Mike Zucarelli will be back on the bench for his fourth season with the Oliver Ames hockey team, but this time in a new role.
Oliver Ames athletic director Bill Matthews announced the hiring of Zucarelli as the new head coach for the Tigers’ boys ice hockey team. He previously served as an assistant coach under Sean Bertoni for the past three seasons. Bertoni stepped down from the position following the 2018-2019 season.
“I’m very excited to be able to continue to work with the kids,” Zucarelli said. “I’ve spent the last three seasons with the program and I’m familiar with all of the guys. I’m super excited to see what we can do this year. We have amazing leadership with captains Hunter Costello and Ryan Gottwald.”
Zucarelli, 36, graduated from Attleboro High in 2001 and was a part of the Bombardiers’ first hockey team. He played in the program when it was a club team and then when it became a varsity sport under head coach Joe Verderber.
“We’ve got a solid core group of kids coming back this year,” Zucarelli said. “I know we graduated a lot, but we’ll have guys with experience on the ice…a lot of great leadership and that’s what you want.”
The Tigers posted an impressive 41-25-2 record in the past three years under Bertoni, finishing second in the Kelley-Rex division two times. OA led the division in goals for last season and had the least goals against in the division during the 2016-2017 season.
“We are excited to have him assume the head coaching role here at OA,” Matthews said in a release to media.
Zucarelli is hoping the familiarity between him and the players will make for a smooth transition.
“It’s going to be very helpful that the boys know me,” Zucarelli. “They’re used to Sean…and we share some of the same philosophies but there will be a learning curve with my style. But since the majority of them know me and know what to expect from, we’re in a good place to start.”
Franklin athletic director Tom Angelo announced that former Weymouth High assistant Anthony Sarno has been hired as the new boys hockey coach. Sarno will take over from Chris Spillane, who stepped down in April after two successful decades with the program that included a state championship and a Super 8 berth.
“I first heard about the opening and I was kind of shocked,” Sarno explained in a phone call on Wednesday. “Chris Spillane has been a legend there and to have the opportunity to even get an interview for the job is an honor. Ever since I was a kid and growing up and coaching at Weymouth the last five years you get to know a lot of different teams and Franklin High has always had a fantastic program.”
He added, “After meeting Tom Angelo and having the opportunity to interview for the job, it just felt right. It felt like a good fit.”
Sarno was with the Weymouth program for the past five years. He was the JV coach and the associate varsity coach. In 2017 he took over the program when head coach Patrick Kennedy was called up to active duty. Sarno held the head coaching job for the remainder of the 2017 season and stepped back to allow Kennedy to regain the position when he returned.
He has nearly 30 years of coaching at various levels, including with the Boston Junior Terriers, but Sarno knows that he is stepping into a tough position replacing a legend. Spillane, who was also a standout player at Franklin, made the playoffs each season he was on the bench and had more than 300 career victories. The Panthers have won eight straight league titles and reached the Div. 1 South final last season.
“I’m very excited,” Sarno said. “I know I have huge shoes to fill and Chris was a fantastic human being as well as coach and I can’t be Chris, I have to be me. I know there’s going to be a lot of growing pains that go with it.”
The next step for Sarno, who played at Medford High and at Suffolk University, will be to introduce himself to the staff and administration at Franklin and then to meet the players.
“I have to earn their trust just as much as they have to earn mine,” he said. “A big part of it is making myself available and really getting to know all the players, their backgrounds, and being able to introduce myself in a way that they’d be happy to play and to play hard.
“I’m looking forward to getting to know everybody and to participate in some Panther pride.”
In an announcement to local media, Angelo said, “Coach Sarno’s vision for taking the program forward is inspiring. His passion for the game, positive personality and coaching knowledge will allow him to hit the ground running. We look forward to many years of continued excellence in the hockey program under Coach Sarno’s leadership.”
