By Cameron Merritt, HockomockSports.com Contributor
FRANKLIN, Mass.- In a battle between Eastern and Western Mass. hockey on Tuesday at the Pirelli Veterans Arena in Franklin, the West was victorious as Attleboro fell 5-3 to Ludlow in the first night of the 37th annual Bellingham Christmas Tournament.
“The players were a little bit frustrated, but it’s still early in the season,” said first-year Attleboro coach Mark Homer. “No excuses, but going forward we can take a lot from this game to bring to practices, but we can’t do it all at once. It’s a building process.”
Before the game, both teams hung up their own respective No. 10 and No. 19 jerseys to honor Falmouth hockey’s James Levin and Owen Higgins, who passed away in a tragic car accident last Thursday. The players who wear those numbers for their own teams (P.J. Elliott and Dylan Wallace for Attleboro and Michael Medina and Nicholas Dobek for Ludlow) took on different jerseys for the evening in order to take part.
Attleboro came out of the gates swinging in the first period, finding the back of the net first as Cam Littig set up Wallace for a wrist shot from the point with 13:05 remaining.
The Lions were quick to strike back, as less than two minutes later, Cole Moutinho came down the left wing to snipe a shot into the upper right corner of the Attleboro goal, drawing the sides even with 11:28 left before the first intermission.
Both teams brought the physicality, with Attleboro showing it wasn’t afraid to use the body and Ludlow responding. The Lions drew two penalties in the period, the first a high-sticking call on Ryan Martin and the second cross-checking on Matt Leblanc, but the Bombardiers were unable to capitalize on the opportunities.
While Attleboro looked to have momentum on the second power play, Max Cocchi stole the puck at the Bombardiers blue line and skated away, beating one Bombardiers defenseman before the senior captain put it past goalie Evan Andrews to put the Lions back in the lead.
Going into the second period, both teams continued with much of the same; exchanging shots and checks while play remained fairly even. Both teams had opportunities, but were denied in the end by missed shots or the play of the goaltenders.
Attleboro evened the score again with 8:33 left in the period. Jake Parker broke between two defenseman and pushed forward towards goal under tight coverage, just managing to send a backhander past Ludlow goalie Alex Will to draw the Bombardiers level at 2-2.
The Lions retook the lead with 6:05 left as Leblanc connected with Owen Burke, who with a turn and backhanded shot made it 3-2.
The Bombardiers responded just over a minute and a half later as another backhanded shot, this time from Ryan Morry, found the top shelf of the goal to draw them even at 3-3 with 4:29 remaining in the second.
While Attleboro looked hungry to get the lead back, it was the Lions that scored with 1:30 left in the period as Moutinho’s slap shot was tipped in by a Bombardier defenseman to give the sophomore his second goal of the night as once again, the Lions went into an intermission with a one-goal lead.
The Lions carried their momentum into the third period and were able to make it 5-3 within the first minute of action. Cocchi fed Logan Cognac the puck and the sophomore captain finished the job with 14:06 left to play.
For the remainder of the game, the team size advantage played a significant factor as Ludlow was able to call on players from their bench while Attleboro had more limited options and looked tired on the ice. The team substituted freshman Derek Rivet for Andrews following the fifth goal, and he was able to make a few saves, including on two power play attempts for the Lions, but in the end it wasn’t enough.
“I think sometimes what happens is [the players] get overzealous and they let their emotions overtake them and they get out of position, and they don’t stay within the structure that we’ve been trying to get across to them,” said Homer, adding that was to be expected with a core of younger players and that he was proud to see his team continue to fight when down.
“They’re working hard [but] we just have to find a way to meld it together,” said Homer.
Both teams will close out the tournament on Wednesday night. Attleboro (2-3) will face the host team Bellingham in the consolation game at 6:30, while Ludlow will play Littleton-Bromfield for the tournament title.
