Rosters have been set and schedules have been finalized, but many of the finer details are still to be worked out for Central Vermont’s boys hockey teams.
Scrimmages and early-season games will help coaches experiment while team leaders emerge. Here is glance at four area teams attempting to raise the banner this winter:
The lone Division I team in Central Vermont is coming off a 15-7 season that featured a championship berth.
“The kids worked hard all year-long, and finishing runner-up is nothing to shy away from. They generally were rewarded for their hard work through the year,” Crimson Tide coach Chad Burke said.
Burke is looking to fill the void left by eight seniors who graduated, while two current seniors moved on to play elsewhere. As a result, underclass skaters will have to step up.
“There are a few more openings in the roster than we were anticipating in the off-season,” Burke said. “But there are good opportunities for some of the young kids coming up through to jump into the fold and kind of hit the ground running with the program.”
Nathan Otis and Jamison Mast appear to be two such game-ready freshmen, while seniors like Cam Gosselin are poised to take some of the younger players under their wings. And Burke is confident that his two experienced netminders, Kyle May and Grant Otis, will keep the Tide in some games early while the squad comes together.
“We’ve got some experience at defense,” Burke said. “One of the kids that had left us last year was our leading scorer, so we’re looking to score some goals. ... I think we are going to have some growing pains early on until we figure out what type of team we have. And then hopefully we’ll build for the end of the year and maybe make some surprises at the end of the year.”
There will be no shortage of challenges as the Tide face BFA-St. Albans and Essex, two of the state’s top teams, three times each.
“I’m hoping we continue to work hard and maybe outwork some teams and win some games just by doing that,” Burke said.
Northfield is another team that would be happy to match the previous season’s success. The program has made 15 championship appearances since 1969, going 9-12-2 last year and advancing to the D-II semifinals.
“We had a great year,” Northfield coach Doug MacDougall said. “We went all the way to the semis and lost by a goal to Lyndon. And we beat the No. 2 seed along the way, so we did really well.”
Northfield returns seniors Nolan Bean, Bryce MacDougall and Caleb Bridges, along with juniors Dylan Partlow (goalie) and Kayden Harley.
“We’ve got a pretty good core, but it’s all team chemistry so we’ll see what happens,” MacDougall said. “The freshman class is the best one I’ve had in awhile. There are four or five kids there and there’s a lot of expectations for them. Some of the guys who were the outliers last year, this year they have grown a lot and they look pretty good. Hopefully as the season wears on we improve and we’ll see how it goes.”
Bean and Doug MacDougall have the ability to play both ends of the ice, which should help Northfield find a winning combination.
“Defense will be our strength,” coach MacDougall said. “We’ll probably have to steal a little bit from the D to try and score some goals. We start off pretty tough and we face Burlington, Colchester and Milton right off the bat, so hopefully we get on our feet and go.”
Although Northfield graduated eight seniors, the Marauders have still managed to put together a solid 18-man roster.
“Our goal is just to get better and better and point toward the playoffs, just like we always do,” coach MacDougall said. “We want to get to the playoffs and make some noise. D-II is pretty wide open so we’ll see what happens. Last year the boys really came together, and I expect that will happen again this year if everything goes well.”
First-year head coach Shaun Morse has big shoes to fill as takes over for his father Dave after 19 years of service to Highlanders hockey. Shaun Morse was a player for Harwood in the early 1990s and was an assistant coach for many years.
Harwood’s 12-8-2 season last year was impressive, but the No. 2 Highlanders suffered a 1-0 loss against No. 7 Milton in the quarterfinals. Morse is looking for former defenders Jake Wells and Ollie Hammond to lead the charge on offense this season, with Reece Anderson likely rounding out his first line.
“These kids are all growing,” Morse said. “They’re getting bigger and stronger, so it’s fun to see that. We’ve got goaltending coming back too. Sean Russell is a senior this year and he’s been solid for us for two years, so he should be no different this year I would expect.”
The future looks good for the Highlanders with six freshmen, including a goalie, joining the squad. Harwood has advanced to six championships and will be seeking its first title since 2005.
“This year these new kids are going to do a lot of learning,” Morse said. “They are very talented and very skilled players, but I think they are going to take their lumps and they will learn quite a bit.”
Morse will look to his offense and goalies to support his younger defensive players.
“Three or four goals in a game for us last year was a lot, but I think we can score in that ballpark this year. And I think our goaltending is strong — we have three good goalies,” he said. “Our D is good, but they’re young, so they’re not tested.”
Three games against Mount Mansfield along with end-of-season road trips to Woodstock, Burr and Burton and Brattleboro will push this year’s Harwood team to the limits.
“If we’re above .500 I think we would be doing well,” Morse said. “If we could do that again we would kind of get what we deserve, or maybe even overachieve a little bit because we are so young. If we could win a game in the playoffs to get these guys some experience that would be great. And if it snowballed from there and we got lucky, I think that would just be a lot of fun for the guys.”
The U-32 boys have a lot to look forward to this season. After a 5-16 record and a first-round playoff loss to CVU last year, U-32 is moving back to the friendly confines of D-II. The Raiders are carrying a smaller 14-man roster, but it is full of familiarity with the only freshman moving up from last year’s manager role.
“We’ve got a small bench, and they all get it,” U-32 coach Shane Locke said. “They’re basically saying, ‘Put me in coach wherever you want me to play and we’ll do it.’”
Senior forwards Brady Hill and Malone Bruce will provide a lot of offensive firepower for the Raiders.
“I’m expecting some pretty solid hockey from those two gentlemen,” Locke said.
Senior Kolby Tanner will lead the defense from between the pipes.
“He’s got the net for the whole season,” Locke said. “He’s it. He played a few games last year and he did pretty well, so I’m expecting he’s preparing himself to step up.”
The Raiders’ defense will be a work in progress, as the team lost a lot to graduation while others suffered concussions. Of the eight home games and 12 away games, only a few will be against U-32’s former D-I foes.
“I’m looking at it like it’s going to be a completely new adventure,” Locke said. “I don’t know anything really about these teams except for Lyndon and Harwood, who we played last year. It’s going to be a whole new type of season with the style and type of hockey that’s being played.”
The U-32 coach said he would be happy to be above .500 and psyched to get a top-five playoff seeding.
“The boys are talking about the fact that they feel like they are going to be very competitive,” he said. “Nobody said ‘Coach, let’s make it to the semifinals.’ They said, ‘I’m really looking forward to being competitive this year.’ Great, let’s be competitive and see where we end up. It’s very positive.”