The new Viking Middle School Hockey League, which involves teams from Beverly, Danvers, Peabody, Marblehead, Lynn and Winthrop, has made an immediate impact.
How much? Enough that those involved in the 10-game, 10-week league are already making suggestions that another middle school program perhaps should follow immediately.
The program, run under the auspices of the Viking Hockey School, is strictly for skaters who will be sixth, seventh and eight graders in the upcoming school year. Salem State coach Bill O'Neill and his brother John, the facility manager for the O'Keefe Center, are the organizers and co-directors of the VMSHL.
The league plays its games on six Friday nights (three games starting at 5:30 p.m.) and two Saturdays, playing two 22-minute running periods. The top four teams in the league will qualify for the single-elimination playoffs, and the championship game will be staged Saturday, Dec. 13 at Rockett Arena, kicking off the annual Northeastern Conference hockey jamboree for the high school kids.
Beverly has already established itself as the power of the league, having outscored three opponents 25-2.
"Beverly has some very impressive players," John O'Neill conceded. "It's a five-year-old middle school program and has played independently for all that time. (Coach) Jack Mitchell has 10 Select players (i.e., high level youngsters) who bypass their club teams to skate in the Middle School League when there are conflicts (between the two teams), and that's a great sign of their priorities. Jack is proud of that."
The league is only a few weeks old, but already observers are singing the praises of young Beverly hockey talents like Conor Irving, Ace Cowans, Matt Hamor, Jack Straw, Graham Doherty and Bryce Mitchell.
Irving, Cowans and Doherty all are good for 2-3 goals each in every game, said their coach.