2015-16 Record: 7-11-2 (1-8-1) 2015-16 Finish: Missed playoffs Head Coach: Mark Homer
Attleboro narrowly missed out on a playoff spot last season, losing in its final game against a Div. 3 opponent and this year’s team will be motivated to try and get back in the postseason under new head coach Mark Homer, who made the switch from Oliver Ames where he coached the past three years, and with a new home – moving from Aleixo Arena in Taunton to the new England Sports Village just a couple minutes from the school.
In what has become a common issue for the Bombardiers program, Attleboro will not have
a lot of depth to call on this winter with only 15 skaters and two goalies on the varsity roster, but there is some experience coming back. Senior P.J. Elliott is a talented skater and stick handler who will be counted on to provide the scoring punch along with Jake Parker and Dylan Weallac on the first line.
Sam McKenzie emerged last year as a physical presence and senior captain Eddie Noel will partner him on the top defensive pairing. Sophomore Evan Andrews and freshman Derek Rivet will battle it out for the starting goaltender position for the Bombardiers. There are several other underclassmen who could make immediate impacts, including sophomore forward Cam Littig.
“With the new facility in Attleboro the hopes are that in the coming years, the roster will grow to include increasing depth to the program,” said Homer. “The goal of this years team is to stay healthy, work together as one unit on and off the ice, and get better each day. It’s a new day for Attleboro High School Hockey with a promising future.”
2015-16 Record: 18-4-5 (8-0-2) 2015-16 Finish: Won the Div. 1 State Championship Head Coach: Chris Spillane
After being the first Hockomock League team selected for the prestigious Super 8 tournament in 2014-15 and then graduating 21 players, Franklin was supposed to need a year to rebuild, but the Panthers showed just how strong their program is by bringing home the Div. 1 state championship in a dramatic double overtime thriller against St. Mary’s at the TD Garden. It was the program’s first state title at any level since 1983.
The Panthers graduated another large class of 13 seniors from last year’s champions and lost promising freshman defenseman Kevin Mackay who transferred to Dexter. Still, expectations remain as high as ever for the Panthers, who have won four straight league titles. Much of that excitement comes from the potential in the offensive zone with Franklin returning last year’s title game hero Luke Downie, leading goal scorer Jeremy Miller, and Brendan O’Reilly and the top line of seniors Joey Blasie, Adam Assad, and James Kilroe. Sophomores Matt Holmes and Zach Falvey will add depth to the offense.
Defense is where the Panthers will have some new faces, although seniors Tom Sicchio and Stan Carter will add some experience to the back line. Juniors Jack McGrath and Connor Norton will make the jump up from the JV team to add to the defensive lines and freshman Collin Opet will also see playing time on the defense as well. For the third season in a row, Franklin will have a new No. 1 goalie with senior Cam Benhamand junior Owen Ginley will battle it out for the starting spot.
“For the Panthers to be successful this year it will be a result of a team defense concept,” said Franklin coach Chris Spillane. “The offense will take care of itself, we will be focusing on strong play in our zone.”
2015-16 Record: 9-8-4 (5-2-3) 2015-16 Finish: Reached the Div. 1 South playoffs Head Coach: Paul Carlow
The Warriors made strides last winter under first-year head coach Paul Carlow, including a regular season tie with Franklin and reaching the postseason for the first time since the program was moved back up to Div. 1. This season, Carlow is hopeful for a return to the postseason and to challenge for KP’s first league title since 2007, despite losing 10 seniors from last year’s roster.
The offensive zone should be strong for the Warriors this season with several key returning players that put up solid totals last winter. Junior forward Collin Cooke is the main weapon after putting up 11 goals and 15 assists for a team-high 26 points to be named a league all-star. He is joined up front by senior Ritchie Lucente, who scored 10 goals and had nine assists last year, and senior Jacob Kelly, who finished with 11 goals and nine assists.
