The Duxbury High boys’ hockey is back in the Super 8 tournament after an eight-year absence thanks to a challenging schedule, an emerging goalie, and a group of 11 senior “hockey guys,” according to their coach.
The Dragons dropped the opener of their best-of-three series to Springfield Cathedral, 4-1, Sunday afternoon at TD Garden. But coach John Blake remains confident in his group, which trailed by just one goal before Cathedral tallied a pair of late goals.
“I think our guys have a sense of confidence now going into (Game 2 Thursday night in Lowell) that we can play with these guys, we were in this game late,” Blake said. “I thought the second period was one of our better periods all year.”
In 2004, Blake guided Duxbury to its first Super 8 appearance. The Dragon lost in the play-in game the following year before returning in 2006. The streak ended the next year.
“It’s something we didn’t want to take for granted,” Blake said. “We had a nice four- to five-year stretch, but whenever you get to that level, it’s tough to get back there.”
A few factors contributed to their absence.
For one, Blake struggled to find a strong group of athletes dedicated to hockey. A number of student-athletes were focused on the football and lacrosse programs, which won a combined eight titles/Super Bowls between Super 8 berths.
As a result, there was not a group of skaters as tight-knight or as committed to the group’s shared goals as those in 2004, 2005, and 2006.
“We never had a team that’s been a team in a long time,” Duxbury assistant Lewis Alberti said.
That changed this year during the offseason. Blake watched his 11 rising seniors dedicate themselves to the ice, hoping to once again play meaningful games late in the season.
Kevin Gould, the starting goalie on Duxbury’s Super 8 team 10 years ago, felt the program’s recent move to the Patriot League might have also delayed its return to the Super 8.
“Sometimes voters look down on the competition in the Patriot League,” said Gould, who after an All-American lacrosse career at Bentley and work as a hockey and lacrosse assistant at Duxbury, recently joined the men’s lacrosse staff at Bryant University.
“Duxbury is the only D1 team in that league, so they don’t get the respect they deserve.”
But Gould said the Patriot League has been getting stronger, and it might not be considered a handicap for much longer.
Blake has also made sure to take advantage of the few non-league games he has. Games against Xaverian, Braintree, Arlington Catholic, and BC High made Duxbury a more appealing Super 8 bid, and prepared them for the bright lights of 1A competition.
Players saw the benefits as well.
“Once we beat Arlington Catholic, I felt we could beat any team in the Catholic Conference,” captain Trevor O’Brien said. “Then once we beat BC High, I felt like we had a chance at a top eight seed.”
The last question mark entering this season was in net. With no incumbent on the roster, Blake told senior Tucker Kelly , who spent last year playing on the JV team, that he had a shot at the job.
“He told me to work my butt off over the summer and I could be the starter,” Kelly said.
Gould, who worked with Kelly last year, said the senior knew that Duxbury had potential to be a contender.
“He heard all offseason that the team is going to score goals, hopefully they can just keep some out of the net,” Gould said. “I’m sure he heard all that from people in town: ‘We are going to score eight, we are just going to have to hold them to seven.’ ”
Kelly has done much better than that. He’s given up more than three goals only three times this season, two of which came in the first four games as he adjusted to varsity play.
Gould now sees similarities between this squad and the last group of Dragons to reach the Super 8. The tight-knit group of seniors who have been playing together for years, Blake at the helm, and the tough schedule all remind him of 2004 and 2005.
But Gould also pointed out a difference. He says he and his former teammates were excited to break new ground for their school back then. After finally getting back to the Super 8, this year’s team wants to go farther.
“Knowing these kids’ competitive nature, there is no way they are just happy to be here.”
Milton girls keep going
Entering the final week of the regular season, the Milton High girls’ hockey team did not know if they were going to qualify for the state tourney. The Wildcats ultimately squeaked into the Division 2 field, seeded 26th out of 28 teams with an 8-8-4 record.
In the preliminary round, the Wildcats trailed Archbishop Williams, 3-0, after the first period.
But freshman center Elena Kapolis capped a three-goal comeback late in the third period and scored the game-winner in OT to snap the Bishops’ seven-game unbeaten streak and push the Wildcats to the quarterfinals.
There, junior captain goalie Sarah Park and the team’s defense took over, shutting out Cohasset/Hanover, 4-0. Milton will now take on Wellesley Saturday.
“I knew the girls had that in them,” coach Bob Dwan said. “I knew if we got by Archies we could make some noise. . . they jelled at the right time and I just hope they can keep it going.”
Plymouth South advances
Throughout the third period of Saturday’s Division 1 quarterfinal, Plymouth South boys’ hockey coach Mike McCosh kept telling his team to throw the puck at North Quincy’s net. With 50 seconds left in the 1-1 game, the strategy paid off as a Panther shot led to a scrum in front, which ended with the puck crossing the goal line to keep the top seed alive.
Afterwards, McCosh credited the team’s “will to survive” with helping it advance to the semifinals.
“Quite honestly there are teams out there that have better talent,” McCosh said. “We need to work hard to win hockey games, and that’s what we’ve been doing.”