SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

December 26, 2012

The Blue Line Report: Something's brewing with Witches

By Phil Stacey
Sports editor

---- — Jake Batista may have a future as a hockey coach — or a motivational speaker.

“Those other guys were shocked you didn’t stop battling, that you tied it up,” Batista, a senior captain, said to his Salem High hockey teammates in the locker room after their come-from-behind 2-2 tie with Revere last Saturday night at the Rockett Arena. “You didn’t give up, not a single one of you. Give yourselves a hand.”

The Witches, as a unit, broke into loud applause and cheers.

Four games into the season and there’s already some distinct differences about this Salem team. The most important one is that they believe they can play with anyone, and will be rewarded for that never-say-quit attitude.

“Instead of ‘How bad are we going to lose?’, this year it’s ‘How are we going to find a way to win?’ said the 18-year-old Batista, a stalwart defenseman. “Everyone is feeling it. It’s been terrific.”

Salem, a co-operative hockey program between the Salem and Hamilton-Wenham school districts, won just one game a year ago. They went into this week’s Christmas break with a very respectable 1-1-2 record, having battled back to secure ties in each of their last two games.

This past Saturday the Witches scored twice with under four minutes remaining to earn a 2-2 tie with Revere; Batista called it the team’s best result to date.

A huge part of Salem’s turnaround has been Ted Hanley, the team’s new head coach. Having spent 20 years in the Marines, Hanley knows how to get results and get his men to achieve them ... or in this case, his high school skaters.

“Coach always brings a positive attitude, no matter what’s going on, and he’s taken very seriously,” said junior goaltender and co-captain Brett Harring, now in his third season as a starter. “What he’s taught us and the things he’s constantly telling us, they’re forcing us to become better as a team.”

Hanley is nothing if not excitable and exuberant behind the bench. He’s the first one to approach the door as his Witches come off the ice after a shift, and he’s constantly shouting out encouragement to his players and clapping as he paces up and down.

“I’m definitely not quiet,” Hanley said with a laugh, “and I know it must look a little nutty. But I love competition and I love being part of a team trying to achieve a common goal; and with these guys I’m back as part of a team. They see my passion, and hopefully it’s rubbing off on them.”

The Witches have three huge positives: they’re in very good shape, they skate well and have a much deeper bench than in years past, meaning they’re staying fresh late into games. That’s where Hanley wants to see his team take it up a notch and get over the proverbial hump by playing their best hockey when it matters most.

New faces such as Alex Gianelli and first line winger Danny Heck have made immediate contributions.

Playing smart is also paying dividends. Batista drew a crucial penalty against Revere with his team trailing by a goal and under three minutes to play. By not retaliating against the overly physical play by his opponent, Batista gave his team a power play in which he assisted on Matt Jalbert’s game-tying goal.

“You have to be able to walk away from something like that. I’ll let someone do that to me if it gives us a chance to go on the power play and tie it up,” said Batista.

Harring, who faced (and stopped) more shots than any other North Shore goaltender last winter in routinely making 40-plus stops a night, said it was almost “relaxing” watching his team operate with the man advantage before tying the Patriots.

“This tells the rest of the league we’re not taking any crap this year, even when we’re down 2-0,” said the 16-year-old from Hamilton. “The expectations are higher for all of us.”

With Hanley pushing his players to believe in themselves and their abilities, the Witches are bound for further success in 2013, said Batista.

“Work hard and success will pay off; we’re always preaching that,” he said. “And coach has been through so much in his life and is giving all he has for us, so we need to help him out by doing the same thing. Everyone is feeling that.”

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North Shore hockey trivia question: can you name the local high school assistant coach who often serves as the goaltender for the Boston Bruins Alumni team?

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Holiday hockey begins today, with many of our area teams taking part in various vacation week tournaments.

Beverly will be back to defend its title in the Cape Ann Savings Bank Tournament at the Talbot Rink in Gloucester, meeting up withTriton in the first of two semifinal games tonight at 6 p.m. Marblehead faces off against host Gloucester in the nightcap (8 p.m.); the two losing teams meet tomorrow in the consolation game at 6, followed by the championship game at 7:30 p.m.

