The Northeastern Conference undergoes a bit of a shakeup this season with the departure of the four Greater Boston League teams following the termination of their two-year trial merger. The reshuffling includes Gloucester, last year’s South champion, moving up to the North where it will contend defending champion Winthrop, as well as Beverly, Danvers and Marblehead. Meanwhile, Saugus and Peabody drop to the South to fill the void, joining Lynn and Swampscott. Beverly and Peabody also have new coaches entering the season.
Home Rink: Raymond Bourque Arena, Endicott College, Beverly
The Panthers turn to Greg Fonzi, who spent the past two decades as an assistant alongside Vin Mirasolo at both Lynnfield and Melrose.
Fonzi expects that good team defense will define the Panthers this season with four seniors on the back end. Senior captains Brayden Clark and Finn Crocker are joined by fellow seniors Owen Desmond and Shane Cassidy. Jaxon Thomas is a talented sophomore who will add to the depth in the defensive end.
Offensively Beverly is more thin on experience, with senior captain Andrew Mezza and junior Danny Morency leading the way. Fonzi will look for contributions from sophomores D.J. Bachini, Austin Bernard, Cameron Cook, Jeff Hallinan and Matthew Mezza, as well as junior Gavin Doyle.
“We have struggled in league play for the past two seasons and our boys know this,” Fonzi said. “Our primary goal is to be competitive in the NEC again.”
Home Rink: Raymond Bourque Arena, Beverly
The Falcons should continue to be one of the toughest teams to play with the majority of its defense and goaltending all back from last season, when they stormed to the Division 2 North semifinals out of the No. 14 seed.
Junior goalie Adam Bridgeo will backbone the back end that also will include senior defenseman Cam DiMeglio and juniors Michael Papemechail, Griffin Geraghty and Brian Taylor.
Right wing Cal Mansfield and center Tyler Puska are the top returning senior forwards, along with right wing Brett Palladino. Sophomore left wing Brett Baldassare, sophomore center James Cammilia and junior left wing Tyler Robinson are other forwards to watch.
Coach Steve Baldassare also will add sophomore defenseman Connor Horn, junior center Dillon Driscoll and sophomore right wing Jimmy Thibodeau into the mix.
Home Rink: Dorothy Talbot Rink, Gloucester
After winning the South Division a year ago and earning the No. 3 seed in the Division 2 North tournament, the Fishermen “bump up” to the North and will jump into the tough waters with some of the NEC powers.
Coach Derek Geary says the Fishermen will have a dangerous first line led by sophomore center Jack Costanzo (25-25-50) and senior right wing E.J. Field (21-22-43), as well as strong goaltending in senior Connor Vittands.
Senior Jeremy Abreu will be a key returnee on the back end for Gloucester.
Geary still was searching for some depth in the preseason, but newcomers Jack Delaney (freshman C) and Robbie Schuster (sophomore D) should contribute.
Home Rink: Rockett Arena, Salem State
Chris Wells enters his second season with the Marblehead boys program with a healthy amount of production back from last season.
Junior center Will Shull (17-16-33) is the top returning scorers, and he will be supported by senior wings Colin Hart (4-15-19) and Zach Piersol (10-5-15). Sophomore wing Eli Feingold (8-3-11) also returns, as Wells will look to his forward group to focus on finishing prime opportunities around the net.
The defense once again should be a strength of the Headers, who return seniors Loch Sheridan (5-7-12) and Mike Flaherty (0-1-1), junior J.T. Monahan (0-1-1) and sophomore Aidan Jalbert (0-1-1). Senior Peter Santeusanio once again will be in net for Marblehead.
Wells also hopes to get some production from a strong group of freshmen, including wings Connor Jalbert, Chris Locke and Carter Laramie, as well as defenseman Connor Sheridan. Junior defenseman Charlie Titus is another newcomer who will provide depth.
Home Rink: Larsen Rink, Winthrop
Coach Dale Dunbar should have another veteran squad as the Vikings try to hold off the pack and repeat as NEC North champions.
Senior captains Mike Brooks at forward and Noah Evangelista on defense form the leadership core along with assistant captains Joe Deeb (senior forward) and Joey Holgersen (junior forward).
Seniors Kevin Dorr (D), Jackie Sicurella (F) and Robbie Tarantino are other returnees, along with juniors Charlie Lane (F), Conlan Petersen (D), Chris Ferrera (F), Evan Smotrich (D) and Dan Capone (F), and sophomores Joe Hayes (D), Ari Hain (D) and J.D. Parker (F).
Junior Ryan Hovernale and sophomore Anthony Indrisano are candidates in goal after serving as backups last season.
Home Rink: Connery Rink, Lynn
The Jets will have a much different look after graduating their top six scorers and eight players overall off a team that made back-to-back trips to the Division 3 North semifinals.
The new challenge for third-year coach Mike Roberts will be finding new players to fill those roles. Junior forward and assistant captain Matt Devin is the top returning scorer, while senior forward and captain Luke Rao, as well as junior forward Matt Patrie will form the Jets’ new top line.
With the loss of so much firepower, the Jets will take on more of a defensive look with experience on the back end. Senior Kenny Perez will step into the starting spot in goal, and he will be helped on the blue line by senior captain John MacDonald, junior assistant captain Christian Alquinta, and sophomore Stevan Downey.
Freshman Stephen Difilippo and seventh-grader Richie Avery will push Perez for playing time between the pipes.
Home Rink: McVann/O’Keefe Memorial Rink, Peabody
The Tanners move into the South under the NEC’s new alignment and also welcome a new coach in Christian Wright.
Forwards Alex Freedman, James Guiry, Michael Zarro and Austin Higinbotham all return to help ease the transition. Lucas DeMild will be back in net, supported by defensemen Adam Aylward and Nick Ricci.
“This is a hard-working team adjusting to a new coach and a new philosophy,” Wright said. “There is a very short time to understand and put everything into practice but they are getting there.
“We have an end-of-year stretch of five games over six days. So we should know where we stand by New Year’s Day.”
Home Rink: Kasabuski Arena, Saugus
Entering his 10th season with the Sachems, coach Jeff Natalucci has the luxury of leaning on one of the league’s top goalies in senior captain Jack Deveraux. He will be the backbone of the team’s defensive philosophy, which also will feature sophomore Ryan Ragucci and junior Andrew Cipriano on the blue line.
Senior captains Richie Mauro and Lorenzo Keegan return to lead the offense along with sophomores Jason Caron and Massey Ventre.
Eighth-grader Cam Anderson could be a key addition to the defense for the Sachems.
Home ice: Rockett Arena, Salem State
The Big Blue hope to return to the postseason again in 2019-20, and there shouldn’t be much question who will be asked to lead them there.
Seniors Conor Donovan and Drew Olivieri are back to form one of the better 1-2 (or 1A-1B) offensive punches in Division 3, each having posted 46 points a season ago. Donovan posted a team-high 30 assists, while Olivieri is the top returning goal scorer with 20.
At the other end, coach Gino Faia expects Swampscott to be a stronger defensive unit with senior Chris Barnes (2-7-9) and senior Tyler Seller (2-2-4), who can play on the blue line or up front. Junior Liam Locke joins the squad from St. Mary’s and will make an impact.
Faia also was encouraged by a healthy preseason goaltending competition between junior Ian Roddie and freshman Jack Russo.