Merrimack Valley Conference teams will be playing amongst themselves this winter due to the pandemic which should make for an interesting campaign with D1, 2 and D3 teams playing each other.
Central Catholic (10-10-3)
The Raiders return an experienced group and due to COVID will play strictly within the confines of the MVC this winter. Coach DJ Conte is hopeful the hard work put in during the offseason translates into in-season success.
Seniors Michael Dinges, Michael Collett, Kyle Melo and Tyler Cullen, juniors Aiden O’Connell and Sean Gray and sophomore Braeden Curran return at forward. The defense features returning junior keeper Michael Brothers with seniors Tyler Diburro, Nick Peters and AJ Grenier and junior Cam Marzilli back on the blue line.
“We have a lot of experience on both sides of the ice this year. We hope to stay healthy and keep some consistency in the lineup, which will help enhance team chemistry and production,” said Conte. “Our focus will remain on taking care of the things that are within our control as there is so much that is not. If we can do this, we will be in great shape.”
If the Lions are to take a step back toward respectability, coach Kevin Leonard said defense will have to lead the way. Team selections have not been completed due to a delayed start to the season.
Seniors Tim Connor, James Hill and Nick Bonaiuto, junior Colin Ryan and sophomore Cole Pelkey all return on the blue line. Seniors Matt Miner, Pete Mitchell, George Haywood, Riley Moulton and Sean Stackpole and juniors Owen Flanagan and Jack Pelkey are the nucleus of a veteran forward group.
“We’re going to need our guys to buy in and take on a number of roles. Up front, we’re going to need guys to take a big step. On the back end we have a solid core ready to take on some big minutes,” Leonard said. “Our goal is oing to be to keep things simple and come to the rink focused. We need to get out to fast starts and it will be a challenge adapting to quick turnarounds with showing up to the rink dressed and ready to play. It’s going to require quite a bit of mental toughness.”
With a dozen seniors among 15 returning upperclassmen, the Golden Warriors will be looking to retain their league crown under coach Kevin Drew this winter.
That group includes nine senior forwards – Anthony Previte, Stephen Ingram, Timmy Kobelski, Anton Pace, Ryan O’Sullivan, Benji Miragliotta, Billy Moulton, Luke Vaccaro and Matt Devaney. Newcomers are juniors Aidan Mafner and Reuben Osborn, sophomores Jonny Lynch and Bearden Archambault and freshman Matt Trudell.
Three goalies return – senior Jake Brezner and juniors JJ Quill and Liam Blake – along with seniors Tanner O’Sullivan and Aidan Lareau and junior Nate Byers on defense. Seniors Jack Fabiani and Trevor Ring, junior Tyler Walles and freshman Nolan Marsters join that unit.
Approximately a dozen veterans – including eight forwards – return as the Indians aim for forward progress under coach Jim Egan. Graduated goalie Connor Feeney must be replaced and the defense rebuilt.
The forward unit features seniors Matt Grimes, Brendan Cook and Dylan Fortunato along with juniors Paul Egan, Harrison Tucker, Chris Viscione, Justin Cataldo and Will Egan. New junior Connor McIsaac and new sophomores Jeff Babineau, Jameson Harrington and Joe Tierney provide additional options.
The depth at forward allowed coach Egan to shift the duo of smooth-skating senior Dom Hall and the massive Jakob Oliver (6-3, 240) back to defense. Junior Jeff Gutierrez and sophomore Ethan Cliff will compete for the goaltending job. Juniors Mike Riddle and David Hederman and freshman James Tucker are also back in defense. Junior Joe Hary and sophomore Jack O’Connell join that unit.
“The mindset will be to take all things one step at a time. We have a positive outlook and we are extremely happy to have the opportunity to play hockey during this world crisis. We will adapt and do what it takes to compete this season in a safe and sportsmanlike manner,” Egan said.
The Redmen have the balance and depth to compete with the Division 1 powers in the league this season as Derek Doherty enters his 20th season as head coach.
Start with senior captain Will O’Keefe, who is one of the top returning scorers in the state off a 14-29-43 campaign as a junior. Senior classmates John Beatrice, Asa DeRoche, Anthony Pecci and Dan Kusmaul join O’Keefe in the lineup. Junior Jason Cooke (21-11-32) is the No. 2 returning scorer, juniors Cole Stone (3-8-11) and Sean Lane also are back, and Aaron Connelly returns to the ice after missing the 2019-20 season with injury. O’Keefe and Cooke were MVC/DCL 2 All-Stars in 2019-20.
