The independent ranks in Massachusetts high school hockey are much smaller in 2020-21, with most of last season’s programs moving back to their traditional leagues or joining others — at least temporarily — during the pandemic.
Pope Francis continues to take the independent route as the lone Division 1 team in Western Mass., as coach Brian Foley has cobbled together a schedule of at least a dozen games against MIAA teams. Meanwhile, Lowell Catholic has chosen to go on its own for boys’ hockey, leaving the Catholic Central League (many of the school’s other sports programs are now in the Commonwealth).
The MIAA’s decision to cancel Championship Weekend and declare co-champions last March proved historic as the Cardinals earned recognition as a 1A champion for the first time by reaching the title game from the Loser’s Bracket.
There are no championships to chase this winter but that won’t deter 17-year coach Brian Foley’s club from its usual stifling forechecking and defense that forces opponents’ mistakes. PF loves to play with a lead and certainly possesses the firepower to do so.
Ten forwards return with sophomore Ryan Leonard (28-9-37), senior Brandon Spaulding (7-20-27), sophomore Ryan Shaw (9-17-26) , senior Jacob Iby (7-10-17), senior Evan Phaneuf (8-6-14), junior Jack Moltenbrey (3-9-12) and sophomore Josh Iby (2-9-11) leading the way. Senior Matt Burke, junior Drew Bolduc and sophomore Ryan O’Leary round out that unit.
Four-year goalie Ben Zaranek (1.62 GAA) made16 appearances last season while junior Ryan Rhodes (1.29 GAA) picked up valuable experience with seven. Senior Stephen Rougeot, juniors Ryan Hemenway and Jack Kennedy and sophomores Matt Hanscom and Jack Turowsky return on the blue line.
“After seeing [last] season cut short, there is some unfinished business. We need to rely on a balanced scoring attack as well as playing great defense in front of our tandem goalies. Several sophomores got the experience necessary to provide the solid foundation that is Pope Francis Hockey,” Foley said.
Lowell Catholic (1-18-1)
It’s back to the future for the Crusaders as Tom Curran, the architect of the program when it started in 2008-09, is back behind the bench after a two-year hiatus. Lowell Catholic also will be competing as a Division 2 independent after a brief foray into the tougher waters of the Catholic Central Large.
Curran will be looking to rebuild a program that hit a tough patch last season, but is only four years removed from a Division 2 state championship. He says there is a lot of balance in the top 9-10 forwards, as well as the first 6-7 defensemen. “The key to our success will be for a couple of guys to emerge as consistent goal scorers,” Curran added.
Shawn Martell, a CCL All-Star goalie last season, will lead the senior group along with fellow netminder Cody Lesko. Other seniors for Lowell Catholic include Mike DeVita, Ryan Knight, Declan Murphy, Chris Mucci, Ty Soule and Dom Valente. The junior class features returnees Patrick Drew, Alex Pescatore, Justin Roche, Danny Kierce, Joe DiGiovanni and Jake McDonough.
Among the newcomers for the Crusaders are sophomores Lucas Rego and Keegan Boyden at forward, and Adam Ellegood on defense; freshmen Matt Cabral (F), James Kierce (D) and Sam DeChaves (G); and eighth-grade forward Jake West.