By the first intermission on Saturday afternoon, locked in a scoreless game against Lynnfield, the Newburyport hockey team understood just how difficult it would be to cross off its second goal of the season: winning the Cape Ann League title.
Their first goal, however, was already accomplished: the 16th-ranked Clippers (10-1-5, 8-0-2 CAL) earned a postseason berth on Jan. 27 with a 3-1 win over St. Mary’s of Lynn. After a 7-10-4 finish last winter, the Clippers are poised to go after their first tournament win since 2010.
The team’s leading scorer, junior forward Jacob Grossi-Hogg (8 goals, 11 assists), believes it was important that the Clippers to turn the page.
“We’re definitely not satisfied with how the season went last year,” Grossi-Hogg said.
“We always like talk about not being that team from last year and definitely going in off of that so that gives the team more momentum. And we want to go far in the playoffs and give our seniors a year to remember.”
Grossi-Hogg has centered Newburyport’s most productive line this season, with junior Patrick Leary (7-4–11) on the left and senior Matthew Marino-Babcock (5-9–14) on the right.
The three have a long camaraderie that dates back to their days playing youth hockey for Newburyport.
The 6-foot Marino-Babcock, one of 11 seniors, makes up for his lack of speed with his ability to protect the puck. Learypossesses a scorer’s touch. Grossi-Hogg sees the ice much like a natural centermen and finds himself in the right spots around the net.
Together, the line has produced 44 points.
“We definitely have a lot of experience playing together,” Marino-Babcock said.
“I think a lot of it has developed as a line. Obviously, high school hockey is a completely different style than youth hockey but I think as we developed as players, we kind of developed this line as well.”
Newburyport plays from the goal out, and senior Ken Hodge III, who has been stellar making all 16 games in net.
“He’s been our backbone all year,” said Newburyport coach Paul Yameen .
“We play some pretty good teams and we’ve been on the road with some pretty good teams. He’s been just consistent night in and night out. I think that’s a huge plus for us.”
Hodge considers it a privilege to take on an important role.
“Honestly that means a lot to me coming from my coach,” Hodge said.
“It shows that he has a lot of faith in me and a lot of confidence in me as both a goalie and a leader on our team. Makes me feel, honestly, really humbled that he would say that about me.”
Hodge has been humbled around the rink, and his own household for a while.
His father, Ken Hodge, Jr. , starred at Boston College and scored 30 goals in the first of his two seasons with the Boston Bruins during the 1990-91 season. His grandfather, Ken Hodge, Sr., was a two-time Stanley Cup champion winger Bruins of the early ‘70s.
“Definitely from my dad, he’s always told me to go out there and try to have fun and try to work every day just to get better, me myself personally, both on the ice and off the ice,” Hodge said of the advice his family has provided him.
“That’s come a lot from my mom, [Karen] too.
“My grandfather, as well. They’ve all helped me be a good person off the ice and even a better player on the ice, too.”
It was Hodge who helped seal Newburyport’s win over Lynnfield with 20 saves in 2-0 shutout. The Clippers can clinch its first CAL title since 2015-16 with a win or a tie in its last two games against St. John’s Prep on Feb. 10 or vs. Amesbury Feb. 14; or a loss by Lynnfield against Masconomet on Saturday.
When asked to describe his team in one word, Yameen quipped, “I can give you a couple words . . . ‘Never say die.’ We’ve battled back a lot this year. We’ve certainly faced the adversity like any team does, but we fought through it. I think we’re going to continue to get better as we go.”
■ Masconomet Regional is mourning the passing of 2017 grad Brandon Lafata , who died on Sunday due to complications from Type 1 diabetes. The Topsfield resident played his sophomore and senior seasons at Masco after a pair of transfers from Governor’s Academy.
“He’s the best player we’ve had, honestly, and one of the best people as well, which makes it even harder losing him,” said Masconomet coach Andrew Jackson .
As a senior, Lafata tallied 19 points on seven goals and 12 assists. As a sophomore, he paced Masco in goals (13), assists (22), and points (35).
But Lafata will be remembered more for the person he was off the ice.
“Everyone in the room knew he was the best player, yet he never acted like it,” said Jackson.
“He was humble, he was kind, he was always smiling it seemed like.
“There was a way he said just ‘Hi.’ He would walk in the rink and [say,] ‘Hey coach,’ every time and he’d have a smile and just be happy to be there.”
On Saturday afternoon (3:55 p.m.), the Chieftains will return to the ice to take on Lynnfield in a Coaches vs. Cancer game at the Valley Forum in Haverhill. In the future, Jackson said he will consider changing the theme to raising awareness for diabetes in honor of Lafata.
■ The state hockey coaches association elected seven new members for induction into its Hall of Fame at its most recent board meeting.
The honorees include head coaches Don Concannon (Everett), George Campbell (Wellesley) and Dick Bradley (Westwood) and former Shawsheen assistant Duane Cleak. Retiring Concord-Carlisle Regional AD Barry Haley is the Stewart recipient, and referees Skip Church and Greg Jackson will be presented as Sullivan Referee Award recipients.
The induction ceremony for the 46th Coaches Hall of Fame Dinner is Sunday, May 6, at the Montvale Plaza in Stoneham.
Players of the Week:
Anthony Bono, St. Mary’s Lynn – Against a BC High team that hadn’t lost since late December, the senior captain delivered the winner for the No. 13 Spartans with 47.4 seconds left.
Nevan Costello, Marshfield – The Rams relied on their senior netminder in a 2-1 shootout win over 10th-ranked Arlington in the Ed Burns Holiday Ice Classic.
Michael Grant, BC High – The senior proved the difference for the No. 2 Eagles, recording a hat trick in a 4-1 victory over fourth-ranked Pope Francis.
Shane Silva, Nauset – The Warriors (9-5-1) clinched a state tournament berth with a 3-2 comeback over Sandwich. Silva netted the winner midway through the third period.
Marshall Terres, Hingham – In a 6-2 statement win over No. 7 Franklin, the senior captain netted a hat trick for the No. 5 Harbormen as they inched closer to yet another Super 8 berth.
Games to Watch:
Saturday, Newburyport at St. John’s Prep, 3:30 p.m. — In a clash between the No. 12 Clippers and the third-ranked Eagles, Prep will retire No. 23 in honor of ‘99 grad Derek Hines, a Army Ranger who was killed in action on Sept. 1, 2005 in Afghanistan.
Saturday, Falmouth at Sandwich, 8 p.m. – The No. 16 Clippers are gunning for the Atlantic Coast League crown; they have chance to clinch the title with a win against the host Blue Knights.
Sunday, Arlington vs. Hingham, 4:30 p.m. – The two perennial powers will once again face off in honor of Catherine Malatesta, a former Arlington High student who died in August, 2015, after an eight-month battle with Epithelioid sarcoma. Her younger brother, Drew, is a sophomore for the No. 10 Spy Ponders, who have won the game the last two years.
Wednesday, Lowell Catholic at Lowell, 5:30 p.m. – The Red Raiders (12-2-2) are a dominant force in Division 3. They’ll be put to the test by the defending Division 2 state champs.
Wednesday, Natick at Wellesley, 7:45 p.m. – These two teams are separated by just a point in the BSC’s Herget Division entering the weekend.
s.Correspondent Dave Souza also contributed to this story. He can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Chris Bokum can be reached at email@example.com.