By Nick Curcuru
---- — Mike Tupper was forced to adapt in the middle of the hockey season.
Tupper’s long time line-mate and fellow senior captain Conor Douglass went down for the season with a leg injury in a late January tilt with Gloucester. The injury forced Tupper to play with a new line-mate and make the adjustment on the fly without the other half of the most dynamic duo in the Commonwealth Athletic Conference.
Douglass’ injury certainly had an effect on Tupper, but it ended up being a positive effect as he has essentially carried the Vikings over the second half of the season to a fifth straight berth in the state tournament.
The Vikings senior captain not only continued to lead the team in scoring over the second half of the season, he also established himself as the team’s unquestioned leader both on and off the ice. With the help of Tupper’s leadership and his usual strong play on the ice Rockport is playing some of its best hockey of the season just in time for the Division 3 North State Tournament, which kicks off tonight when the tenth seeded Vikings travel to Stoneham Arena to take on No. 7 Wayland (5:30 p.m.).
“What’s impressed me the most about Tup this season is that he’s been a leader both on and off the ice,” Vikings head coach Derek Papalegis said. “He puts goals in the net when we need him to and he’s been a great teammate to the guys lifting everyone up on the bench and in the locker room.
Him and Conor were our two leaders and after Conor went down it was his team. We needed him to be the leader and he’s ran with it and done everything we’ve asked and some.”
As Tupper has matured as a player so have the Vikings as a team.
The Vikings had discipline issues on the ice over the past couple of seasons finding the penalty box a little too often at times and it was Tupper that got the team together to help solve the problem.
Heading into the season Rockport was very confident, maybe even too confident by its own admission, off the heels of its deepest tournament run in school history in 2012. It was Tupper who brought the team back to earth.
“We weren’t as disciplined as we should have been and I talked to the boys about it in the locker room,” Tupper said. “This offseason we were really confident coming into the season and I had to let the guys know that we weren’t the best team in Division 3, we needed to go out every night and earn every point and work to get better as a team.”
Tupper settled in with line-mates Alex Amoroso and Josh Guertin over the second half of the season to form a dangerous top line that can score on any defense in Division 3. Tupper’s leadership as the first line center and his team leading 15 goals and 28 points on the season were good enough to earn him Co-MVP honors in the Commonwealth Athletic Conference.
“It was a good surprise,” Tupper said. “I was hoping to be recognized on the All League team but MVP was even more than I was expecting. The guys are the reason I had such a good year. Amoroso gets me the puck and Guertin stepped right in after Conor got hurt. We have great chemistry and we know where to find each other on the ice now.”
A new line wasn’t all that was thrown on Tupper’s plate this season, he was also moved from wing to center. Papalegis says he wishes he moved his senior captain to center earlier after seeing the way he responded to the position change. The change, however, wasn’t foreign to Tupper as he has played plenty of center in fall hockey and youth hockey.
“He always wants the puck,” Papalegis said. “At center he has more freedom to do things with the puck, he isn’t relying on the center getting him the puck any more as a winger.”
Tupper carrying the puck is just what the Vikings want as he sports a well rounded skill set. His talent is well recognized on the ice which is evident in the 88 career points he sports. A smooth skater with a nice shot and an uncanny ability to crash the net effectively, Tupper has been a staple on the score sheet since his sophomore season.
What sets Tupper apart from being just a talented player to a MVP caliber player, however, is the little things. Tupper never saw a battle in the corner that he didn’t want a part of and he enters each shift with the lunch pale mentality that he’s playing for ice time.
For the third straight season, Tupper will be starting on the top line in a state tournament game. The battle tested Vikings know they have a battle on their hands with an equally battle tested Weymouth squad tonight. But a battle is just where Rockport is most comfortable.
“I think we have a good shot,” Tupper said. “We lost to them a few years ago in the tournament but that was a really strong team back then. I think we are ready and we have been playing good hockey the last couple of weeks. We’ve been through a lot in the state tournament, big wins and big losses, so we know what to expect.”
Cape Ann Scoring Leaders Name School G A P Mike Tupper Rockport 15 13 28 Alex Amoroso Rockport 4 21 25 Josh Guertin Rockport 9 12 21 Pete Mondello Gloucester 9 10 19 Conor Douglass Rockport 12 5 17 Alex Webb Gloucester 11 6 17 Jake O'Maley Rockport 8 9 17 John Tucker Rockport 7 8 15 Casey Noyes Gloucester 8 4 12 Alex Enes Gloucester 4 8 12 :Goalies Name School Record Saves GAA Colby Foster Rockport 8-8-2 418 3.33 Owen Parisi Gloucester 7-5-0 330 3.33