The Blue Line Report
Pat Crosby describes his best friend, Phil Russo, as one of the funniest kids you'll ever meet.
"Phil's a riot," said Crosby, a senior at Masconomet Regional who turned 18 last week. "He's always good for a laugh or a funny quote. He's kind of a silly guy; you just can't take him seriously."
What Crosby and Russo are able to do on a sheet of ice, however, is no laughing matter. When they lace up their skates and pull the red-and-white Masconomet jerseys over their heads, they're all business.
And business has been good this winter.
Having each scored 16 points through their team's first eight games — Russo's 10 goals lead the team, while Crosby's 11 assists are also tops — these two seniors have the Chieftains sporting an impressive 5-2-1 mark.
The duo, who have skated for most of the season with Corey Tudor but recently been paired up with Scott Woods, has scored 58 percent of Masconomet's goals thus far and almost half of the squad's 66 total points.
That's impressive considering not only the talent that Masconomet lost to graduation a year ago, but also other offensive players they counted on helping this season, but who switched schools instead. That ratcheted up the pressure on Crosby and Russo — the first line center and left wing, respectively — to put up big numbers regularly on offense for the Chieftains, but so far all they've done is deliver on those expectations.
"We knew we'd both be counted on a lot more this season," said Russo, who like Crosby resides in Middleton. "That's OK with us, though, because we work so well together on the same line. We're both eager to drive to the net and score, and have a good feeling for where the other one will be at any given time."
Their playing styles appear to be a perfect fit for the other to thrive. The 6-foot, 180-pound Crosby, a classic playmaker who has 23 goals and 55 points in his high school career, likes setting up shop behind his opponent's net and dishing passes to teammates out front in the scoring areas. That's exactly where Russo likes to part his 6-foot-2, 195-pound frame, battling hack-happy defensemen and agitated goaltenders in front of the crease to ram home a one-timer out front.
Russo's emergence as a big-time scoring threat has been huge for the Chieftains; a year ago, he finished with five goals and the same number of assists.
"I've never seen anyone at this level with a longer reach than Phil," said Crosby, who is exploring both prep school and colleges (Providence, Northeastern, Miami of Ohio) as options next year. "He's such a presence out front that it's like clockwork: if I can get the puck on his stick with a pass from behind the net, it's almost a sure thing that he's going to score."
"It can get annoying getting whacked out front and guys pushing off me," said Russo of his offensive mindset, "but the key for me is to keep my feet moving, ignore the hacks and not retaliate.
"I'm a big (Alexander) Ovechkin fan; he shoots the most in the NHL and loves scoring goals. That's how I feel I can best help my team out. Some of the (Masco) parents have been calling me Phil Esposito for all the garbage goals I score, though."
As Crosby has improved as a player, the Chieftains' captain has also become more mature on the ice and aware of what he can best do to help his team.
"I've realized it's not always about scoring goals, that sometimes it's making passes or making — or taking — hits to make a play. That's the biggest key to my success, realizing it's not The Pat Crosby Show," he said. "It's being the best all-around player I can be for my team and being selfless."
Naturally, there are a myriad of other players who have helped Masconomet off to its fine start, both varsity veterans and newcomers. Crosby points to junior third line center Mitch Maffeo as someone whose effort is never questioned in the locker room, as well as sophomore second line center Alec DiGiorgio for stepping up his game this winter; Russo threw praise towards sophomore Tyler Duval, a two-way standout on defense; and senior forward Dave Eidle, who sacrifices scoring stats for doing the dirty work in the corners and getting the puck to his teammates.
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Best wishes for a quick recovery go out to former Danvers High assistant coach Mike Clifford, who is currently in a rehabilitation hospital after having a brain tumor removed. Always impeccably dressed at the rink and with a sharp wit to boot, Clifford was a mainstay for the great Falcon teams of the 1990s, including the 1994 Division 2 state champs.
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If there were any questions about how the many freshmen inhabiting spots on the Beverly High varsity roster would fare this winter, they have most certainly been answered by this point.
