Casey Shea has been on skates since he was 2.
The Woburn High senior forward belongs on the ice, stick in hand, full speed ahead.
And with his five-goal performance against Springfield Cathedral in a Super 8 play-in game last March, Shea has become the focus of every defense the Tanners face.
In a matchup against Middlesex League rival Melrose on Saturday night, Shea appeared unfazed by the defensemen targeting every move he made. He kept the puck on his stick through a maze of Red Raiders, and as they closed in, he dished off to an open teammate.
“He’s just really moved forward as a player, just working at his game,’’ said Woburn coach Jim Duran of Shea, a four-year varsity player who gave a verbal commitment to the University of Massachusetts Lowell last month.
“He is able to do things that other kids can’t do.’’
What stands out immediately is Shea’s skating ability and puck-handling skills. He scored a team-high 21 goals last season. But his 23 assists were even more telling of his impact on the ice.
In a word, he is unselfish; he lets his game speak for itself.
“He leads on the ice. Everybody is waiting for him to do something,’’ said Duran. “We just expect it’s going to happen sometimes with him and it usually does.’’
It’s a lot of pressure for one player, but with good teammates surrounding him, scoring goals looks almost effortless.
The Tanners graduated talented forward Alex Holland (43 points last season), who is now playing juniors for the Victoria Grizzlies in the British Columbia Hockey League. But his brother, senior Danny Holland, returns at left wing.
“We lost one part of that line. But him and Danny have a real good chemistry together,’’ said Duran.
The pair played together in their freshman year but spent time on different lines until late season. Reuniting them paid off.
“[Danny and I] usually just find each other, all over the ice,’’ said Shea, who has played club hockey in the fall the last three years for the Eastern Mass. Senators. “Usually I find him around the net and he hits it home. I would rather have more assists than goals; I love setting other people up.
Both Holland brothers and Shea scored in the Tanners’ 4-3 overtime loss to St. John’s Prep in the Super 8 tournament in March.
“Halfway through last year, we thought putting them together would make us a better team,’’ said Duran. “And it just took off from there.’’
Shea is recognized by his teammates for his leadership and ability to make big plays, and they elected him cocaptain, along with senior defenseman Jake Secatore.
“His teammates elected him as captain, which I think is an even bigger honor than being nominated by your coach,’’ said Duran. “He makes everyone around him better. He pushes really hard in practice and is someone who helps out the younger players.’’
The captaincy, according to Shea, “shows that my teammates have confidence in me; that I can lead them though anything.
“We definitely have a good D and our first couple of lines are pretty good.’’
It’s not common for public school players to be recruited by a Hockey East program, but Duran pointed out, “If you’re good enough, they’ll find you.’’
After the Super 8 appearance last year, the Tanners have earned their share of attention, but Duran expects this season to be a challenge.
“I think that our success last year put a little bit of a target on our back,’’ said Duran. “We are going to have to play our best game against everybody.’’
In the season opener, Woburn surrendered a 2-0 lead against Wilmington before salvaging a 2-2 tie. It then beat Melrose, 5-2.
“We have two huge games in the next week,’’ said Duran, of St. John’s Prep and Middlesex Conference rival Burlington. “I think we’ll see what type of team we’re going to be.’’
Woburn returns a core of talented seniors. All nine have been on the team since freshman year.
“We expect them to play the best they can play,’’ said Duran.
Woburn will start sophomore Jeremy Flibotte in goal, allowing him to gain as much experience as possible.
“Jeremy is a good goalie and we really haven’t changed much with how we defend,’’ said Duran. “If you work hard and cause turnovers and take care of business, you make your own luck.’’
Woburn girls win
In a battle of unbeaten Division 1 powers, the St. Mary’s girls hockey team fell to host Woburn, 5-0, on Saturday at O’Brien Arena. It was the Spartans’ (2-1) first regular-season defeat since February 2007.
The Tanners’ top line of Kayla Smith, Bryana Harron, and Ashley Moran got 11 points, including a Smith hat trick.
Andover starts hot
The Andover boys’ hockey team gave first-year coach Mike Ciarletta a season-opening win with a 3-0 shutout of Billerica. Liam Centrella, Scott Campbell, and Kyle Wakefield each scored for the Golden Warriors.