Midway through the 1998-99 hockey season, Franklin had an unexpected opening for a varsity coach and the program turned to a former star player, and state champion, to fill the void. Chris Spillane, who had one-plus year of JV coaching experience, was promoted to finish out the winter. The Panthers won 10 of their final 14 games that season and advanced to face Duxbury in the Div. 2 South championship game. Twenty years later, Spillane’s coaching career has come to a close following another trip to the South final and, just like his first year, another meeting with the Dragons.
Spillane officially submitted his resignation on Monday, after telling his players that he was stepping down at the team’s end-of-season banquet on Sunday night. During his two-decade tenure as head coach, the Panthers went to the playoffs every season, reached five state championship games (including three Div. 2 finals in a row), won the Div. 1 state title in 2016, and became the first Hockomock League team to be selected for the Super 8. He finished with more than 300 career victories, second on the program’s all-time win list behind only his high school coach Bob Luccini.
“I’ve missed so much of my kids’ college hockey,” said Spillane when asked why he decided to retire. His daughter Kaitlyn just wrapped up a successful career at St. Anselm and his son Ryan has one more year left for the Hawks. His son C.J. was a senior on this year’s Franklin team. “My wife and I were talking and I was like, it’s time to follow him. I’ll miss this, but I can’t get that back.”
The idea of retirement was first addressed in the summer and Spillane told his coaching staff about his decision. He explained that the assistant coaches “basically coached the team this year” to prepare them for the possibility of taking over for the 2019-20 season.
After two decades without missing the playoffs, Spillane nearly saw his final season end early. The Panthers made the tournament with a record of 8-9-4 and were the lowest seed in D1 South. Franklin only qualified as the Kelley-Rex division champion (its eighth straight division title and 14th Hock title under Spillane), but the Panthers got a lot of help on a wild night to earn the crown.
Franklin thought the title and its postseason hopes were gone when it lost to North Attleboro, but then Mansfield and Oliver Ames were both beaten the same night, handing Franklin the title. Spillane said, “We showed up for practice the next day and I was like, you’re not going to believe this boys but we just won the league.”
When asked about his team taking advantage of that break and then making an improbable run to the South final, Spillane replied, “It was always in our kids, just this year took a little bit longer to pull it out of them and get them to see what they’re capable of.”
Talking to coaches that have faced Franklin during Spillane’s tenure and there are several common phrases that pop up – hardworking, consistent, disciplined. It was established from the start what was going to be expected of the Panthers every season and almost always the team met those lofty goals.
“Chris is the best coach I have seen in all my years of coaching… without question,” said Canton coach Brian Shuman. “His players are expected to outwork their opponents every shift and to play tough, fast and physical every time they touch the ice. You can tell that his players have the highest respect for him and would go through a wall for him.’
Long-time Stoughton coach Dan Mark added, “Chris has been a class act and I know I will miss him. The last 10 years my teams have struggled and he has never run up the score and has always been gracious and complimentary to me and my teams.”
Spillane credits a lot of his coaching philosophy from what he learned playing for Luccini and his coaches at UMass Boston, Gary Doak and Bill Stewart. He took bits and pieces from each of those coaches and molded it into his own style, but one that has been flexible and adaptable to meet the challenges and demands of coaching for 20-plus seasons. As he noted, the “X’s and O’s” haven’t changed much down the years but he has changed way he interacts with players, even if he still makes them do plenty of skating and hard work to get on the ice.
“Twenty years ago you could be a screamer and a yeller and it worked,” he explained. “Now it’s evolved into being a friend, a coach, and a mentor, and obviously with video being introduced they need visual learning not just white boards. It’s different generations and coaches who can change with it sort of stick it out and those that don’t change with it get weeded out.”
Spillane continued, “You’re just trying to make it the best experience they can have and if they win that’s just icing on the cake. You want them walking away saying I love hockey.”
One of the biggest challenges that Franklin faced during Spillane’s tenure was making the jump from D2 to D1, but the Panthers met it head on and needed little time to get acclimated. In just its second season in D1, Franklin was chosen to play in the Super 8. A team loaded with 22 seniors upset Xaverian in overtime in the play-in game and gave eventual champion Malden Catholic a battle over two legs. It was his son Ryan that scored the game-winning goal to lift the Panthers, which obviously meant a lot to his father, but it was the fact that he had coached that large and close-knit senior class since their days in Mites that made the accomplishment extra special for Spillane.
