By Nick Curcuru
---- — The Rockport hockey team has heard the talk about it entering this season.
After graduating just one senior from a team that made it all the way to the sectional semifinals last winter, Rockport appears to be a contender in Division 3 North. On paper the Vikings have the talent to play with just about anybody and the big game experience to go with it.
But there’s one team that’s not buying into the hype, the Vikings themselves.
“On paper we are looking good,” Fifth year head coach Derek Papalegis said. “But we like to throw away the paper so we can prove it on the ice. We have to show up every night if we want to take our game to the next level. We know what it’s like to play and win in the tournament and we want to put Rockport hockey on the map this season. But we have a lot of work to do to get to that point and we know it.”
The Vikings, who finished last season with a 13-6-2 record qualifying for the Division 3 North Semifinals before falling to Bedford, have familiar faces all over the lineup.
The team’s entire first line of senior captains Conor Douglass, Mike Tupper and junior Jake O’Maley return after a wildly successful season last winter. Douglass is just 15 points away from 100 career points while Tupper enters the season with 60 career points.
The Vikings second line of senior captain Josh Guertin, Alex Amoroso and John Tucker is also back for more this season.
Jon Ferrante and Kyle Edmonds return on the defensive end while Colby Foster returns as the team’s starting net minder for the fourth straight season. With 34 career wins Foster needs 11 to tie the school’s all time wins record of 45.
The Vikings open on Saturday at Swamspcott (3:00 p.m., Salem State) and the team has done all it can to come into the opener prepared. Rockport had a slate of tough scrimmages this preseason against Danvers, Lynnfield and Haverhill, winning the latter two this weekend. Papalegis was pleased with the improvements he saw from the first scrimmage to the last.
“Danvers is a good team but I didn’t think we played that great against them,” Papalegis said. “We were cheating a little big trying to create offense. But in the next two games we got back to our style where everything starts from the defensive end first, and we created more offense because of it. It was nice to see the kids respond.”
The Vikings figure to be a player in the Division 3 North section, and the team’s schedule just so happens to feature some of the best Division 3 programs in the state. Papalegis’ squad is the clear cut favorite in the Commonwealth Athletic Conference, as defending champ Shawsheen graduated 17 seniors, but the conference has improved and so has Rockport’s non-league schedule.
Rockport opens up with the Big Blue, who has always given the team a good game. The Vikings also have a home and home against Bedford, the team that knocked Rockport out of the tournament last season as well as a date with a strong Medfield team.
According to Papalegis this difficult schedule was designed to get his already battled tested squad ready for the postseason.
“I want to get these guys ready for the tournament and I don’t want to play a game where we can just mail it in and get a win,” Papalegis said. “We want the challenge and would rather battle a team to a 3-2 loss then pound a team 5-1 in non-league play. We get a lot more out of a tough, hard fought game in the long run.”
Lots of new faces for Gloucester
Gloucester was certainly hit hard by graduation, losing its top four scorers from last winter from a team that just missed the tournament at 6-9-5.
But that doesn’t mean the Fishermen, who open up the regular season on Wednesday, December 19 at home against Danvers, don’t have talent on their roster.
Senior captains Alex Webb and Peter Mondello enter the season as Gloucester’s top two returning scorers while senior captain Mike Muniz will anchor what is looking like a solid defensive unit.
“(The preseason) has been a little different than it has been in the past with so many new kids,” Eighth year head coach Don Lowe said. “We are going to have to be a lunch pale team this season. But I like the way the kids have worked in the preseason, we played some tough teams and I thought for the most part we played pretty well.”
Gloucester has already embarked on a difficult preseason slate of scrimmages to prepare for the rigors of the Northeastern Conference North, where there is no such thing as an easy game with the likes of Beverly, Danvers, Peabody, Saugus and Winthrop. Beverly is the favorite in the conference but Lowe says the rest of the league is up for grabs.
In three preseason scrimmages Gloucester has held its own against a speedy Melrose team, a Tewksbury team that is supposed to be a contender in Division 2 North and an Essex Junction (Vt.) team that is returning every player from a 20 win season last year.
In those games Gloucester has gotten good blue line play as Lowe praised the play of Muniz, who the head coach said showed up this winter in great shape and has taken his game to the next level. Goalies Jesse Glidden and Derek Morris have both played well in the preseason and are competing for the team’s starting job.
The Fishermen are also starting three freshman this season as Alex Enes and Eddie Mahoney will join Mondello on the team’s first line while freshman defenseman Steve Tattoni will see a lot of time on the blue line.
Webb along with juniors Matt Lane and Casey Noyes will make up the team’s second line while Lowe says the rest of the spots are still up for grabs.
Gloucester will have a strong measuring stick type of game right off the bat when Danvers visits the Talbot Rink next Wednesday.
“Danvers will be good as usual and the whole conference will be good as usual,” Lowe said. “Beverly is the favorite but the rest is up for grabs. Everybody is good and we are going to have to play our best every night.”
Gloucester will also be taking on Cape Ann counterpart Rockport for the first time in recent memory at the Talbot Rink on January 23 (6:00 p.m.) in a battle for Cape Ann supremacy.