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Bridgewater’s Sam Marotta, Scituate’s John Heffernan having breakout season for Merrimack hockey

Merrimack College’s John Heffernan in action on the ice and junior goaltender Sam Marotta (right).

Winslow Townson for The Boston Globe

Merrimack College’s John Heffernan in action on the ice and junior goaltender Sam Marotta (right).

BC High alums spark Merrimack hockey

Sam Marotta  and John Heffernan  shared the joy of winning a state hockey championship at Boston College High School.

Marotta, a former Globe Dream Teamer from Bridgewater, and Heffernan, a Scituate resident whose family hockey legacy includes his uncle, former Northeastern University star Kevin Heffernan, are having breakout seasons at Merrimack College playing for another BC High alum, head coach Mark Dennehy

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A junior goalie, Marotta had to wait his chance. For two seasons, he backed up his friend and mentor at BC High and Merrimack, Joe Cannata , the Warriors’ all-time leader with 59 wins.

Marotta played two games last year, but practiced diligently and learned from Cannata, a Vancouver Canucks draft pick who now plays for the ECHL’s Kalamazoo Wings. This season, Marotta has appeared in eight games, six as a starter, with a 3-3 record, 2.70 goals against average, and .916 save percentage.

Marotta said he talks frequently with Cannata about Merrimack’s opponents. “We bounce ideas off each other. Playing with him for a year in high school and two years at Merrimack was great and Joe, John, and myself joke that we’re [BC High] Eagles for life.

“Even though I didn’t play much before this season, I’m a better goalie and I want to make a difference. I tried to challenge Joe every day in practice, and coach Dennehy did a great job reminding me that I’d be needed someday and to be ready and keep that competitive edge,’’ added Marotta.

Dennehy said the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Marotta has “worked his tail off while waiting for his turn. He’s very athletic and a savemaker who has also evolved into a shot blocker to make the most of his size. John and Sam are great teammates. You know what kind of player and person you’re getting out of the BC High program, and I’m happy to have them here.’’

Entering this year, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Heffernan had totalled 13 points (7 goals, 6 assists) in 38 career games. But in the first 10 games this season, he was fourth on the team in scoring (2 goals, 5 assists) and leading the Warriors with a plus-5 ranking.

“I have to tip my cap to John. His career may not have gone the way he’d envisioned, but he’s never made any excuses. He’s trained hard, he’s in the best condition of his life, and he’s being rewarded for sticking with it,’’ said Dennehy, a former Boston College defenseman who played against Kevin Heffernan in the late 1980s.

“John sees the ice very well, he’s a good puck handler, and he shoots incredibly hard,’’ added Dennehy, whose team was 4-6-1 (3-3 Hockey East) prior to Friday’s home game vs. Colgate.

Heffernan said he, Cannata, and Marotta, are close friends.

“Because Joe was here before me it was nice to come in already knowing him. It makes a difference when you’re new to a program. We text each other often,’’ said Heffernan, whose uncle Kevin, and father, John Heffernan,  direct the South Shore Conquistadors youth hockey program encompassing 26 teams and 300 players. It’s based at Pilgrim Skating Arena in Hingham.

“I’m definitely in better condition, I use my hands to create more space and get my linemates open, and I’d describe myself as a playmaking forward. My dad coached me when I was younger, and that’s something you never forget.’’

The elder Heffernan brothers — John, Kevin, and Jim — were all high school captains: John and Kevin at Weymouth North and Jim at Weymouth High.

John played junior hockey in Weymouth and Jim played junior hockey in Halifax, N.S. Kevin starred on two Hockey East and two Beanpot Tournament championship teams at Northeastern and is the program’s ninth all-time leading scorer.

“I’ve given John a few tips here and there. He’s got great talent,’’ said Kevin, who left pro hockey for a career as a home health care executive but found time to lace up for the Bruins alumni last year in a game at Pilgrim Skating Arena.

“I root for Northeastern but it was nice to see John play well against them in their games earlier this year.’’

His nephew had an assist in each game: a 4-2 loss at N.U. Oct. 10 and a 5-2 win at Merrimack Nov. 3.

Heffernan’s father said being a part of John’s hockey career has been “enjoyable and special.

“When John was a Bantam we won the state title and we played in a national tournament in Vermont when he was 14 years old,’’ said the elder Heffernan.

“I also coached my brother, Kevin, when he was a midget and we also won a state title and made the national semifinals in Michigan, so that’s pretty cool.’’

1,000 career points for Quincy natives

Quincy natives Matt Pepdjonovic  and Catherine O’Connell both made history on the court last weekend.

O’Connell, a senior center on the women’s basketball team at Newbury College, reached 1,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds in a 56-45 season-opening game loss to Gordon College. The points milestone came in spectacular way for the North Quincy High graduate: With five seconds remaining, she launched ­— and sank — her first career 3-point shot for an even 1,000.

Pepdjonovic, a senior forward who played at BC High, became the second player in Suffolk annals to do likewise. Already a 1,000-point scorer, he pulled down 13 rebounds in a 69-52 loss to Roger Williams and now has 1,002 boards, 14 shy of the Suffolk record.

O’Neil prowess noted

After helping power the Bates football program to its first winning season since 1981, junior right tackle Liam O’Neil  of Hingham was named to the New England Small College Athletic Conference second team.

The 6-foot-4, 305-pound O’Neil (Hingham High/Pomfret Academy) was a fixture on what Bobcats’ coach Mark Harriman called the best offensive line in his 14 seasons at the Lewiston, Maine school. Bates, which finished 5-3, rushed for an average 233.5 yards per game, second in the NESCAC.

Marvin Pave can be reached at marvin.pave@rcn.com.
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