The Middlesex League has a new contender.
No stranger to success, the Wilmington boys’ hockey team entered the Middlesex Small after an impressive 16-2-2 run in the Cape Ann League last season. The No. 1 seed in the Division 2 North tournament, the Wildcats lost to Saugus, 5-1, in the semifinals.
Coach Steve Scanlon’s squad is well equipped for the transition, with the return of senior captain Dalton Rolli and junior center Cam Owens.
Scanlon, in his 21st season on the bench, knows the challenges ahead.
“Night in and night out, it gets tougher,’’ said Scanlon, who earned his 250th career win earlier this season.
“Every team can play every team, and our guys see that you can’t take nights off in this league.’’
Wilmington (5-2-3, 3-0-1 Small) didn’t back down against Wakefield Saturday, showing plenty of grit, discipline, and finish around the net in a 3-0 victory.
“We need to keep doing what we are doing’’ said Scanlon. “You need the older kids to lead the way for the younger guys and show them how it’s done.’’
Sophomore goalie Drew Foley has taken note. In his second season as a starter, Foley made 37 saves in a 2-2 tie against Woburn and delivered 22 saves against Wakefield Saturday.
“Drew’s been really big’’ said Scanlon. “Early on against Woburn, he kept us in the game, helped us to pull the goalie in the end and score with a few seconds left to tie the game. He’s been huge for us.’’
Up next is a matchup against Burlington (2-1-1 Small) Saturday night. Wilmington will also see Wakefield again Feb. 15.
Burlington has a standout between the pipes in Derek DeCastro, a junior who shut out Woburn 3-0 Monday night. He also beat the Tanners 2-1 earlier this season.
“The only goal Woburn scored came in the last 16 seconds,’’ said Burlington coach Bob Conceison, who earned his 300th career win Monday night. “Derek finished the game with 30 saves and has been huge for us so far.’’
Burlington (6-1-2) has allowed only 14 goals in its first nine games.
“Consistency is our biggest issue,’’ said Conceison, in his 25th season. “If we can stay consistent, we’ll go far.’’
Another league rival knows the importance of consistency.
Wakefield took home the Division 1 North title last year with a 4-3 victory over St. Mary’s of Lynn.
This year the Warriors are looking to prove everyone wrong once again, and show why they deserve another trip to the tournament.
“We got a group of plumbers,’’ said sixth-year coach Derek Edgerly. “They’re getting the scrappy points when they come. They went to the gym, played over the summer, and are playing the system. They don’t want anything but wins, and that’s when you know that their minds are in the right place.’’
Wakefield goalie Joe Cerulo says the Warriors have “unfinished business at the Garden’’ after his team’s 3-2 loss to Marshfield in the state final last year.
The Middlesex League is notorious for tough, physical play.
Wakefield, Burlington, and Woburn finished a combined 44-19-9 in 2011. These three teams are all knocking down doors to lead the Middlesex, making Wilmington’s transition especially difficult.
“I encouraged them to hit the weight room and get into some skills camps,’’ said Scanlon. “But we pumped up the league and told our boys that it’s a high octane league where we have to be on top of our game at all times to stand a chance.’’
Beverly/Danvers girls are back
After a 4-3 shootout loss to Shrewsbury in the preliminary round of the Division 1 state tournament last season, the Beverly/Danvers girls’ hockey team has started 6-2-1. The tourney loss has served as motivation.
“It was a tough loss,’’ said seven-year coach Fiona Rice. “The girls are focused on a fresh start, and every year our goal is to do better than the year before.’’ With a conference win and tie over Cambridge/Somerville, Beverly/Danvers is nearing a playoff berth.
Senior captain Jenna LoVasco (Beverly) has allowed only 11 goals in the first eight games, recording three shutouts.
“Jenna is the backbone of our defense,’’ said Rice. “She’s steadily improved over these four years and she’s a tremendous leader on and off the ice. Goalie is a tough position, and she keeps her cool and is never flustered, which is key for successful goaltending.’’
Another senior captain, Allyson Spencer (Danvers), has also been an impact player. “Ally is a workhorse,’’ said Rice. “She doesn’t score a ton of points, but if you look at her plus/minus she’s been such a positive asset for our team. Other teams rarely score when she is on the ice.’’
After last year’s 13-7 run, Rice is counting on the seniors to lead the way.
“All of our seniors have stepped up tremendously,’’ said the coach. “We are improving with every game, and if they keep leading by example, we should have a good year.’’