To remain in the Super 8 mix, Spillane has pushed to add tougher teams to Franklin’s schedule. Malden Catholic was the first to jump on (and the Panthers earned their first win against the Lancers this winter), but it was hard to find other D1 teams willing to schedule the Panthers. In 2016, Franklin added a state title and solidified itself as a public school program to be reckoned with and a positive addition for any Super 8 contender’s schedule. Now the likes of St. Mary’s, Marshfield, Hingham, St. John’s Shrewsbury, Barnstable, and Pope Francis are all regularly on the season slate.
“Now we’re turning games away and finding the right match for us that we could compete in but would still challenge us,” Spillane said. “It’s just about challenging kids, playing the best teams you can play and win or lose it’s going to make you better.”
While the Panthers have added D1 teams from around the state to bolster its strength of schedule, Spillane still looks forward to games with historic rivals. He joked about the “green teams” that Franklin gets fired up for (Canton, Mansfield, and King Philip) and raved about the depth in the league this season and the challenges that teams presented.
Canton has been the most consistent rival to Franklin’s supremacy in the league, with the teams trading seasons at the top. Shuman said, “I tell our kids all the time that we are incredibly lucky to have a true rival like Franklin. Rivals push you to be better and bring the best out of you. And Chris’ Franklin teams have clearly done that over the years.”
He added, “Franklin has always been a great hockey program, but Chris has made the program one of the best in the state.”
Spillane grew up in Franklin and dreamed of playing for the Panthers. He got his chance and was part of some of the program’s best teams. He won a state title in 1983 and scored 79 points the following season as a senior. He came back to Franklin after college to raise his family and got the chance to coach at his alma mater. Now, after 20 years of success on the bench, he gets to go back to being a fan, at least for a little while.
“I may still get out on the ice and help out, maybe do a captain’s practice, but at the end of the day it needs to move on,” he said, adding that he hopes that his assistant coaches will be considered to replace him. Even though he is moving on from the Franklin job to watch Ryan’s final year in college, he fully expects that this won’t be the end of his hockey career.
“For one year I am sitting back and being a parent and then the following year I’ll probably be coaching somewhere,” he said. “It’s in my blood.”
Below are the official 2019 Hockomock League Boys Hockey All Stars, selected by the coaches in the league.
Hockomock League MVP
Espen Reager, Foxboro
Hockomock League All Stars
Ryan Morry, Attleboro
Sam Larkin, Attleboro
Ryan Nolte, Canton
Michael Staffiere, Canton
John Hagan, Canton
Owen Lehane, Canton
Espen Reager, Foxboro
Brendan Tully, Foxboro
Joseph Lizotte, Franklin
Thomas Tasker, Franklin
Shane McCaffrey, Franklin
Brendan Shandley, King Philip
Rocco Bianculli, King Philip
Jack Garland, Mansfield
Brad Grant, Mansfield
Ryan Warren, North Attleboro
Anthony Zammiello, North Attleboro
Brendan McHugh, North Attleboro
Max Ward, Oliver Ames
Brett Williams, Oliver Ames
Matthew McCormack, Oliver Ames
Sean Doherty, Stoughton
Andrew Carter, Taunton
Kyle McCabe, Attleboro
Jack Connolly, Canton
Ronnie MacLellan, Foxboro
Cam Cassella, Franklin
Ryan Fitzpatrick, King Philip
Chris Copponi, Mansfield
Dennis Morehouse, North Attleboro
Bryan Kearns, Oliver Ames
Carter Gerome, Stoughton
Cameron Sneyd, Taunton
BOSTON, Mass. – For the first 13 games of the season, Canton senior Ryan Nolte and junior Johnny Hagan took turns punishing teams as members of different lines.
For the last 13 games, the duo reunited on the Bulldogs’ top line, ramping up Canton’s already potent offense.
