SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

December 19, 2012

The Blue Line Report: Veteran leadership abundant across local rosters

The Blue Line Report
Phil Stacey

---- — A single word is all you need to know in describing the makeup of North Shore hockey teams this season: Experience.

It’s all over the rosters of our local teams; guys who have already logged major minutes on the varsity in seasons past and are (for high schoolers, anyway) grizzled rink veterans.

Don’t believe me? Check out the names of these names you’re probably already familiar with ...

Start with Beverly, where a stacked roster of returning guys has many thinking big things for the Orange-and-Black this winter. Sophomore goalie Tim Biarelli is back after playing all but a handful of minutes as a freshman. Juniors Jack Morency, Sean Munzing and Matt Hamor, in addition to sophomore Nick Albano, are back patrolling the blue line.

Up front, cousins Andrew and Connor Irving are back to terrorize opponents on the top line, teaming with junior Ryan Santo; juniors Kevin Lally and Graham Doherty are the left wing-center combo on the Panthers’ second unit; and guys like senior Tom Lindgren, sophomore Teddy Leathersich, and juniors Jake Straw and J.J. Bachini, among others, make this a deep, feared squad.

In Danvers, the only newcomer among the top two lines is Adam Merry — who played junior hockey the past two seasons and has provided an immediate offensive spark. Joe Strangie centers Merry and A.J. Couto (4 goals and 6 points in just 2 games thus far) to form a potent all-senior trio. There’s not much dropoff when the next group hops over the boards; junior left wing Matt Flynn could have a breakout year playing with Rob Buchanan on the right side and Jay Calcagno in the middle.

Seniors Kevin Anderson and Shea Doyle, and sophomore Mike Disciullo (who logged big minutes as a freshman), add more veteran talent on the Falcons’ defense.

Leadership is going to go a long way for Salem this winter. Having junior captain Brett Harring back between the pipes in a huge plus; the same can be said for fellow captain Jake Batista, a senior defenseman. Both have experienced some rough times the last few seasons and would love to be part of the turnaround under new head coach Teddy Hanley.

Two more experienced rearguards, senior Anthony Maurais and junior Adam Ngo (who scored in last Saturday’s season opening win) are also tugging on the Witches’ sweaters again, joining offensive threats Spencer Bergholtz, Sam Petri, Jake Stahlman, Matt Jalbert and Ben Kapnis as returnees whose games should all be vastly improved.

Now check out what’s happening in Peabody, where a bad thing (missing the playoffs) a year ago could wind up being a very good thing (getting back in) this time around. Six seniors, five juniors and two sophomores who battled in 2011-12 are ready to make amends in 2012-13.

It starts in goal with Joe Powers; fellow senior captains Pat Ruotolo and Matt McIsaac (who can also play forward) will serve as defensive rocks in front of him. Mike Vadala, Tyler Gillespie, Andrew Bisconti and Derek Demild are just some of the names up front that should make themselves much more prevalent on the scoresheet with a year of seasoning under their skates.

What about Marblehead? Head coach Bob Jackson has the luxury of rolling out eight of his top 10 forwards from the previous season and, when Tyler Gelineau returns next month from injury, four experienced defenseman in front of another veteran, junior Myles Barry between the pipes.

Junior left wing Tom Koopman forms a potent first line for the Headers with Ian Maag at center and 230-pound hulk Ty Bates on the right side; the third line of Dean Fader with Erik Powers and Joe Newall on his right promises to be one of the area’s best checking units. Liam Gillis, one of the North Shore’s best two-day defenders, joins Zac Cuzner, Cam Rowe and Gelineau to provide toughness and leadership on D.

Swampscott can thank its wealth of veteran leadership on the blue line for much of the success it hopes to have this winter. Chris Dandreo, Chris Carman and Trevor Massey are a trio that should cause fits for any forward. Scoring forwards such as Corey Carmody, Nunzio Morretti, Robert Serino, Jake Finlay, Griffin Hunt and Ryan Cresta are back in the fold, too.

