Perhaps more than any other thing, it’s depth that often separates hockey teams.
Depth boosts a team’s pedigree. With depth, good teams become great. Mediocre teams become good ones. Even bad teams can sneak into the tournament with depth.
Nowhere is that kind of depth seen more than in a team’s third line. And while the Gloucester hockey team has had a tough start to the year — the Fishermen were 2-5-1 entering last night’s game after Saturday’s 7-3 drubbing of Revere — its third line of underclassmen has been a nice surprise.
For many high school teams, a third line is essentially a placeholder, equivalent to an innings-eating pitcher at the back end of a baseball team’s rotation. Get out there, keep the team in the game, and give the top-six forwards a chance to get a breath.
While that may have been the expected role for Gloucester’s third line of sophomores Jared Favazza and Jack Nicastro and freshman Eddie Mahoney before the season started, though, they’ve proven to be much more than that.
They play the ultimate grinder’s game, a style of play surely appreciated by those who’ve followed the notoriously gritty Fishermen over the years.
The trio plays a strong defensive game, all three also seeing time on the penalty kill. But where they’ve exceeded expectations is in the offensive zone.
Granted, they’ve combined for just three of the team’s 19 goals to date, Mahoney with two and Nicastro with one. What they’ve done, though, is wear opponents down. They’ve carved out a style for themselves with a low cycle, pinning teams deep in their defensive zone and helping to build momentum for their teammates.
And perhaps most importantly, they play like they belong. Where many underclassmen begin their varsity careers with a timid style, there’s no fear in this line. They try to create offense, skate right with opponents and bring the kind of physical identity one would expect more from their older teammates.
“We expected to play three lines, and I think they’ve done a pretty good job,” Gloucester coach Don Lowe said after Saturday’s game. “We have to play three lines and they’ve been playing well all year.”
Early in the season, the Fishermen struggled with intensity. On more than one occasion, Lowe questioned his team’s heart.
Nowhere was that lack of emotion more obvious than in December’s Cape Ann Savings Bank Holiday Tournament. The hosts were beat up on their home ice, losing to Marblehead and Triton by a combined score of 12-4.
After each of those games, though, Lowe was quick to credit his third line as an example of the type of play he’s looking for. In an opening-round loss to Marblehead, Nicastro broke through for a breakaway goal to cut the deficit to two in the third period. It proved to be too little, too late, but it was one of the game’s few bright spots.
The following night, Nicastro broke through again and was hauled down by a Triton defenseman in the third period, earning him a penalty shot that would have cut the Triton lead to just one goal. He was ultimately stoned on the penalty shot attempt, but it was the same story from the night before. For a team looking for an identity, it seemed to find some emotional leadership from an unlikely trio.
In each of Gloucester’s wins on the year, the third line has contributed more than just grittiness. Against Revere on Saturday, Mahoney notched a shorthanded goal and an assist. Nicastro and Favazza each added a helper, too.
And a week before, in the team’s first win of the year against Peabody, Mahoney buried a rebound goal to get the team on the board.
Since, it seems the rest of the Fishermen have found a similar attitude. With those two wins in its last three games, Gloucester seems to have righted the ship. And with its schedule easing over the next few weeks with non-league games against the likes of Methuen, Salem and Rockport, it couldn’t have happened at a better time.
There’s still hope for Gloucester to make a return to the state tournament, and there’s a lot of hockey yet to be played.
But if Gloucester can continue to depend on its young third line to bring a three-zone game to the ice each night, an uphill climb will certainly become less difficult.
To say that the Rockport hockey team’s first half has been a disappointment would be an understatement.
For a team that entered the season with aspirations of a state championship trip to the TD Garden, a 3-5, 0-5 out of conference, start was far from what coach Derek Papelegis and the Vikings expected.
At the root of the Vikings’ problems has been an inability to clear their own zone. Many of the goals that Rockport has surrendered have come after long shifts in their own zone, and a plague turnovers at the blue line will make a game tough to win for any team.
To help combat that, Papelegis has bumped burly defenseman Kyle Nelson up to wing, where he hopes Nelson’s big body will help eliminate some of Rockport’s breakout woes.
“We were struggling with our wings playing the puck off the wall,” Papalegis said after his team’s loss to Swampscott last week. “Like most teams around, the D’s pass isn’t always a great pass out of the zone and our wings have been struggling to deal with that and take the hit. We moved Kyle Nelson up from D to wing just to get a big body up there because some of our wingers were shying away from the contact, seeing if we could help with that problem. He played well, he’s not going to be a star out there, but he’s creating traffic in front of the net, banging bodies and getting the puck out of the zone, and that’s all we can ask.”
For a team that advanced to the Division 3 North semifinals last year behind a gritty, workmanlike identity, Nelson’s move up front could help jumpstart a Vikings’ team that’s lost its way.
There’s little doubt Rockport, who graduated just one senior from last year’s team, has the ability to make a dramatic turnaround, and the Vikings have shown spurts of the team they were a year ago.
Now, they’ve just got to string it all together, and if Nelson’s able to improve the team’s most glaring weakness to this point, that could very well get Rockport back on the path it hoped it would be on.
Cape Ann Scoring Leaders Name School G A Points Alex Webb Gloucester 9 3 12 Mike Tupper Rockport 7 5 12 Alex Amoroso Rockport 0 10 10 Conor Douglass Rockport 6 3 9 Jake O'Maley Rockport 5 4 9 Josh Guertin Rockport 4 5 9 Pete Mondello Gloucester 4 4 8