Maybe Tyler Kirby did shoot the puck too much during his days in youth hockey.
The Hudson High senior owns up to it now, his teammates can attest. Even his father, Ray, a former standout on the ice for the Hawks (Class of 1989), believed Tyler was too one-dimensional.
But Kirby was working on something when he spent all that time firing pucks against the plexiglass inside his house as a kid, when his father never let him win if the two had shooting competitions. Even his mom, Michelle, would humor young Tyler, asking whether he wanted someone to play with.
“He’s got such a heavy shot,’’ said longtime Hudson High coach Mike Nanartowich. “Just ask my goalies.’’
“We’re just happy we don’t have to play against him,’’ said Hudson senior captain Alex Pantalone.
Until high school, though, the shot was Kirby’s only weapon. His dad kept trying to teach him to play two-way hockey, but Tyler wouldn’t budge. And for the longest time, it didn’t matter.
“He was always better than everybody else,’’ said Pantalone. “He’s always had that scoring touch since we’ve been little. I remember playing Squirts - he had 100 points a year, crazy numbers.’’
In high school, the game changed. And when Kirby first joined Nanartowich’s team as a freshman, he sat on the bench. His sophomore year, more of the same.
Then, suddenly, Kirby began to learn. Nanartowich told him to keep his feet moving, that finding space on the ice was equally important without the puck.
His father was relieved.
“I always told him, ‘When you get to high school, no coach will put up with the way you play,’ ’’ Ray Kirby said. “If he didn’t back-check, he sat on the bench. So he had some growing pains,’’ he said, but Nanartowich “turned him into a complete player. And now he’s more of a playmaker than a shooter.’’
Kirby (18 goals, 12 assists this season) notched his 100th career point last week, registering a hat trick in a 6-3 win over Fitchburg; according to Nanartowich, the Kirbys are the first father/son duo at Hudson to join the century club.
But Kirby isn’t just a finisher anymore. For every goal he scores, he says, he hopes to record one assist. The maturity of Kirby and the other 11 seniors have the Hawks (16-1-1) favored to win the Division 3 Central title for the third year in a row.
“I don’t care if it’s me or you, I just want someone to score,’’ said Kirby, who is also crafty with a stick on the golf course. He shot a team-low, 1-over-par 71 in Hudson’s second-place finish in the Division 2 tourney last fall.
At the end of hockey practice, Kirby and his teammates work on their individual skills. Nanartowich said he’s seen the forward line up 25 or 30 shots from the slot and hit “top-shelf after top-shelf after top-shelf.’’
Kirby will continue to line up with seniors Tim Murphy and Blake Seymour to form a dangerous scoring combination.
Meanwhile, Pantalone and twin brothers (and senior captains) Brian and Tom Fahey have also been strong for Hudson, with junior Shane Berry handling the load in net. Berry does a little more than simply guard the net, though.
“I’ll ask him where the hardest spots to save shots are from different areas on the ice,’’ Kirby said. “And whatever he says, I’ll go there and hit from that spot as many times I can.’’
And a fair warning to future Hudson foes: Kirby can pass now, too.
With the start of the state tournament just days away (the pairings will be released Saturday), here are five story lines to follow:
Will the Middlesex League crown a girls’ champ?
The Middlesex League is lined up to send seven of its 11 girls’ teams to the postseason. Even Reading Memorial, which finished with a 3-16-1 record, would be a “dominant force in another league,’’ according to Belmont High’s coach, Mark Haley.
Local entrants Belmont, Lexington, Arlington, and Watertown-Melrose will be battle-tested, though, and that could prove to be the difference in the tournament’s high-pressure, single-elimination games.
“It’s one of the best leagues in the state,’’ Haley said. “These kids have to understand you never have a gimme, which is great. That’s the competition we want.’’
Will Loblundo lead Acton-Boxborough to the Garden?
Which Loblundo, you ask? Well, either one.
Eighth-grade goalie sensation Cali Loblundo has been even better in her second full year as a starter for the Acton-Boxborough Regional High girls’ squad, which allowed 14 goals in 19 games, while her older brother, Andrew, is a senior captain between the pipes for the boys.
“He’s her biggest asset,’’ said boys’ coach Bob Lavin. “He’s had so much great coaching and he really helps her.’’
At 10-7-2, the boys’ record might be misleading, but the Colonials went unbeaten in their last six games through Monday. And while there is sure to be pressure on both goalies when the tournament starts, girls’ coach Brian Fontas said the key for his squad is to “not make turnovers. Mental mistakes can cost you.’’
How young will Arlington Catholic be?
It seems like every day Dan Shine is calling up more freshmen to the Arlington Catholic High boys’ varsity team. That’s because, well, he is.
While injuries continue to take a toll on his squad, the most recent loss might the biggest, with junior Brendan O’Connell leaving Monday’s win over Falmouth with a shoulder injury, and Shine isn’t sure when his leading scorer will be ready to play. That only adds pressure on the newly installed starting goalie, Shawn Ray, a junior who has played well since taking over early this month.
And don’t forget about the Lady Cougars. A tournament newbie, coach Maggie Taverna said she’ll have her team ready for the big games, but “we have to stay disciplined. Every kid needs to be ready to play.’’
Goalie Megan Messuri has been as good as they come between the pipes, while high-scoring senior Natalie Flynn “plays better with the competition,’’ Taverna said.
Who’s in goal for the Franklin High boys?
It’s a question that coach Chris Spillane has asked himself over and over this season. And as of Monday, he still didn’t have an answer.
Will it be one of the sophomores, Mike Donadio (who earned the most recent start in a 7-2 win over St. Peter-Marian) and Devon Maloof, or senior Matt Kilroe in the net?
“We’re running out of time to figure it out,’’ said Spillane, whose squad has averaged more than five goals per game offensively. “Goaltending wins championships. It’s one of them, we just don’t know who yet.’’