Shawsheen is the defending CAC champion and brings back a wealth of experience as it aims for a repeat, but Northeast always is a challenger for a tough spot. There will be plenty of new looks throughout the rest of the six-team league – Essex Tech and Rockport welcome new coaches with high hopes, and Greater Lowell takes over as host of the rebranded co-op team with Nashoba Tech. Minuteman has more experience and hopes to be in the mix.
ESSEX TECH (8-8-5)
Home Rink: Essex Sports Center, Middleton
It was quite a noteworthy offseason for Essex Tech as the program enters its fourth season at the varsity level. The Hawks added one of the most experienced coaches in the state as Mark Leonard steps behind the bench following a 24-year run at Peabody.
Coming off a heartbreaking overtime loss to Bedford in the Division 3 North first round, the Hawks will look to take the next step with 10 seniors back in the fold. Much of that experience will be in the back end, with Jared McClaughlin in goal and a strong core of defensemen with Evan Danjou, Jake Krajeski, Nick Lennon, Michael Burns and Matt Miller.
The offense still should be solid led by seniors Nick Ippolito, Chris Grout and R.J. Koberski, as well as sophomores David Egan and Chris Batten.
Adding to the core depth will be newcomers Cam Cannizzaro (junior), Nick LaConte (sophomore) and Larry Graffeo (freshman) at forward, as well as sophomore defenseman Logan Richardson. Freshman Kyle Mahan will back up McClaughlin in goal.
“If we take care of our own end and pressure other teams with our speed we should have some success,” Leonard said.
“As it’s my first year with the team we will need to build confidence with each other and come together as a team. We have 10 returning seniors who are very motivated to make their last year at Essex Tech a successful one. The team worked extremely hard both on and off the ice in the off-season and I am looking forward to the getting on the ice with them.”
GREATER LOWELL/NASHOBA TECH (8-12-0)
Home Rink: Chelmsford Forum, North Billerica
Same team, same coach, just a new name. With Greater Lowell having the higher number of players and taking over as the host school, the program has been rebranded. Now the Gryphons/Vikings will take aim at their first tournament berth in eight seasons under Bob Callahan, in his second season of his second stint with the team.
Callahan expects GLNT to be strong on defense with seniors Dom Muraca (GL), captain Gabriel Nieto (GL) and Dan Haluska (NT) all back, along with Nashoba Tech junior Kyle Desjardins. A pair of juniors – Darien Ackerman of Nashoba Tech, and Adam Laflamme of Greater Lowell – are in net and Callahan says they will be a key for the team to make a run in the CAC.
Offensively, the team will look to seniors Jon Wright (NT) and Aaron Maranelli (GL) at center, as well as senior right wing Dylan Stoia (GL). Junior Jonathan Burke (NT) is another key center, and a pair of GL sophomores — Ryan Frazier and James Dixon – are on the wings.
Among the key newcomers are junior left wing Devon Crandall and sophomore Tony Iacavone of Nashoba Tech, along with sophomore center Zach Patterson, freshman forward/defenseman Christian Blanchette and freshman defenseman Cal Norris of Greater Lowell.
Home Rink: Valley Sports Arena, West Concord
The Mustangs still will be young after graduating only three players off last year’s squad, but coach Joe Joncas hopes that experience will be key for the program taking the next step toward returning to the postseason for the first time in more than a decade.
Joncas believes the team can build off a solid defensive group led by senior Nick Hart (5-5-10) and sophomore Alton Winkler (2-1-3) in front of senior goalie Eddie Hassler.
Offensively, the Mustangs will turn to a pair of sophomores in Ryan Carta (7-4-11) and Joe Aiello (3-9-12) to lead the way, along with junior winger Shawn Macleod.
Minuteman should get a nice influx of freshmen this season – Nolan Griffin, Thomas Ward, Nolan Gammons and Alex Breault. Sophomore Mason Doncaster also is a newcomer to the team.
Home Rink: Malden Valley Forum II
The Knights stretched their streak of tournament play to seven straight years before falling to Dracut/Tyngsboro in the first round in Division 3 North.
Northeast should remain a factor in the CAC race as Jeremy Scafidi enters his eighth season behind the bench, looking for its first league title in three seasons.
Senior center Patrick Maloney (21-11-32) will be the obvious spark for the offense, with senior Jack McIntyre (8-5-13) a strong option centering a second line.
Senior Owen Forte (6-14-20) is a strong two-way player from the blue line, and he will be in charging of protecting senior goalie Paul Morrissey (2.59 GAA).
Home Rink: Dorothy Talbot Rink, Gloucester
A former CAC All-Star during his playing days with the Vikings, Kyle Nelson steps behind the bench for Rockport, which will continue to get players from Manchester Essex and Ipswich as part of its co-op.
Nelson has the luxury of a large senior class to start, so he is optimistic the team can contend for a league title. Senior center Billy Garlick (Rockport), senior left wing A.J. Curcuru (Manchester Essex) and junior center Rowan Silva (Ipswich) are captains and will be top forwards. Junior right wing Frew Rowan, senior right wing Andrew Guelli and senior left wing Johnny Andrew hail from Rockport, and sophomore center Gio Recupero (Ipswich) also is back.
Defensively the Vikings have the size to be tough to play, led by Manchester Essex seniors Kyle Khani and Henry Conway, as well as Ipswich sophomore Aiden Arnold.
Sophomore forward Nate Black (Ipswich) and freshman defenseman Michael Nocella (Rockport) join the team this season.
Home Rink: Hallenborg Memorial Pavilion, Billerica
The Rams skated away with the Commonwealth Athletic championship last season, and it will be tough to knock them off that throne with a bulk of the players returning from a team that reached the Division 3 North quarterfinals.
“We have a lot of varsity experience, the attitude is on and off the ice is great,” said Chuck Baker, entering his 14th season as Rams head coach. “We have great team speed and return all of our top scorers from last season.”
Senior forward Nate Silva (12-14-26) was the top scorer, followed by sophomore forward Dylan Timmons (11-8-19) and senior forward Dan McGaffigan (6-11-17). Juniors Anthony Papa and Sean Murphy are the other returning forwards.
Baker also has a veteran, upperclass unit on the blue line with seniors D.J. Williams, Brady McFadden and Nick Farrell, as well as juniors D.J. Ducharme and Jonah Varallo. They will be protecting a solid senior goalie, Kam Neault (2.71 GAA).
Seniors Chance Fitzgerald (D) and Chris Melo (F) are up this season from junior varsity. Other new faces for the Rams include sophomores Tom Sampson (D), Tyler Forristall (F), Ryan Dusabian (D), and freshmen forwards Brady Darcey and Nick Calouro.