A two-win season a year ago in which many of its players learned hard lessons about playing Division 1 hockey could pay big dividends for Bishop Fenwick. The Crusaders return their No. 1 goalie, junior Pat O’Leary; three battle-tested defensemen in P.J. Usalis, Jake Brennan and Mark Todisco; and six of their top nine forwards from a year ago: seniors Drew Thibodeau Mike Napolitano, as well as juniors Nick Finan, Nick Coccolutto, Brian Corcoran and Brian Bassett.

Big things are expected at St. John’s Prep, too, as the Eagles want to return to the Super 8 for the third straight season — and this time, win it. Start up front with Providence College-bound center and captain Brian Pinho; add talents like Tyler Bird, Jack McCarthy, Andrew Brandano, Cam Shaheen, James Brightney, Paul Crehan, Ean Mendeszoon et. al., you can see why many see the Eagles soaring again in the coming months.

With two one-goal setbacks in its first two games, Masconomet could certainly use a break starting tonight against Newburyport (7:50 p.m.) at home.

Junior forward Nick Aleckna, unfortunately, caught the wrong kind of break just minutes before the team’s season opener last Thursday against Pentucket.

As Masconomet took the ice at the Veterans Memorial Rink in Haverhill that night after the Zamboni had made a clean sheet of ice, Aleckna took “about five strides into our zone” according to head coach Andrew Jackson before he slid into the net, which was elevated for the ice resurfacing but hadn’t been readjusted quite yet. He slammed into the net and broke his collarbone, and his return is up in the air.

“He had been flying for us in the preseason,” said Jackson, the team’s rookie head coach. “He was going to be a first line guy for us and on the top power play unit. That was tough to happen before the (first) game even started.”

Finishing off any 2-on-1 opportunities they have would go a long ways towards getting the Chietains their first ‘W’; in both their 4-3 loss to Pentucket and in last Saturday’s 1-0 heartbreaker vs. North Reading (a game in which they dominated), they failed to cash in on their odd-man rushes.

The last two local teams to play their season openers, Peabody and Gloucester, hit the ice tonight; both are eager to finally get out and hit someone in a different color uniform.

The Tanners hit the road to face Winthrop (6:20 p.m.) at Larsen Rink. Coach Mark Leonard, who is 10 wins shy of 200 in his 18th season behind the Peabody High bench, will ice a team that has an abundance of speed and some big boys on the backline — 6-foot-2, 215 pound senior Chris Minter, 6-foot-1, 215 pound junior Guiseppe Zarro and 6-foot-1, 200-pound freshman Donny Shaw among them.

The first five games are a virtual minefield for Peabody, which follows up tonight’s tilt with a road game at powerhouse Beverly on Saturday (3 p.m. at Salem State), its home opener on Thursday, Dec. 27 against a tough Newton North club (1 p.m.); a New Year’s Eve noontime clash at home with Division 3 standout Concord-Carlisle; and finally, a date with rival Danvers in the second annual Mike Clifford Memorial Game on Wednesday, Jan. 2 at Salem State (6:20 p.m.).

The Blue Line Report, a column on North Shore high school hockey, appears each Wednesday during the winter sports season. Contact sports editor Phil Stacey at pstacey@salemnews.com or 978-338-23650, and follow him on Twitter @PhilStacey_SN.

PLAYING FAVORITES with Nunzio Morretti Swampscott Sr. F Favorite stick: Bauer One 100 Favorite skates: Bauer Vapor X50s Favorite pregame meal: Peanut butter sandwich -- and only peanut butter -- on wheat bread with a glass of fruit punch Gatorade Favorite goal to score: 2-on-1 breakaway Favorite music before/after a game: Pregame it's got to be 'Levels' by Avicii; after the game, it's all about 'We Got The Funk' (by George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic) Favorite linemates: Gotta go with Corey (Carmody) and Robert (Serino). Favorite show: 'Oil Change' (on NHL Network) Favorite movie: 'Miracle', of course Favorite high school hockey moment: Scoring the game-winning goal in the third period vs. Marblehead last year in a game we won (3-2) Favorite hockey player: Brad Marchand. He's small and plays like a rat ... just like me.