The Northeastern Conference welcomes Masconomet to the division this winter, and the Chieftains should be right in the mix from the outset in what should be a very competitive league.
The Panthers are pegged by NEC rivals as a team that could break out this season under second-year coach Greg Fonzi.
Much of the Panthers’ experience will be at forward, led by junior left wing Austin Bernard (10-11-21) and center Matt Mezza (4-11-15). Senior right wing Gavin Doyle (10-4-14), and juniors D.J. Bachini (C, 7-5-12) and Cam Cook (RW, 4-8-12) also were key parts of a balanced attack last season, wih senior left wing Max Murphy (2-5-7) adding depth.
“Returning 5-of-6 top-two line forwards and depth on the third line will help us match up with anyone up front,” Fonzi said. “Our defense is skilled but very young. Their development will be the key to our success.”
Junior Jaxon Thomas (2-7-9) will lead that young defense for the Panthers. But Fonzi is encouraged with the goaltending situation, with senior Brendan Sweeney (transfer from Malden Catholic) and a young group of sophomores led by Dylan Hunter.
The Fishermen will have a bit of a different look this season after graduating NEC North MVP Connor Vittands from goal, but also returning several top forwards from the squad that pushed eventual Division 2 North champion Lincoln-Sudbury to the limits in a quarterfinal overtime loss.
Junior Jack Costanzo was one of the top scorers in Eastern Mass. last season and will lead the offensive attack along with seniors Ryan Bergin and Zach Abbott. Bergin will serve as captain this season for coach Derek Geary, with Costanzo and Abbott as alternates.
The overall depth of the team (18 returnees) should be solid. Other experienced forwards include juniors Aidan Donald, Jason McNiff, Haden Hale and Dan O’Leary, as well as sophomores Jack Delaney, Nick White and Zach Morris.
On the blue line, the Fishermen will look to seniors Cal Sawyer and Jack Ashley, juniors Ryan Frates, Robbie Schuster, Tim Marrone and Nick Rapchuck, and sophomore Derek Ellms.
Replacing Vittands in net will be key. Sophomore Sean Bergin returns and will compete with freshmen Nick Tarantino and Riley De Haan.
After going undefeated and finishing atop the NEC North last season, the Headers graduated some high-end talent, but still have a lot of experience back.
Senior Will Shull is the one returnee among Marblehead’s five NEC All-Stars from last season and will be the focal point of the offense for coach Chris Wells. Ian Cody is the only other senior returnee at forward, but the Headers also bring back juniors Hayden Leveroni, Eli Feingold and Aidan Ryan, as well as sophomores Christopher Locke, Connor Jalbert and Carter Laramie.
Defensively Marblehead will look to seniors J.T. Monahan and Charlie Titus, junior Aidan Jalbert, and sophomore Connor Sheridan.
Replacing all-star goalie Peter Santeusanio in net will be a key for Wells. Nick Peters was backup last season and will be in the running along with fellow sophomore Nate Samuels.
After winning the Cape Ann League the last two seasons and earning the top seed in the Division 2 North tournament in 2020, the Chieftains will be an interesting addition to the NEC and should only add to the depth of the league.
Coach Andrew Jackson will look to senior captain Aaron Zenus (10-7-17) and junior alternate captain Richard Guarino (8-7-15) up front. Zenus can play center and wing, and with Guarino would give Jackson a pair of solid top-six anchors. Senior Logan Campbell (6-12-18) will split time between forward and defense, with junior wing Josh Brann (4-5-9) and center Chris O’Grady (2-5-7) also returning at forward. Senior Jason Hurford returns from junior hockey and also will be a factor, along with freshman A.J. Sacco.
Masco should be solid on the blue line with senior captain Trevor Currier, as well as senior Parker Defeo and junior Matt McMillan. While Masco graduated standout goalie Tucker Hanson, senior alternate captain Lucas Canelli is ready for his turn.
“We are the new guys in town,” said Jackson, adding that Masco will be treating the new NEC waters as their state tournament experience. “I think all the teams in the NEC North will be difficult to play against this year. Looking forward to the new challenge, it’s exciting for both the players and coaches.”
Coach Dale Dunbar should have another balanced, competitive squad as he enters his 15th season behind the Vikings bench.
Senior Joey Holgersen was an NEC All-Star and alternate captain a season ago, and leads a deep group of forwards along with fellow seniors Charlie Lane, Chris Ferrera and Connor Hurley. Junior Charlie Dassau, J.D. Parker and Bobby Diaz also return from last year’s tournament squad, as does sophomore Colin Banfield.
The Vikings typically are a sound defensive team and this season should be no exception. Senior Evan Smotrich, and juniors Conlan Petersen, Joe Hayes and Ari Hain look to form a solid blue line.
Senior Ryan Holvermale returns in goal along with junior Anthony Indrisano.
- Danvers is also in the North Divison. Information was not available on the Falcons as of post time.
Christian Wright enters his second season behind the Tanners bench with only 15 players – three of them goaltenders – but they are ready for the challenge.
Junior Andrew Souza is a returning NEC All-Star and leads the defense along with seniors Cam Silva and Jagger Ingham. Senior Lucas DeMild is back in net, and will be backed up by senior Tristan Ell and sophomore Ashton Souza.
Wright has a strong senior group at forward with Luke Buckley, Anthony Bettencourt, Nathan LePage and Brandon Perry. Sophomores Luke Caruso and Josh Lewis add depth at forward.
Newcomers this season include senior forward Matthew Devin, and freshmen Michael Ryan (F) and Trevor Pacheco (D).
“With only 12 skaters, conditioning is essential but we will also need to find a way to slow the game down from time to time,” Wright said. “With the loss of both of our two leading scorers, we will need to find scoring elsewhere.”
The Sachems will be looking to improve on their win total from a season ago despite the shortened schedule.
Coach Jeff Natalucci’s team will be young up front, with junior center Jason Caron, left wing Massey Ventre, and sophomore center Dante Mauro the top returners. Saugus will get a boost with a pair of junior transfer returnees – Chris Regnetta from St. Mary’s, and Kevin McMaster from BC High.
Natalucci hopes solid team defense will be a key to success, with senior Andrew Cipriano and junior Ryan Ragucci the top players on the blue line in front of senior goalie Nick Divola.
The Big Blue were a tournament team a season ago despite finishing below .500 in the regular season, winning the NEC South for the second time in as many years and reaching the Division 3 North semifinals before falling to eventual champion Lowell.
Much of the firepower from that team has graduated, so coach Gino Faia said team defense will be critical in addition to finding scoring from different players.
Seniors Thomas Callahan (C, 1-3-4), Jake Sweeney (LW, 1-3-4) and Matt Griffin (RW, 2-1-3) are among the forwards who will look to step into bigger roles, along with junior right wing Zack Pierce (3-2-5).
Seniors Griffin Bruhm (2-6-8) and Chris Henriques (1-0-1) will be tasked with leading the defensive effort in front of senior goalie Ian Roddie.