By John Orrell, Contributing Writer
Northborough – Nearly nine months have passed since the Algonquin Regional High boys’ varsity ice hockey team stepped on to TD Garden ice to face Eastern Mass. champion Hanover with a state championship on the line. The Central Mass District champion Tomahawks (16-4-5) had completed a sweep all competition standing in their way, including a playoff win-streak over Hudson (2-1), Shrewsbury (3-2), Groton-Dunstable (2-1) and Westfield (6-2), before falling to the Indians, 5-1, concluding the team’s season. It was a year to be remembered that now begs the question: Can an encore to such a spectacular season be in the cards?
“I think it’s a definite possibility,” answered senior co-captain John Paterson. “You can only hope for the same and maybe even more, but we think that with hard work and practice we can make it that far again.”
“That will depend upon how quickly the veteran guys bring the younger players along and how strong we are in net,” added a slightly more cautious first-year head coach Greg Cappello, who will be supported by long-time team assistants Tom Farrell and Skylar Moore. “We have to be a really strong team with defense and goaltending first to start and build on. If we can get that, I think we have enough skill to play teams really hard. It’s an opportunity for guys to step into big roles and that’s exciting.”
Losing 10 players from the squad that accomplished so much last year will not be easy but Cappello brings coaching success and experience with stints at St. Mark’s School and Worcester Academy that will help. He has taken teams to several New England championships so the winning culture and track record is there. How the team fares this season may be discerned sooner than later as the December Borough’s Cup tournament will commence shortly. The Tomahawks were victorious last season, winning for the first time in some years, but, more importantly, that performance, one way or another, can set the tone for the season ahead.
“The Borough’s Cup is such an intense way to start the season,” Paterson said. “It’s a very competitive tournament. We won it last year for the first time since I’ve played for Algonquin. It’s not the same as a district or state championship but it gives you a little teaser of what’s possible. It shows the younger kids what it’s like to get a trophy to win something and it’s a chance to play really competitive hockey right off the bat.”
“With the season being just 20 games, if you don’t get off to a good start you can find yourself in a hole where you might need to win a lot of games and you don’t want to be in that position,” added junior co-captain Nate Anderson. “Winning the Borough’s Cup can set us off on the right path to start the season.”
The Tomahawks’ regular season will commence with four road matchups before returning to the team’s home ice, North Star Forum, in Westborough, for seven consecutive home contests. A fast start that will depend on the team being at its very best on the road will be critical, according to senior co-captain Kevin Reale.
“We’re in a tough conference, and as champions of the conference, everyone looks to us as it’s their biggest game of the year so we have a huge target on our backs,” he said. “Any team can beat any team so we can’t take a night off or even a shift off. We have to focus on all we can do to make the team better.”
Replacing arguably the region’s most accomplished goaltender will not be easy but Cappello believes he has a trio of talent to give it a run. Seniors Jacob Dickie and Matthew Rayburn, along with upstart freshman Matthew Bogdanski, will replace T & G Player of the Year Mike Tascione, who graduated. All have impressed in the early-goings, but a healthy competition for the majority of playing time is under way that will determine who will see the bulk of the time between the pipes.
The team’s offense will count heavily on its first line that will be anchored by Paterson, Reale and junior winger Sean Prendergast. All are skilled and experienced.
“Sean is really nifty on the wing and John’s such a strong player,” said Cappello. “He does so many things well. He has great vision, he’s physical and he can shoot and pass. Kevin brings an equally solid game as well.”
The remainder of the offense is still in play but expect to see junior Alex Pietropaolo along with sophomores Nolan Kimball and Matteo Calvanese initially skating on the team’s second line. Cappello, however, emphasizes that the situation is fluid and others will be in the mix to see ample ice time. Junior Camerin Gallagher, sophomores Garrett Hodgkins, Curtis Pietropaolo, and freshmen Nicholas Larsen, Griffin Sambrook and Jack Thibodeau will be counted on for productivity up front.
Blue line duties will be in the hands of Andersen and junior Tom Ackil as returning anchoring defensemen. They will be complemented by seniors Andrew Tache and Patrick Macawley, juniors Jake Alpert and Dominic Ferro, and freshman Noah Larsen.
“We want to continue with the legacy that these players have been building on,” Cappello explained. “There’s an expectation now that is great. Other teams are going to be coming our way wanting to get us and that’s fun because it shows what you’re made of and how you rise to that challenge. If we’re committed to making each other better every day as we are, the rest will take care of itself.”