HIGH SCHOOL HOCKEY
Winslow Townson for The Boston Globe
Jake Burridge is easy to spot on the rink.
The senior forward dons bright pink bands on the front of his waist, which contrast sharply with the navy blue and white of his Stoneham High School uniform.
The pink bands, which he wears to mark his mother’s recovery from a bout with skin cancer, aren’t the only things that distinguish him on the ice: He’s also one of the slickest high school skaters and most adept passers you’re ever likely to see.
Willingness to give up the puck is a team concept Burridge, its cocaptain, lives by.
“We really push away from the selfishness,” he said. “We like to work as a unit because it works out better for us, and that’s just our style of play.”
Entering the MIAA Division 2 North tournament last season as the 11th seed, Stoneham enjoyed an unexpected run that featured the team’s first playoff win in six years and led all the way to the final, a 2-0 loss to Lowell Catholic, which went on to win the state championship.
But last year’s late run, it turns out, was just the start of something good for Stoneham, which has picked up wins against elite hockey programs this season en route to a 10-2-2 mark through games of Feb. 3.
“We’re running off how all of last season went,’’ said 5-foot-10 Burridge, a Middlesex League All-Star in 2016-17, “because we worked so hard and we really didn’t get the results we wanted until the end of the year. So the whole offseason we were putting in all the work we could. It’s working out in our favor now.”
Head coach Paul Sacco said he wasn’t shocked as last year’s tournament wins unfolded.
“I was surprised when it ended,’’ he said. “The kids plateaued, worked hard. I thought they got what they deserved last year, taking it that far.”
Stoneham picked up this year where it left off. When it won its opener, 3-1, against reigning Super 8 champion Arlington, Sacco said, his players were rolling on all cylinders.
“That was an emotional-high game,’ said the coach. “You could tell we just wouldn’t be denied that.”
With two ties in the mix, the team went unbeaten in its first six games, before losing two straight to powerful opponents, 7-5 to Melrose and 3-2 to Burlington.
A bounce-back win against Wilmington set off another unbeaten streak, including six wins, through Feb. 3.
Sacco, in his seventh year as Stoneham head coach, agrees with Burridge’s assessment that the team is a well-rounded one. With a roster of 22 kids, he said, he has a lot to work with.
“We’ve got three solid lines. You can flip-flop one, two, three; or three, two, one; or however you want to call it, they’ll work . . . equally as hard, and that’s helped our success.”
Burridge has scored nine times so far and assisted on nine other goals, but he’s just one among many scoring threats. The team’s top goal-scorer, junior forward Nick Feliciano, has scored 18 times and assisted on five other occasions. Senior defenseman A.J. Sousa has 13 goals and 15 assists. Senior defenseman Cam Sacco, the coach’s son, has just one goal but 13 assists.
“We like to stay away from statistics,’’ said Cam Sacco, team cocaptain with Burridge. “Everything is a team. Everything is a whole. From the end of last year, we said we’ve got to work twice as hard this year to make another run and get further than we did before.”
Staying cool and composed under pressure seems to be in the team’s DNA.
In an evening game Feb. 3 at Stoneham Arena, the team fell behind in the first period as Haverhill struck first. But Stoneham soon launched a full-scale assault on the Haverhill goalie, battering him with shot after shot. Five minutes after falling behind, Stoneham tied it up when junior forward Joe Shannon found the back of the net after a rebound, and Burridge knocked one in soon thereafter.
Two more Stoneham goals in the second period and a final dagger in the third made it a 5-1 victory in the end. True to the team’s form, all five goals were tallied by different players.
“That’s a luxury we have now,” said Paul Sacco, the coach, “in having three solid lines . . . plus our defense and [senior goalie] Peter Barry in net. When we’re ready to play, we can beat anybody.”
The coach said he doesn’t have a specific goal in mind or a place he wants this squad. He said he doesn’t want to make predictions.
“You hate to get ahead of yourself, and you don’t want to look at the end, but we write our own destiny. We’ve got to look at every day, getting our team better in practice. We’re trying to make it as perfect as possible and correct mistakes.”
Burridge hopes to end his senior campaign on a high note.
“The goal,’’ he said, “is to be the last team standing.”
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