The Panther Puppies have passed all tests thus far with flying colors and are a big reason the team sports a surprising 6-2-1 record. Second line center Connor Irving has been a scoring star right out of the gates; his 12 assists are tied for the North Shore's best to go along with three goals. His linemate, Jake Straw, has scored four times with an assist.
Two other freshman forwards, Kevin Lally (2 goals, 2 assists) and Ryan Caley (1 goal, 2 assists) have also contributed while skating a regular shift, while center Graham Doherty got his first varsity goal last weekend.
Matt Hamor (goal, 2 assists) has been a true find on defense for the Panthers, responsible in his own end and providing a physical presence. His partner on the blue line, fellow ninth grader Jack Morency, has been the personification of a steady defenseman: never rattled, never out of place, never caught off guard.
Finally, Sean Munzing (whose uncle Paul Munzing is a Beverly High assistant and whose cousin, Kevin Brown, is the head coach at Danvers High) is another rearguard has also done a fine job when his name is called to hop over the boards.
All told, the freshmen on the BHS roster have accounted for 12 goals and 19 assists; that's one-third of the team's total in both categories.
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The name 'Kamens' has been successful for their respective hockey teams this winter.
First-year junior starter Seth Kamens has been a true find in goal for Danvers High; he's played in all seven games and sports a 1.85 goals-against average and a fine .906 save percentage for the 3-2-2 Falcons.
Seth's sister, Nicole Kamens, is a freshman at Danvers High who plays for the Beverly High girls co-operative team. The 5-foot-1 pivot has two goals and four assists for her 4-2-0 team. Like her brother, she's also an excellent student in the classroom as well as on the ice.
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Speaking of siblings, the Minters of Peabody are also having terrific seasons.
Alex Minter has been playing remarkably well for Governor's Academy, which takes an 8-4-1 mark into today's home game with Buckingham, Browne & Nichols. Fitting in nicely with his new team (he previously played at Malden Catholic, scoring 37 points and earning Catholic Conference all-star honors a year ago), Alex has eight points in his last four games, including the game-winning goal over Phillips Exeter last week.
The 5-foot-9, 180-pound junior forward has developed nice chemistry with playmaking Nathan Ferriero of Essex, whose brothers Benn (now of the San Jose Sharks) and Cody (a freshman at Northeastern University) were formerly stars for the Govs.
Meanwhile, his brother Chris Minter has been a terrific addition to an already deep and talented Peabody High's blue line corps. Also a transfer from Malden Catholic, Minter has fit seamlessly into the Tanners' D-man rotation and plays in both man up and penalty killing situations. Together with fellow rearguards Nico DiSalvo, Nick Salalayko and captains Eric Muise and Ryan 'Noodles' Noftle, Minter helps form one of the strongest public school defenses in all of Division 2 EMass hockey.
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Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday gives fans a chance to watch their teams play some non-league contests, which five of our six area teams in action that day will do.
Bishop Fenwick will host the Lynn Jets in Peabody at 10 a.m.; Peabody hits the road to face one of the traditionally strong teams in Division 2 North, Lincoln-Sudbury, at noon; Marblehead heads out to the western part of the state to face off against Agawam in Springfield (12:30); Swampscott will skate at St. Clements (2 p.m.) and Beverly visits Cambridge to do battle with Division 1 Matignon (6 p.m.).
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The Blue Line Report, a column on North Shore high school hockey, appears each Wednesday during the winter months in The Salem News. Contact Phil Stacey at email@example.com or 978-338-2650, and follow him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/PhilStacey_SN.
STACEY'S THREE STARS OF THE WEEK
1. Brenden Mitchell, Beverly: Junior center is one of the area's top scorers with good reason; he knows how to score and distribute. He had two goals as the Panthers battled back to tie Winthrop, 3-3, then had two more goals and an assist in a win over Swampscott.
2. Joe Strangie, Danvers: Falcons' first line sophomore center has started to score with regularity, pocketing four goals in his last two contests. He had two goals and an assist in a 4-0 blanking over Revere last weekend.
3. Phil Russo, Masconomet: After 10 of his first 11 points this season came on goals, the senior left wing was prolific in dishing off the biscuit in a pair of wins this past week, with five of his six points coming on helpers. He had a career-high three assists in a win over North Reading.
Russo 6 points last week