And in the biggest game of the season, the Division 2 State Championship against North sectional champion Tewksbury, Nolte and Hagan — along with linemate Timmy Kelleher — delivered when it mattered most.
“They are so dynamic together, they play so well together,” said Canton head coach Brian Shuman. “They know where each other are at all times. They have this unique relationship on the ice that I’ve never seen before.”
Nolte and Hagan played on the same line for nearly the entire 2017-2018 season, helping the Bulldogs win another Davenport division title and reach the D2 South Semifinal. This season, Shuman decided to split the dynamic duo to begin the year, putting them on separate lines.
After tying for a team-high 36 points a year prior, splitting Nolte and Hagan gave Shuman an elite player on each of his first two lines, and also allowed Hagan to play his natural position of center.
“The best part about them, when I talked to them about splitting them they might have been unhappy but they didn’t show it,” Shuman said. “They just went out and had an outstanding first half of the season. That just shows the kind of leaders that they are. I know a lot of high school kids that would pout and sulk and let it affect their game, but not those two. They are just two special players, as good as they are individually, they are two great team players.
While Nolte and Hagan admitted they weren’t thrilled to part ways, neither let it show in their performance and helped the Bulldogs raced out to a perfect 13-0, outscoring opponents 64-13 in that span. Plus, it wasn’t an entire split as the pair played together on the power play and penalty kill.
“Coach told us a few weeks before the season, so it definitely hurt the next few days knowing we weren’t going to be playing on the same line,” Nolte said. “But we had to stay focused no matter who we were playing with. We knew we’d be together for the power play and PK, so it wasn’t a full split. But we knew that we had to work just as hard with our new linemates and we adapted well.”
So after three straight close games — a win over Newburyport, a third-period rally to stun Franklin, and a close win over North that included a late game-winner — along with the emergence of junior center Tommy Ghostlaw, Shuman elected to reunite Hagan and Nolte with Kelleher on the first line.
The result was four straight comfortable wins, outscoring opponents 24-1 in that stretch. And in one of the most challenging games of the year, Nolte and Hagan each scored in a 4-3 decision over D3 powerhouse Hanover.
“We already had the hot start so we knew playing together we could really pounce on teams even more,” Nolte said. “It was just a great feeling to be back on the same line and playing together.”
A week later, Hagan provided the heroics by scoring a goal regulation to salvage a tie with Boston late and keep the Bulldogs unbeaten. The junior then scored in overtime to help Canton advance to the final of the Quinn Memorial tournament.
“It’s always good to kind of shake things up,” Shuman said. “Since I’ve been coaching here, I don’t think we’ve ever gone from start to finish with the same line combinations, and it’s kind of by design. You play some teams twice, like Franklin, or could see another team twice like OA. It’s good to have different looks. It was always in the plans to do this at some point.”
Ghostlaw’s strong play allowed Shuman to keep Nolte and Hagan together on the top line. Ghostlaw (13 points) clicked with linemates Chris Lavoie (27 points) and Shane Marshall (15 points), giving the Bulldogs a strong second unit.
“Tommy is kind of the other part of the equation,” Shuman said. “He had such an outstanding season that allowed us to keep those two on the first line together. Chris Lavoie was fantastic, and Shane Marshall, someone who doesn’t enough credit a lot of the time, he was outstanding too.”
When the playoffs rolled around, Canton’s top line took its game to another level. In an opening-round rout of Medway, Nolte scored twice while Hagan and Kelleher each scored once in a 6-0 victory.
Again Oliver Ames, Nolte scored the game-winning goal midway through the second period by tipping in a shot from Jack Connolly. Kelleher buried an empty net goal to seal a win over the Tigers, arguably the toughest opponent the Bulldogs played this postseason.
In the semifinals, Nolte recorded a hat trick, two of which were assisted by Hagan. And Hagan also scored once, set up by Nolte, as the Bulldogs ran away with a 6-1 decision over Norwood.