Danvers, Bishop Fenwick and host Saugus will all skate at the annual Kasabuski Christmas Classic in Saugus beginning today. Fenwick kicks things off by meeting Melrose (coached by former Lynnfield head man Vin Mirasolo) at 11 a.m., followed by Danvers vs. Lynnfield at 1 and Saugus meeting Wakefield at 3. The matchups tomorrow will consist of Fenwick/Lynnfield (11 a.m.), Danvers/Wakefield (1) and Saugus/Melrose (3).

Masconomet will meet one of the top teams in all of Division 2 hockey, Wilmington, in the first round of the Hillies Christmas Tournament in Haverhill this afternoon at 5 p.m., followed by Matignon vs. North Andover at 7. The Guptill Division consolation (5 p.m.) and championship (7 p.m.) games will take place Friday.

Having won the East Boston Deep Freeze Tournament the last seven seasons, Swampscott will look to do it again beginning tomorrow against St. Joseph Prep at the Porazzo Memorial Rink in East Boston (8 p.m.). Depending on how they fare, the Big Blue will meet either O’Bryant or East Boston the following night at either 6 or 8 p.m.

Also tomorrow, Salem heads into the four-team Lynn Christmas Tournament at the Connery Rink in Lynn. The Witches will meet the host Lynn Jets at 8:30 p.m., following the Northeast Regional vs. Everett tilt at 6:30 p.m. The consolation and championship games will be played Friday night at the same times.

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Coaches are forever preaching to their players to go hard on every shift, to keep getting after it until you hear the whistle or the horn that signals the end of a period.

Swampscott freshman Noah Maercklein obviously has taken that message to heart.

When a Marblehead defender failed to chip the puck out of his own zone in the final seconds of the first period last Saturday, Maercklein and the Big Blue took advantage. Joe Silva got the puck over to Ryan Cresta, who fed Maercklein in the slot as time was winding down. The ninth-grader let go a high wrist shot from inside the circle that snuck just over the shoulder of Header goaltender Myles Barry with 2/10ths of a second remaining in the period.

His first varsity goal was a huge momentum boost for Swampscott, which sliced their deficit in half and came out of the second period pelting the Headers with shots. Marblehead eventually withstood that frenzy, however, and scored three goals of their own in the middle period en route to a 6-3 win.

Moral of the story, however: keep going hard. Always, always, always keep going hard until you hear that whistle or horn.

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Through three games, one thing has become increasingly apparent to these veteran hockey eyes: Beverly High is a lot like their football brethen. Similar to the 13-0 Super Bowl champions, the Panther icemen are extremely gifted offensively — as their 19 goals scored by a dozen different players will attest to — but they may even better defensively as a unit (only 1 goal surrendered thus far).

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Trivia answer: Beverly police officer and goalie coach Mike Boccuzzi often straps on the pads and stands between the pipes for the Bruins’ Alumni squad when they travel to play charity games.

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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 nic gianelli School, year, position: St. John's Prep , Sr., Center Favorite pregame meal: I always eat raisins before I go out on the ice. Gotta have my raisins with water. Favorite pregame music: I like rock and roll, stuff like 3 Doors Down and Nickelback. Favorite rink: Gotta be the Stooch (Ristuccia Memorial Arena, the Prep's home barn). Favorite stick/skates: I like Apex for both Favorite hockey movie: "Miracle" Favorite non-hockey movie: "Law Abiding Citizen" Favorite finishing move: I like to go in, give a little fake, go backhand and then back forehand before shooting. That works well for me. Favorite St. John's Prep memory: Our first game in the Super 8 tournament last year (a 4-3 overtime win over Springfield Cathedral). That was unbelievably exciting. Favorite NHL players: I like Brad Marchand, who's scrappy like me, and Pavel Datsyuk of the Red Wings Favorite hockey logo: I love the Bruins' Winter Classic jerseys and the logo they wore that day (in 2010).