On the heels of a successful regular season, The Newton South boys’ varsity hockey team is gearing up for a long-awaited state tournament where they’ll be competing for their school’s first championship title.
“We’ve been competitive,” Head Coach Chris Ryberg said. “There’s a lot of Division 1 teams on our schedule, and I think that’s made us better as we’ve gone along.”
The Newton South Lions transitioned from a Division 3 to a Division 2 program this season –– despite the fact that 13 of their 20 games were against Division 1 schools. Newton South garnered wins against teams like Westford Academy and Bridgewater-Raynham, growing confidence inside the locker room.
Senior and captain Daniel Schwartzman, who leads his squad in points, said the Lions are motivated going into the postseason.
“It’s really positive right now,” Schwartzman said. “I think honestly this year we can really make a push in the playoffs and that’s not something we’ve done in the past before.”
The top 32 teams from each division and groups with a .500-or-above record will meet in the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association state tournament. The Lions currently sit eighth out of 41 in the MIAA power rankings and have cemented their spot in the Massachusetts’ Boys D2 top ten, moving up to No.6 in the past week.
This will be Schwartzman and his fellow seniors’ final opportunity to bring home a title after last year’s state tournament was canceled due to the pandemic. Ryberg said the 2021-2022 campaign has brought back a sense of normalcy Newton South missed last season.
Initially closed for coronavirus protocols, the locker room is now a place the Lions can congregate, an important tool in the group’s bonding, Ryberg said.
“In our sport, the amount of time that gets spent in the locker room is what makes it so great,” Ryberg said. “Relationships that get built in there, it’s a huge part of the team building process.”
Ryberg said the depth of the Lion team has also contributed to their success this year. The top two lines have strength in their speed upfront, he said, and the third line has stepped up and gotten more involved as the season has progressed.
Newton South has three dependable defensive pairs as well as goaltending he can rely on in sophomore netminder Dylan Zukowski, Ryberg said.
David Gordon, father of seniors Sam and Mitch Gordon, said it’s been great watching the team step up to each level of competition they play.
“They can play against everyone,” Gordon said. “It will be about to what level they can take their game when the opportunity comes, so we’re excited.”
The regular season concluded Feb. 24, leaving Newton South with a 12-6-2 overall record. Senior and captain Nathan Cohen said the team’s “energy is high” as they now look to playoffs.
“All the guys on the team know the stakes, know what to do every single game,” Cohen said. “We’re just going one game at a time right now, but for us to be able to win the championship we all have got to be going 100 percent every single game.”
Two of the four captains of Newton South boys varsity hockey, Cohen and Schwartzman, said it has meant a lot to them to be part of the roster’s leadership core and be role models for the lowerclassmen.
“As a sophomore when I was playing in my first year of varsity hockey, I was really inspired by some of the seniors that we had,” Schwartzman said. “To be able to be in that position now and kind of take steps to lead the team and inspire some of the younger guys really means a lot to me as a player.”
Newton South played their last regular season game on Feb. 23 against Acton-Boxborough where they won 2-0. The preliminary round of the MIAA State Tournament is projected to start Feb. 28 and go through March 1, but the dates are subject to change.
“Our goal is to play hockey as deep into March as we possibly can,” Ryberg said. “In order to be smiling after that last game, whenever that is, it’s hoisting a trophy at the Garden. And that’s not something we’ve been able to experience so far, but it’s definitely a goal and that’s what we’re preparing for each day.”
Belle Fraser can be reached at email@example.com.