The offensive onslaught continued in the South Final as the Bulldogs’ top line was responsible for half of Canton’s eight goals. Kelleher scored twice while Hagan and Nolte both found the back of the net once while registering two assists apiece.
“He definitely makes it easier for everyone on the ice,” Hagan said of Nolte. “We’ve played together since we were very young. We’ve always clicked, we know where each other are going to be. We knew what we had in front of us in terms of winning the state championship. We wanted it really bad, so we just came to work every day. We worked out butts off in practice and in games to get here, and here we are.”
Under the lights at the TD Garden, Canton’s first line shined the brightest. That line was on the ice for all six of the Bulldogs’ goals, scoring five of them.
Kelleher opened the scoring, tucking in the rebound off a shot from Owen Lehane with Nolte getting an assist with 9:04 left in the opening period. Minutes later, Connolly blasted a low shot from the right point to make it 2-0 with 7:27 to go in the first.
It took just 16 seconds for Canton to add to its lead as Nolte muscled his way into the slot and buried a wrist shot to make it 3-0.
“Without question, they are the best team we’ve played for sure.” said Tewksbury coach Derek Doherty. “You don’t get this far without three lines. Those guys play three lines but that first line of theirs, that’s definitely the best line we’ve played.”
The cohesion between Nolte and Hagan was on full display for the next two goals. The first, Hagan interrupted a pass near the blue while Tewksbury was on the power play. He went into the offensive zone and had his shot saved, but Nolte won the battle behind the net and found Hagan in front for a one-timer and a 4-0 lead.
Of Canton’s 29 playoff goals, the top line of Nolte-Hagan-Kelleher scored 19 of them.
“They carried us today, we asked them to play a lot of minutes,” Shuman said. “When you have penalties and power plays, that throws a wrench in the plans. We joked with Johnny, ‘Where’s your hat trick’ and there it was today. That line of Ryan, Johnny, and Timmy, what can you say about them? They played great.”
The Redmen cut it to 4-2 with two straight tallies over the second and third periods, but Nolte and Hagan responded with a power-play goal. Nolte won a battle along the side boards, skated towards goal and slid a pass to Hagan right in front for a score.
Hagan completed the hat trick with an empty net goal, assisted, of course, by Nolte.
“No matter where we are on the ice, we seem to just know where each other are,” Nolte said. “We just find the open spots, and we both can finish in the tight areas. It makes life easier when you have someone who can finish like [Hagan] can.”
While Nolte and Hagan didn’t start the season playing on the same line, they finished it together as state champions.
BOSTON, Mass. – Canton went into Sunday afternoon’s Div. 2 state championship game against Tewksbury looking to put a fitting exclamation point on a historic season. The Bulldogs were trying to be the first team since Hanover won the D3 title in 2001 to finish a season unbeaten, be just the fourth team to win 25 games in a single year, and to earn the program’s first title since 2010.
Despite all that pressure, the Bulldogs did what they have done all season long – they found a way to win.
Behind a hat trick from junior Johnny Hagan and a goal and four assists by senior Ryan Nolte, Canton dispatched Tewksbury 6-2, closing out its season at 25-0-1.
“It’s one of those things that it was hard not to know that we’d be good with the guys that we had back,” said Canton coach Brian Shuman, “but you still think you’re going to have a couple of tough games. It just goes to show how driven these guys are. That was their goal, to win every single game, and they did it.”
Nolte said, “It’s unbelievable. We knew in the summer that this was a goal, but, yeah, I don’t think the undefeated part came with it. We worked hard all off-season, so I think we deserved it and we went out and showed the work that we put in.”
Entering the playoffs unbeaten put a giant target on Canton’s back, but it seemed only to motivate the Bulldogs, who outscored opponents 29-3 during their tournament run. Canton scored six against Norwood in the D2 South semifinal, eight against Westwood in the final, and then another six against the Redmen on Sunday.
“They were just relentless, they did not stop,” Shuman explained. “We always say that it’s a 0-0 hockey game no matter the score, but they always played like that.”
