Six teams – three from the Hockomock, two from the Cape Ann League, and one from the Middlesex League – made the move from Division Two to Division One before the 2013-14 season.
The Hockomock’s Franklin and Mansfield, Newburyport of the Cape Ann and Wilmington of the Middlesex, didn’t skip a beat and qualified for the post-season.
Wilmington took on a full-blown Division One schedule after leaving the Cape Ann League for the Middlesex League before the 2011-12 season. The Wildcats wound up in the D1 North Sectional title game last year and lost to eventual state champ Reading in a game that went 11 rounds into a shootout before a winner could be decided. The Wildcats won consecutive D2 State titles in 2012 and 2013.
That successful transition continues this season, particularly for Franklin (7-1-3), the 2011, 2012 and 2013 D2 South champion; and Newburyport (7-3-2), the 2009 D2 State champion and 2010 D2 North champion.
Wilmington (5-3-2) and Triton (4-4-1) are both in the post-season conversation while Mansfield (3-5-0) and King Philip (3-6-2) have ground to make up in the second half.
Franklin, 14th in this week’s HNIB Division One poll, has impressed from the get-go. The senior-laden Panthers roared out of the gate with a 3-3 season-opening tie against No. 2 Springfield Cathedral.
They defeated LaSalle College Prep (PA), 6-2, and also tied LaSalle Academy (RI), 1-1. Pre-tournament dates with No. 1 Malden Catholic (Feb. 8) and No. 9 Barnstable (Feb. 19) remain. Senior forwards Ryan Spillane and Alec Borkowski drive an offense that has seen a staggering 21 players score at least one goal thus far. Senior goalie Ryan Shea has two shutouts to go along with a .929 save percentage.
“We anticipated the move several years ago and began scheduling as many non-league games as possible. I think this has helped our program transition into the Division One level,” said coach Chris Spillane, whose club reached the quarterfinal round of the South Sectional last year.
“Our players realized last year in the MIAA tournament how deep the talent level is in Division One. I think it was a great move for our program – it has made our players better athletes and hockey players,” he added.
Newburyport, meanwhile, has only four seniors on its roster and sits just outside the Top 20. The Clippers are 2-2-2 against D1 opponents following Saturday’s 5-2 win against St. Peter-Marian of the Catholic West.
Coach Paul Yameen said the Clippers learned plenty from last year’s 3-2 first-round tournament defeat by Winchester. The next step is learning to finish. In five of their six D1 contests, Newburyport held leads after two periods. They eventually lost to St. Mary’s (5-3) and settled for ties with Acton-Boxboro and Westford Academy.
“We are happy but not satisfied with the move to D1. With the exception of Barnstable, we had a lead in the third period of every one of those games. We are a young and inexperienced team on the blue line and in the net, so we will get better as we go,” Yameen said in an email.
Newburyport could be bolstered by the late-season return of senior defenseman Matt Kelleher, a staple of last year’s team who suffered a serious knee injury in lacrosse. Senior captain Ben Ventura (16-20-36) joined the 100-point club with four points in the Clippers’ 4-2 win against Canton Monday. He forms a formidable one-two punch with junior Scott Webster (13-18-31).
Newburyport and Franklin will square off on Feb. 11 at Graf Rink in Newburyport (5 p.m.).