Leonard has always felt a hockey kinship with Danvers; when he first took over the Peabody High program for the 1995-96 season, his ultimate goal was to build the Tanners into the type of tournament-tested, highly successful program that the legendary Kevin Flynn had built at Danvers High after leaving Peabody in the late 1980s.
He knows what his Tanners will be up against tonight: a typical Danvers team that will skate and grind and play in your face and not give an inch for the full 45 minutes. The Falcons pride themselves on their conditioning, limiting opponents’ shots against and playing physical without being whistled for penalties.
“They’re tough. Real tough,” said Leonard. “(Captain Joe) Strangie (6 goals, 14 points) is a real good player and his left wing, (fellow captain A.J.) Couto (8 goals, 12 points) has a lot of talent. And little Flynnie (junior left wing Matt Flynn) isn’t little any more; he’s a workhorse out there who is tough as nails.
“They’ll bring their best game against us. We have to respond to that and earn anything we can get.”
Speaking of big games, there’s a couple of monster showdowns on the schedule for this Saturday.
At high noon, the two-time defending Super 8 champions from Malden Catholic (3-0-1) invade the Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington to battle St. John’s Prep for the first time this season. The host Eagles, who are 3-1 going into tonight’s home game (8 p.m.) with Framingham, have traditionally taken time to jell in December before starting to hit their stride in January. This clash against the Lancers — who face B.C. High tonight — would be a perfect time to do so.
Five hours later at the Rockett Arena, Beverly and Danvers will do battle in a rivalry that goes back to the days of outdoor rinks and helmetless skaters. If both squads prevail tonight (Beverly hosts Winthrop at 8:10 p.m.), they’ll be battling for Northeastern Conference North supremacy, with only one loss between them. So you’ve got the Panthers’ high-powered offense and vastly underrated D against Danvers’ commitment to team defense and penchant for scoring big goals at the right time? Sign me up.