Skating on the big ice and bright lights of the Garden can take some getting used to and it seemed like the Bulldogs needed a couple shifts to find their legs. Once they found their footing in the first period, the Bulldogs took control of the game.
Shane Marshall had the first chance on a feed from behind the net by Tommy Ghostlaw, but Tewksbury goalie Patrick Letourneau kept his pads down to block a pair of shots. Canton grabbed the lead five minutes into the game. Seconds after Nolte was denied on a shot from the left wing circle, Owen Lehane’s shot from the point rebounded to Timmy Kelleher for a tap-in.
Just about 90 seconds later and the lead was doubled. Ronan O’Mahony swung the puck across the blue line to Jack Connolly, who patiently crept towards the face-off circle before firing a low wrister just inside the post. Nolte added a third goal with a shot from the slot just 16 seconds later.
Three goals in less than two minutes had the Bulldogs thinking the title was as good as won.
Shuman said, “It seems like the story of the playoffs. We’ve played with a lot of pressure on us this entire postseason, but it’s amazing when you have a crew like these guys how quickly they can strike. It just goes to show the quality of players we have on that team.”
“It’s huge,” said Nolte about the early goals. “No matter what, Mike [Staffiere] will play his best every game, so if we get a few goals early that just makes us more confident. The earlier we score the better we feel because with Mike back there we know there won’t be too many pucks going in.”
The Redmen tried to cut into the lead early in the second period when Kyle Morris got free on a shorthanded breakaway but Mike Staffiere came through with a clutch glove save. Two minutes later, Canton got its own shorthanded odd-man rush that Tewksbury struggled to clear, the puck falling right to Hagan in the slot and he calmly put it away.
Tewksbury was down four goals but was playing much better in the second period. Staffiere again had to come up big to stop a pair of chances from the edge of the crease. The Redmen finally found a breakthrough after Morris stole the puck behind the Canton goal and played it out in front to Aaron Scott.
Chris Lavoie and Marshall nearly had instant responses for the Bulldogs but it remained 4-1 after two periods. The lead got smaller early in the third. Kyle Lombardo got a piece of a Campbell Pierce shot from the point, redirecting it past Staffiere to make it 4-2.
With 7:19 remaining, Canton added a big insurance goal on a power play. Nolte skated off the half-boards and picked out Hagan cutting to the goal. The junior took a touch to control and then buried his shot over the shoulder of Letourneau for a 5-2 lead.
“They carried us today,” said Shuman about his top line. “We kind of joked with Johnny, ‘where is your hat trick?’ and he had it today. He really stepped up. That line of Ryan, Johnny, and Timmy, what can you say about them? They played great.”
Tewksbury had a goal disallowed for an offsides call and with three minutes left decided to pull its goalie. Hagan sealed the title for the Bulldogs when he beat a defender to a loose puck and scored on the empty net.
“It definitely feels good and I’ll definitely remember this forever,” said Hagan about his hat trick. “I think we really tried to play within ourselves and not really get into the hype around us. We just played our game.”
One of the storylines throughout the playoff run was Canton bouncing back after being snubbed by the Super 8. Shuman, who played on the unbeaten 1998 Catholic Memorial team that won the Super 8, dismissed the idea that the Bulldogs were motivated by not being selected.
“That’s so far in the rearview mirror,” he said. “These guys, when we shared with them about the Super 8, they were just like, ‘okay, on to D2.’ This was their goal from day one and I can’t believe the maturity they showed when that happened. It didn’t motivate us, we just focused on taking care of business in D2.”
The Bulldogs took care of business and made history in the process. “I really don’t even think it’s set in yet,” said Hagan. “It will probably set in with the police escort, riding through the center of town. It’s unreal.”
HockomockSports.com’s Josh Perry hosts a special state championship podcast focusing on the Boys Hockey D2 State Final between Canton and Tewksbury. Perry is joined by Canton head coach Brian Shuman, Canton senior goalie Mike Staffiere, Oliver Ames coach Sean Bertoni, and 2010 Canton state champion and current New Jersey Devil Kevin Rooney.