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Defense is OA’s secret weapon

Strategy pays off in tough matchups

Robert E. Klein for The Boston Globe

In Saturday’s 1-1 tie with Franklin, Oliver Ames freshman goalie Jimmy Tierney made a key save.

The night before Saturday’s Hockomock League matchup against undefeated Franklin, Oliver Ames coach Jim Sullivan gathered his players together at Asiaf Arena in Brockton, and drew up a plan to slow the explosive Panther attack.

Robert E. Klein for The Boston Globe

Oliver Ames head hockey coach Jim Sullivan watched the action from the bench during the game against Franklin HIgh.

The following night, with a 1-0 lead in hand, Sullivan implemented a trap to prevent the Panthers from advancing through the neutral zone. OA emerged with a 1-1 tie against a Franklin squad that had been averaging five goals per game. The Panthers netted the tying goal on a power play with a little more than a minute remaining.

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“Our defense has been holding us in there,’’ said Sullivan, who is coaching the varsity on an interim basis this season. He also remains the JV coach, a position he has held for the last 10 years.

Dan Scott, who led OA to an 11-9-4 mark in his first season last year, is on a leave of absence

“As long as our defense holds us down, we’ll keep winning,’’ he added.

Oliver Ames in Easton is off to a 5-2-1 start in the rugged Hockomock, thanks in large part to outstanding play from its defense.

“I thought we looked pretty good’’ against Franklin, said Sullivan. “We had a lot of confidence because of the Canton game [a 2-1 win], but the kids had to believe [the trap would work]. If Franklin came out firing and got a goal right away, it would have left us shocked. But we got the first goal, and that really does mean a lot.’’

The Tigers have benefited from the maturity of their two big, physical defensemen, juniors Andrew Mancini and Kyle Hayes.

“We had a pretty good defense last year,’’ said Sullivan. ‘Mancini and Hayes “were the starting defense last year as sophomores. They’re juniors now, and they’re getting better.’’

Robert E. Klein for The Boston Globe

From left, players Sean Kyne, Justin Davidner, Tierney, and Andrew Mancini.

In practice, Sullivan has his defensemen take extra shots from the point.

“They don’t get deep into the offensive zone often, so we’ve practiced a lot of receiving the puck and getting their shot off quick, to practice getting goals while someone is in front of the goalie,’’ said Sullivan.

The work has paid off.

Hayes has a team-leading four goals, and Mancini netted the only two goals in the victory over reigning Hock champion Canton earlier this season.

“By having the defense score for us, it’s easier for the forwards to get in front of the net,’’ said Sullivan “They’re not going to score from the point if nobody’s in front of the net. The defense has kept us up there. Our offense is scoring, but it’s very spread out. We don’t have a leading scorer. The numbers are all spread apart, which is nice.’’

OA has also been strong in its own end, allowing just 10 goals in the first seven games. That’s an impressive start, considering the Tigers have been hit especially hard by the flu.

“The thing about our team is we have a lot of depth,’’ said junior forward Sean Kyne, “so if some people are sick, we have guys who can pick right back up. We haven’t lost our step.’’

That depth comes from a mixture of experienced upperclassmen and talented underclassmen, along with some postseason success last season. After defeating Dedham in the first round of the Division 2 South tournament, the Tigers eliminated Canton, 2-1, in overtime.

“That was a big, marquee victory’’ for this program, said Sullivan.

The Tigers lost to Franklin, 2-1, in the semis.

Last year’s tournament run, according to senior forward Drew Koeppel, “gives us a new meaning behind our intensity and drive; to push us as hard as we can and play as hard as we can because we know we’re just as good as them if we come to play.’’

With the graduation last year of Andrew Taylor, the league MVP, and starting goalie MacKenzie Shalin, Kyne and sophomore Kyle Johnson (3 goals, 2 assists) have stepped forward.

After missing nearly a week with the flu, Kyne scored a pair of goals against Stoughton in his first game back.

Freshman Jimmy Tierney has been impressive in goal, racking up a 1.43 goals-against average in seven starts, with one shutout.

“The defense has done really good,’’ said Koeppel. “They’re playing the body a lot, and I give a lot of credit to [Tierney], who is having a hell of a season.’’

“We’re no team to be looked past,’’ said Koeppel. “And we can beat Canton and all those big names. We’re a team to be reckoned with.’’

Westwood gears up

The Westwood girls are off to a 5-1-1 start, averaging six-plus goals per game with an attack that spends the majority of the game in the opponent’s end of the ice. But head coach Rick Chrusciel is quick to remind his team that if they want to win, they can’t rest on their laurels.

“We started the season with not the hardest of schedules, but we’re cognizant of that,’’ said Chrusciel. “We’ll run into some teams that can play in the next couple of weeks, and we’re looking forward to that.’’

The Wolverines have benefited from a deep bench, including freshman Kat Heidleberger (10 goals in six games).

Westwood will run into skilled teams over the next few weeks: facing Falmouth (6-2-1), Scituate (4-3), Medfield (4-2-2), and two games with Franklin (5-1-1).

Here and there

Saturday was a big day for high school hockey and, in particular, Norwell’s Peter Cronin. The starting goaltender at BC High, Cronin earned a shutout, turning aside 26 shots as the Eagles blanked rival Catholic Memorial, 4-0, at Fenway Park.

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