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Boys’ hockey notebook: As players and coaches prepare for the season, there’s more to it than meets the eye — on and off the ice

St. John's Prep hockey player Jake Vana (right) takes his shots on goal during a preseason practice at Essex Sports Center in Middleton.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Entering the second year with the statewide tournament format (minus the popular Super 8), months of preparation culminate in the opening puck drop this weekend for boys’ hockey program across the state.

“I think the biggest thing with this format is to keep your eyes open, ears open with the schedule,” said 38th-year Waltham coach John Maguire, noting the impact of strength of schedule for the Power Rankings that determine postseason seeding.

“You want to schedule teams that you think are going to have good seasons and that are going to be competitive. If you have eight nonleague games, you’ve got to try to find eight teams that are similar to you or even better than you. It’ll help [your team] in the long run and help your team ranking too.”


In the second year of the MIAA's statewide tournament, St. John's Prep head coach Kristian Hanson (center) has to manage his team's progress not only on the ice, but off it as well through a schedule that addresses the compilation of power ranking points.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Having a higher seed paid dividends for the top eight teams in the 2021 Division 1 tournament, who outscored foes a combined 36-3 in the first round.

“You’ve got to think about the formula a little bit and how that works — the value between wins and strength of schedule,” said Arlington coach John Messuri. “You’ve got to put some money aside for gas, because you might be driving to the Cape.”

In preparation for the season, players spend countless hours in the weight room or competing in a fall sport. Others lace up the skates in the fall, which affords athletes the opportunity to get into hockey shape right away.

Belmont captain Cam Fici doubled down with his preparation, skating with the Valley Jr. Warriors and a midget team in town.

“I played against excellent competition, great players,” said Fici. “We were able to maintain and build chemistry through the fall.”

Fici, who scored 34 goals and added 12 assists last season, views fall hockey as a three-month head start to the season, working on not just his game, but how to be a quality leader.


“This year I’ve taken a much bigger leadership role,” said Fici. “I’ve been more vocal with the team, letting people know certain things that they can improve on. Last year, I would leave that to the coaches.”

‘I think you get out of it what you put into it. If you want to get that conditioning, you’ll go hard and you’ll get it.’

St. John's Prep senior captain Jimmy Ayers

Jimmy Ayers, a senior captain for defending Division 1 champion St. John’s Prep, skated for the North Shore Wings in anticipation of a competitive winter campaign.

“I think you get out of it what you put into it,” said Ayers, a Johns Hopkins lacrosse commit. “If you want to get that conditioning, you’ll go hard and you’ll get it. Obviously, other fall sports, being multi-sport athletes is super important. Coaches preach about it all the time, having kids on their team is super positive.”

St. John's Prep senior captain Jimmy Ayers made sure he and his teammates -- at least those who weren't involved in a fall sport -- put in the time in the weight room to prepare for the upcoming season. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

In addition to established members of the varsity team, split-season hockey in the fall can give a leg up to players looking to make the team. BC High freshman Michael Federico, a Hanover resident, scored 30 goals for the U14 River Rats this fall.

“We’re excited to see how he can transfer that fall performance into this year,” said BC coach John Flaherty. “Fall hockey is great for exposure, conditioning, and getting ready for the season.”

With many players on teams across the state skating this fall, being a multi-sport athlete is encouraged. The opportunity to compete and grow across competitive athletics and the lessons learned and experiences gained can be invaluable.


“It gives an opportunity to hear another coach,” said Walpole coach Ron Dowd, also the schools’s athletic director. “It keeps them focused on school, as well. I want the shortstop on the baseball team, the quarterback on the football team because they’re put in pressure situations. If they can throw the game-winning TD pass, they’re not going to panic when they’re on the ice. The moment won’t get too big for them.”

Ice chips

Chris Spillane won more than 300 games, and the Division 1 state title in 2016, coaching his alma mater, Franklin High. Now the 1984 grad has returned to the Panthers bench for a second stint.

Spillane stepped down following the 2018-19 season to watch his three kids play college hockey – his daughter, Kaitlyn, and middle son, Ryan, at Saint Anselm and youngest son C.J., who is now a senior on the club team at UMass.

Recently retired from the Franklin Police Department, Spillane said initially it was not his plan to return as coach. But after his replacement, Anthony Sarno, accepted the head coaching job at Brookline, he decided to apply.

“I was content with my day-to-day life,” Spillane said. “But I did miss hockey, there’s no doubt about it. There was a small piece missing, that competition and working with the boys.”

Spillane, who also won a state championship as a player at Franklin (1983), inherits a team that finished 14-9 last winter, bowing out to Hingham in the Round of 16 of the Division 1 tournament.


With tryouts over, Spillane said it was more challenging than in seasons’ past with limited knowledge of everyone’s skill set. Still, he’s bullish on the Panthers as they vie for what would be a 12th straight Hockomock Kelley-Rex title.

“I think we picked a pretty strong team and we’re going to compete with some people,” Spillane said.

▪ Two other notable coaching changes north of Boston, with a pair of alums taking over for their legendary mentors.

Dan Shine (43 years at Arlington Catholic) and Bob Conceison (35 at Burlington) produced a combined 1,047 wins and five state championships . Arlington Catholic turned to former Lexington coach Curt Colarullo, a member of Shine’s 1997 Division 1A (Super 8) championship team while Burlington kept it not only in-house, but in-family, promoting assistant coach Bob Conceison Jr. to the top job.

▪ The latest Massachusetts State Hockey Coaches Association (MSHCA) Hall of Fame class announced last month includes three boys’ coaches still active in their roles..

Hingham coach Tony Messina and Greater New Bedford coach Mike Frey were among the honorees from the six-member class, as well as longtime assistant coach Paul Costa, who’s currently at Essex Tech under Mark Leonard.

Messina, a 1980 Hingham grad who played at the University of Vermont, has been on staff for the Harbormen for 38 seasons; this winter will mark his 15th as head coach, a tenure which includes a pair of state championships (Division 1A in 2010 and Division 1 in 2015) and over 200 wins.


Frey is set to begin his 33rd season behind the bench for the Bears.

Games to watch

Saturday, Lincoln-Sudbury vs. Canton (at Canton Ice House, 6:20 p.m.) — The 2020 Division 2 co-champions open their seasons against one another for a second winter in a row.

Wednesday, Newburyport vs. Franklin (at Pirelli Veterans Arena, 6 p.m.) — Chris Spillane makes his return behind the Panther bench.

Wednesday, Watertown vs. Arlington (at Ed Burns Arena, 6 p.m.) — The Division 4 state runner-up Raiders waste no time ramping things up by facing the Spy Ponders, a Division 1 contender in a Middlesex League crossover battle.

Wednesday, Masconomet vs. St. John’s Prep (at Essex Sports Center, 6:40 p.m.) — The defending Division 1 champs open defense of their title with a nonleague matchup against a Chieftains squad which advanced to the Division 2 quarterfinals a season ago and new coach Andrew Boepple.

Thursday, Framingham vs. Pope Francis (at Olympia Ice Center, 6:40 p.m.) — The perennial power Cardinals welcome the Flyers to West Springfield for an early season test.

Correspondent Jake Levin contributed to this story.

Cam Kerry can be reached at cam.kerry@globe.com.