Joe Griffin, Masconomet 7 GOAL LEADERS Player, School Goals 1. Connor Irving, Beverly 9 T2. Ryan Donnelly, Swampscott 5 T2. Liam Gillis, Marblehead 5 T2. Braden Haley, Marblehead 5 T2. Tim Kalinowski, Marblehead 5 T2. Matt Koopman, Marblehead 5 7. Seven players tied with 4 ASSISTS LEADERS Player, School Assists 1. Nick Albano, Beverly 14 T2. Connor Irving, Beverly 11 T2. Tom Koopman, Marblehead 11 4. Liam Gillis, Marblehead 9 T5. J.J. Bachini, Beverly 7 T5. Jimmy Currier, St. John's 7 T5. Matt Koopman, Marblehead 7 T8. Ty Costello, Masconomet 6 T8. Graham Doherty, Beverly 6 DEFENSEMAN SCORING LEADERS Player, School G-A-Pts. 1. Nick Albano, Beverly 3-14-17 2. Liam Gillis, Marblehead 5-9-14 3. Joe Griffin, Masconomet 2-5-7 4. Steve Ganley, Danvers 3-1-4 T5. Griffin Hunt, Swampscott 1-3-4 T5. Kyle Koopman, M.head 1-3-4 T5. Evan Leclerc, St. John's 1-3-4 T5. P.J. Roy, M.head 1-3-4 GOALIE LEADERS Goalie, School W-GAA-SHO 1. Tim Birarelli, Beverly 6-0-1 1.05 3 2. Zach Laramie, St. John's 2-1-0 1.50 0 3. Freddy Robitaille, Peab. 2-3-0 2.08 1 4. Alex Taylor, Danvers 2-4-0 2.50 0 5. Mitch Nekorowski, Masc. 3-2-1 2.83 0