SAUGUS — Getting off to a slow start had been a bit of a problem for the Danvers High hockey team in the early part of this season.
But Saturday night at the Kasabuski Arena, they made absolutely certain that wouldn’t be the case.
The Falcons rectified that problem by scoring four goals in the first period, adding three more in the middle stanza and blowing out host Saugus, 8-1, to remain perfect on the season at 4-0.
The all-senior first line of captains Joe Strangie (his first hat trick of the season) and A.J. Couto, along with right wing Adam Merry, did the bulk of the damage. Merry added two assists while Couto had one goal.
“That first unit played well,” said Danvers head coach Kevin Brown, whose team had scored four goals in each of its first three victories this season. “The opening period has been a little down for us, so that’s something we emphasized in practice the last couple of days. It’s so important to get out to a fast start, and it was nice to see the kids respond the way they did.
“We’ve been a third period team, but that’s something you don’t want to do.”
Graduation hit the Sachems (who reached the Division 2 North semifinals a year ago) hard; the young squad has five freshmen and seven sophomores on its roster. They were no match for the veteran Falcons, who completely dominated play. Saugus (0-2) had trouble moving the puck out of its end, and couldn’t mount much of an offensive attack unless Danvers was killing penalties.
Tyler Dustin put Danvers on the board with less than five minutes gone when he jammed a rebound past goalie David Aiken. The Falcons continued to swarm around the net and less than a minute later Strangie took a pass from Merry and deposited the puck in the back of the net.
Strangie figured in the next goal while setting up Couto, who beat Aiken 5-hole. Strangie then gave his team a commanding 4-0 lead late in the period when he flipped the puck into the top left corner after being set up perfectly by Rob Buchanan.
“We want to focus on having three full periods and we did that (Saturday),” said Strangie.
“My line has been good all year; Merry and Couto are great to play with. We’re starting to click, and it’s a great feeling to be 4-0. We know we can’t be satisfied, though, because we’ve got some tough games coming up.”
The first line wasn’t the only one that clicked. Danvers’ second unit of Jay Calcagno, Rob Buchanan and Matt Flynn was also very effective. Buchanan (goal, 2 assists) head-manned the puck to Calcagno, who walked in alone and beat Aiken on the backhand early in the second period.
Buchanan’s slapshot on the power play made it 6-0, and Anthony Allen then took over in the Saugus net. Strangie notched his third goal of the night with just over five minutes remaining in the middle period to stretch the lead to 7-0, and Flynn closed out the scoring with a pretty power play goal that was set up by Ryan Cassidy in the last period.
Brown went to his bench early and often, giving everybody a chance to get some ice time. Sophomore Jay Joyce took over in net for the final frame.
Saugus got on the board on a breakaway goal by Steve Kay to spoil the shutout.
“Everybody got an opportunity to contribute,” said Brown. “It was good to get Joyce in there for the last period. These kids work very hard in practice and they all deserve to play.
“It’s nice to be 4-0 before Christmas, but we’re going to stay on our regular schedule without much of a break because we’ll be right back here Wednesday in the Christmas Tournament against Lynnfield (whom Danvers already beat in its season opener, 4-0).”