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JIM CLARK | BOYS' HOCKEY NOTEBOOK

For Keagan Bunker and Ryan LeBaron, the ties to Southeastern’s co-op team were too difficult to sever

Staying with the Southeastern hockey team for his senior season was a simple decision for Ryan LeBaron (30). “These are all my friends. I had to leave some of my West Bridgewater friends, but I didn’t want to break up what we’ve had the last few years," he said.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Keagan Bunker and Ryan LeBaron each had a decision to make before the start of the hockey season . . . but in the end, there really was no decision to be made.

The seniors at West Bridgewater High skated the previous three years for Southeastern as part of one of the MIAA’s longest-running co-operative programs. But that era is entering its final days, as West Bridgewater made the switch before the season to enter a new co-op arrangement with neighboring East Bridgewater.

Per MIAA rules, “When a cooperative team is dissolved, or not renewed, the host school District Athletic Committee may consider a request to allow continued participation of guest school students provided they participated through the conclusion of the final season of the approved cooperative.”

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According to Southeastern coach Mark Cabral, the schools initially considered allowing all returning players to stay with the Hawks. Instead, to provide an immediate boost to the numbers at East Bridgewater, that “grandfather clause” was left open only to the potential returning seniors.

“And that’s OK,” Cabral said. “They’re playing hockey, and that’s the whole point of the co-ops.”

In the end, there was no doubt which jerseys LeBaron and Bunker would be wearing in 2021-22.

“I’ve played here pretty much all of high school,” said Bunker, a defenseman and alternate captain. “There’s no place I’d rather play.”

Added LeBaron, the Hawks’ starting goalie: “These are all my friends. I had to leave some of my West Bridgewater friends, but I didn’t want to break up what we’ve had the last few years.”

That would be one of the longer runs of sustained success of any program in the state. With Wednesday night’s 7-1 win over South Shore, the Hawks (7-2 overall) are 6-0 in the Mayflower Athletic Conference and in the driver’s seat for what would be their fifth consecutive league championship.

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Southeastern also has won 41 consecutive Mayflower games dating back to January 2018. It’s been so long that the Hawks’ last loss came against Sacred Heart, a program that no longer exists after the school closed in 2020.

“That was a huge part of it,” LeBaron said of his decision to stay. “We wanted to finish it off the right way with the guys I wanted to be with.”

Cabral wasn’t sure this season’s success was possible. Between graduation and other losses, including the co-op switch, he entered this season minus 16 players who were part of last year’s team that went 12-0 and won a Mayflower championship during the Fall II season.

“You never want to be the team to lose it,” Bunker said.

The Hawks got a big challenge last week from Diman before Bobby Manning’s goal with a little more than five minutes to play sparked a 3-1 win. On Saturday, Southeastern took it on the chin in a nonleague game against Scituate, a team it potentially could face in the Division 3 state tournament. But players and coach agree they were the sort of wakeup calls a team on a roll needed.

“Two games in a row we’ve played fantastic,” Cabral said.

While Bunker and LeBaron are leaving after this season, Southeastern is continuing as a co-op program with players from Bristol-Plymouth, which joined several years ago.

“To me, one of my biggest accomplishments is bringing a school like Bristol-Plymouth over here, and now all of those kids have the option to play hockey,” Cabral said. “As much as we like the championships, I think that’s more important.”

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For now, the last remaining West Bridgewater members of the Hawks are relishing their opportunity as well, even as they now share hallways and classrooms with fellow students who now are considered opponents.

“It’s definitely weird,” said LeBaron, adding that he likes to watch games involving the new East/West Bridgewater team. “We chirp each other a little bit, but it’s fun.”

A pair of seniors from West Bridgewater, Ryan LeBaron (30) and Keagan Bunker, have played integral roles for a Southeastern hockey team that has won 41 straight games against Mayflower competition since January, 2018.Barry Chin/Globe Staff
An alternate captain, Keagan Bunker is a mainstay on the blueline for the Southeastern hockey team. Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Ice chips

▪ Several years ago, Arlington coach John Messuri pitched to the Mass. State Hockey Coaches Association “an in-season tournament that had a Beanpot flavor to it.”

For much of the past year, Messuri and a handful of other public school coaches have worked to develop the Ed Burns Hockey Classic — aka the “Coffee Pot.” Featuring 16 public school teams, the tournament begins Sunday and will be continue over the following two weekends, with each team getting three guaranteed games.

“It was hard to do [in the past], because teams had set schedules,” Messuri said. But with the pandemic restricting most teams to league play last year, the door began to open, and Messuri also noted the popularity of the many league championship tournaments held in 2021.

Because teams had to leave open dates over the next three Sundays, the participants were pre-determined. The 16 teams were ranked using a pair of power rating formulas and split into two groups named for former longtime coaches Peter Doherty of Reading (seeds 1-8) and Walter Brinn of Waltham (seeds 9-16).

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Arlington drew the top seed and will host No. 8 Marshfield (4, Ed Burns Arena). The other Doherty Division games include: No. 2 Hingham vs. No. 7 Winchester (6, Burns); No. 3 Braintree vs. No. 6 Wellesley (3:30, Natick); and No. 4 Tewksbury vs. No. 5 Waltham (2, Burns).

The Brinn Division matchups are: No. 9 Canton vs. No. 16 Burlington (1:30, Natick); No. 10 Franklin vs. No. 15 Weymouth (7:30, Natick); No. 11 Reading vs. No. 14 Framingham (12, Burns); and No. 12 Natick vs. No. 13 Walpole (5:30, Natick).

The tournament will continue Feb. 6 at the Canton Ice House and Rodman Arena (Walpole), and conclude Feb. 13 at Canton, John A. Ryan Arena (Watertown) and O’Brien Rink (Woburn). Messuri said while college sites were not really viable this season, the hope for future tournaments is to be able to have full days of games at some of the bigger venues in Eastern Mass.

“We’re just trying to give kids a great high school experience,” Messuri said.

▪ Shawsheen coach Chuck Baker recently earned his 200th career victory. Baker is in his 16th season after previously serving under Bill Gordon, who won more than 300 games with the Rams before handing over the reins in 2006.

▪ With its 7-3 win Wednesday, Gloucester swept a season series from Northeastern Conference rival Marblehead for the first time since 2004-05.

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Games to watch

Friday, Lincoln-Sudbury at Tewksbury, 3:30 (Breakaway Ice Center) — No. 14 L-S will try to avenge its only loss of the season when it takes on the unbeaten No. 10 Redmen on the road.

Friday, Sandwich at Falmouth, 5 (Falmouth Ice Arena) — This is the first of two meetings in the next few days between the Cape & Islands Atlantic leaders; they also face off Wednesday (6 p.m.) at Gallo Arena in Bourne.

Friday, Newburyport at Lynnfield, 5:50 (Kasabuski Arena, Saugus) — With a date and venue change because of the pending storm, both teams enter the game with only one Cape Ann loss, and the host Pioneers won the previous meeting (6-2 on Jan. 5).

Wednesday, Norwood at Westwood, 5 (Canton Ice House) — The Mustangs currently sit atop the Tri-Valley Large, but the host Wolverines are just one game back in the loss column.

Wednesday, Xaverian at Catholic Memorial, 7 (Warrior) — With their huge Catholic Conference wins Wednesday, the No. 1 Hawks and No. 5 Knights currently hold the top two spots in the league race.


Jim Clark can be reached at jim.clark@globe.com.