Barry Cashman, a senior at Abington High, recalls lining up alongside East Bridgewater senior Brendan Gareri earlier this season, just outside the face-off circle.
The pair are friends.
But last season, they were linemates.
Cashman, though, wanted to deliver a warm greeting.
“You just give him a couple nudges at the face-off,’’ said Cashman, with a faint smirk. You go out, he picks up the puck, and you bury him in the corner. It was a good time.’’
Abington and East Bridgewater teamed up on the ice as a cooperative squad for 11 years. But at the end of last season, citing rising interest in each town’s hockey program, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association ended the agreement.
So the two schools set out on their own, as rivals in the South Shore League.
No longer united, the two new teams battled in mid-December, with Abington rolling to an 8-2 win.
“It was civil war, I’ll put it that way,’’ said Abington coach Brian Smith, who was at the helm of the EAB co-op team last season. “It was a great game, no doubt about it. They’re a talented team, but it’s brother fighting brother.’’
“It was intense,’’ said East Bridgewater senior forward Brett DeBenedictis. “It was awesome. I want to do it again.’’
And they will, tomorrow night, in a rematch at Bridgewater Ice Arena.
“I can’t wait,’’ said DeBenedictis. “There was no emotion that came out of me. It was just straight up intensity. It was awesome. It’s tough to even put it into words’’
On their own, each team is developing an identity, and a bigger following.
The fan bases no longer have to mingle, and that has reenergized the respective communities.
“[The team] is more known in the school,’’ said Gareri. “When kids from school come [to the games], they know the whole team. They don’t go, ‘Oh who is number 7?’ Everyone knows each other. They know the chants, so they can cheer for us. We feel closer to the school.’’
Senior goaltender Ryan Mercier echoed his teammate.
“Last year when we made it to Division 3 South quarterfinals, half our students didn’t even know we had a hockey team,’’ he said. “This year most kids know. It feels a lot better.’’
With one squad essentially divided in half, many believed that both new teams would need to take this year to adjust. But each has shown that this is not a rebuilding year.
With its 4-1 victory over South Shore Voc-Tech this past Saturday, coupled with yesterday’s forfeit win over Carver/Sacred Heart, Abington (10-6-1) has punched a ticket to the postseason tournament.
“It feels awesome, just being able to show the league and shove it right back in their face,’’ said senior forward Jake Concannon. “Everyone looked down at us at first. We’re not going for the sportsmanship award or anything. We’re just trying to take it to them. It’s exciting.’’
Not to be outdone, East Bridgewater (7-7-2) still has a shot at making the tourney, needing three points in its final three games.
“I keep telling the kids this isn’t a rebuilding year,’’ said first-year East Bridgewater coach David Surette, who was not involved with the co-op squad last year. I have eight seniors, so this was a year to make the tourney. Like every coach says, I have to do it one step at a time, one period at a time, one shift at a time. You can’t get three points in a game, so I want to win the next one and we’ll worry [after that].’’
With the transition has come opportunity for a number of players.
“I have two starting sophomore defensemen, two freshman defensemen, and a freshman wing, and I don’t know if they would have played on both teams,’’ said Surette. “Now they would have played, that’s how good they’ve gotten. It took them a while, but they’re varsity hockey players. They’re not playing because I needed to fill the position. They’re playing because they’re varsity hockey players.’’
Both teams have had to rely on skilled underclassmen to fill voids left by the split. While East Bridgewater has skated five underclassmen, the Green Wave has received huge contributions from sophomore defenseman Jake Quinlan, sophomore forward Joe Marella, and junior goaltender Nate Littman, who spent last season, his first as goaltender, behind Mercier.
The Green Wave has also received a huge boost from Xaverian transfer Mike Walsh, who has been one of team’s top scorers.
Both teams are geared up for the rematch.
Abington is determined to show that its 8-2 win was not a fluke. The Vikings would like to exact some revenge, and move two points closer to the tourney.
Don’t expect any favors, even among friends.
“They’re still my friends,’’ said DeBenedictis, “but once we hit the ice, there is no more friendship.’’
Braintree girls meet expectations
At the start of the season, Braintree girls’ coach Kevin Burchill sized up his team’s rugged schedule and made a prediction of where the Wamps would be at season’s end.
So far, the girls have met his expectations.
“I’ve got a tough schedule,’’ said Burchill. “The good news is, against good teams, [the girls] rise to the occasion.’’
After opening the season with a close 2-1 loss to St. Mary’s of Lynn, the Wamps went 11-2-1 in a difficult Bay State Conference. Braintree absorbed a 4-1 loss to perennial power Acton-Boxborough earlier this season, but Burchill said he felt the game was closer than the final result. The Wamps face Hingham on Saturday.
The Wamps have received huge contributions from senior captains Ally Perdios (19 goals, 13 assists) and Tori Machado (12 goals, 13 assists). Burchill had especially high praise for junior netminder Rachael Brazil.
“If you follow girls’ hockey, it comes down to the goalie at the end of the year,’’ said Burchill. “It comes down to goalies because a lot of games will be one-goal or tied games going into shootouts. Last year, I believe there were four contests whose results came from a shootout. Brazil is solid, and has been very consistent [for us].’’
Burchill said he believes his team has as good a chance as any to reach the quarterfinals of the tournament.
“There’s no powerhouse this year,’’ said Burchill. “There is so much parity. Woburn could win, Hingham could win, Acton-Boxborough could win, Arlington Catholic could win, but Hingham just beat them, 4-0.
Pembroke’s Cahill reaches milestone
Pembroke senior Tom Cahill is coming off quite a week.
Cahill tallied the 100th point of his career with the winning goal against Scituate and also was selected by the Massachusetts State Hockey Coaches Association to represent the South in the Worcester Sharks Senior All-Star Game, scheduled for April 1.
The Westwood boys clinched their 30th consecutive trip to the state tournament with a 6-2 Tri-Valley League win over Holliston.