Juniors Caden Connors (4-14-18) and Justin Rooney anchor the defense along with sophomore Nick Diciccio. The goaltending will be in the hands of senior Chase Perault and sophomore Benjamin O’Keefe.
Doherty will be looking to a talented freshman class of forwards Matt Cooke, Tyler Barnes and Jeremy Insogna, as well as defensemen Cullen Manga and Cooper Robillard to make contributions.
It won’t be an easy season for the co-op program. Not only is it having to go up against Division 1 and 2 rivals from the Merrimack Valley, but D/T also has had to temporarily relocate from its home ice at the Salem (N.H.) ICenter. Fifth-year coach Jeff DuRoss acknowledges the challenges ahead, but is “confident our effort and compete level will be there every game.”
D/T does have the experience led by the senior C/RW tandem of Brian Workman and Jared Debruin, blue liners Ben Warner and Trevor Freelove, and Caulin Martell in net. Right winger Tanner Marshall rounds out the senior class. Defenseman Dion Bottiggi and goalie Andrew Kazanjian are the lone juniors, while sophomores Tommy Workman (C/LW), Joey Wilkie (C/LW), Colby Forristall (D) and Jacob McDougall (D) also return.
The team will be bolstered by freshman forwards Mike Desmarais, Colin Underwood and Jack Michaud, as well as Chase Allen and Connor Daniel – both of whom will play forward and defense.
Ninth-year coach Joe Roberts hopes the Hillies can be competive in the pack of the MVC.
Junior left wing Brendan Fitzgerald (13-6-19) is the top returning scorer, while senior right wing Hunter LaRiviere (3-7-10) and junior defenseman Charlie Rastauskas (4-6-10) also cracked double-digits in points last season.
Seniors Cole Farmer (4-84-8) and Cullen Simes (1-5-6) return at forward along with sophomore Nick DiBurro (1-2-3), while seniors Evan Jeffries (2-3-5) and Will Madden (0-4-4) are back on the blue line.
John Mulligan and John Bishop are a pair of freshmen to watch for the Hillies.
In a way, the Red Raiders made it to the final day of the 2019-20 season. After winning another Division 3 North championship as a No. 9 seed, Lowell fell to Hanover in the state semifinals, one night before the state tournament was canceled.
The Raiders won’t have a chance to defend their sectional title, but their defense still should be the story. Namely, it starts with senior Jake Vieira (2.34 GAA, .915 SP), who coach Brian Akashian says “is one of the top goalies in the MIAA, and we will rely heavily on him.” Senior captain Keegan Cote will anchor the defense in front of Vieira along with juniors Kyle Frechette and Ben Kotsifas.
Left wing Colin Pickett (9-16-25) made an immediate impact as a freshman, and Akashian expects him to be the go-to guy as a sophomore. Junior left wing B.J. Anderson (1-11-12) and senior left wing Kevin Conley (2-5-7) also return, while junior right wing Nathaniel Haley joins the team from Brooks.
Coach Bill Blackwell and the Rangers had two of the top scorers in the MVC last season, regardless of division, and both senior captains Colby Scott (15-12-27) and Ethan Schena (12-16-28) are back for one more go-round. Junior Jackson Petisce (6-8-14) rounds out the top line, and Blackwell expects they will continue to fill the scoresheet as a unit.
Methuen also brings back four experienced defensemen in senior captain Josh Perkins, senior Cam Hutchings, and juniors Al Harb and Danny Field. Their play will be critical, as Blackwell said the goaltending job was open entering the preseason.
A pair of brothers – sophomore Owen Kneeland and freshman Noah Kneeland – are newcomers whom Blackwell says will see big minutes this season.
The Scarlet Knights knocked on the door last season, taking Lincoln-Sudbury to overtime in the Division 2 North semifinals before falling to the eventual sectional and co-state champion.
The strength should be on the blue line for 11th-year coach Peter Marfione, who has five returnees on the blue line – seniors Nick Herald (5-7-12), Sean Corliss (1-5-6), Tim Berube (1-7-8) and Liam McAdam (0-4-4), along with junior Brendan Donnelly (1-3-4). Backing them up will be senior goalie Ben Williamson.
Senior Adam Heinze (5-15-20) and junior Andrew Perry (15-6-21) are the top returning forwards. With a late start to practice – North Andover wasn’t slated to hit the ice until Jan. 4 – Marfione said he hasn’t been able to evaluate any of the newcomers.
- Jim Clark and Kevin Doyle contributed to this report