KP will also return a few important pieces on the defensive side of the puck, including junior goalie Shane Frommer, who was 3-1-1 in his five starts last year. Frommer’s start to the hockey season will be slightly delayed after helping the football team win its first Super Bowl title. In front of the Frommer will be senior Jeremy Smith, who chipped in with three goals and four assists last season.
“We had some success last season qualifying for the D1 playoffs,” said Carlow. “We have our work cut out for us this season… We are a young team with only five seniors but I expect us to get back to the playoffs.”
2015-16 Record: 5-10-5 (4-4-2) 2015-16 Finish: Missed the playoffs Head Coach: Mike Balzarini
Last winter was atypical for the Hornets, who missed out on the playoffs and finished fourth in the Kelley-Rex division, but Mansfield is hoping for a quick turnaround under new head coach Mike Balzarini, who makes the move from Milford. The Hornets have a number of returning players, including several from club or other school programs to bolster the depth.
One of the returning players is Joe Olsen, who spent last year with a juniors program but will be a significant addition to the Hornets top attacking line alongside fellow seniors Matt Farragher and Chad Piotti, who both had solid years in 2015-16. Junior Cullen Anastasia is another forward to come back to the program and could step right in to make an impact. Freshman Chris Jenkins is going to be the center on the third line and classmate James Bezeau will also see playing time this year.
On defense, the Hornets will be led by senior Cullen Murphy, a physical presence at the back and one of the leaders on the ice. Juniors Tim Arnold, Ryan O’Hara, and Tyler Oakley will also be important pieces on the top defensive pairings. Freshman Joseph Troiano will also be on the defense after he decided against attending Xaverian this year. The defense will be protecting senior goalies Brendan McKenna and Tony Rullo, who will each see time.
“We’re a lot deeper,” said Balzarini, who said that the Hornets would be carrying four lines and four sets of defensemen and is excited about the potential on the team. “It’s been good having two weeks to prepare. They have to get used to our new system and adhering to the structures that we’re putting in place.”
2015-16 Record: 10-10-1 2015-16 Finish: Reached D2 South First Round Head Coach: Sean Bertoni
Oliver Ames will be looking to keep its postseason streak alive under new head coach Sean Bertoni – a former standout goalie for Franklin.
If the Tigers want to get back to the state tournament, they’ll need some help from their younger players; Oliver Ames has eight sophomores and four freshman on its roster this year. OA does have seven seniors and a group of experienced juniors that can help lead the way.
“The goals of the team are to progress from Day one to the end of the year,” Bertoni said. “We have to use our team speed and forecheck extremely hard. We will be a disciplined, hard working aggressive team.”
2015-16 Record: 13-10-0 (3-7-0) 2015-16 Finish: Reached the Div. 2 South playoffs Head Coach: Kris Metea
The Tigers got to experience what the state tournament is like last season for the first time since 2006-07 and only the second time in the past two decades. Taunton had the fourth most wins in a season in the 44-year history of the program and scored a remarkable 106 goals last season, which was the best in the Hock.
This year, Taunton will try to build on its historic season and make a quick return to the postseason. Leading scorer Tyler Pietrzyk has graduated but there is plenty of firepower returning for the Tigers this season, including senior forward Zack Albert who is coming off a 30-point campaign. He will be joined up from by classmate Jordan Hoey, who had 17 points last season and senior Cam Carnes, who had 10 points. Sophomore Cam Sneyd could be poised for a breakout year for the Tigers.
Defensively, Taunton can lean on three-time league all-star Nick Terry, who will man the top defensive pairing. Mike Volkmann may be listed as a defenseman on the roster but he can get forward into the attack with 29 points a season ago. Junior Cam Welby will be a new addition to the defense after playing juniors all of last season. Senior Justin Chappell returns in net.
“This year’s group of seniors are first class kids,” said head coach Kris Metea. “They exemplify leadership across the board…They had a chance to taste the tournament last year, and are focused on acquiring more than just a taste this time around.”