By Ellen Oliver
After graduating eight seniors, including three defensive players and the top two scorers, the Chieftains boys’ ice hockey team is green in more than just their uniform color.
“We’re a fairly inexperienced team and had a tough schedule to start, but we’re playing really well,” said Coach Steve Kendall. “A lot of guys who played a little last year really stepped up this year.”
Now with a 4-2-2 record, the Chieftains began their season with double dose losses to Coughlin Conference leader Lunenburg (1-0, 2-0) and a 4-4 tie with traditionally tough Leominster. In between, the young Chieftains chalked up wins over Gardner (4-1), Tyngsborough (6-1) and Worcester (2-1) and tied 3-3 with Ludlow.
As Coach Kendall tells his team, each match-up, win or lose, makes them stronger. “Those games against Lunenburg and Leominster, strong D3 teams, make us a better team,” said Kendall.
“Playing Leominster, we came into the game knowing it was going to be tough and we’d be lucky to get a point,” admitted senior and co-captain Steve Lengieza. “After the first period we were down 2-0, went into the locker room and talked about what we had to do. We came out and scored two goals right away in the second period. It showed we can stick with the best, showed we can score. It was a big confidence booster. There’s no one who should beat us.”
Part of the pre-season is assessing and reallocating resources and for the Chieftains that meant shifting two seniors to defense, co-captain Nick Tavis and Alex Tepper.
“Nick is on defense now after playing offense all his life. He very unselfishly moved to defense to help put the team,” explained Kendall. “Alex is getting more ice, he’s also new to defense, not an easy position to learn. He’s working hard. It’s really helped us out.”
Tavis skates defense along with Lengieza also a co-captain and senior. Lengieza acknowledged that having Tavis joining him on defense comes with a price. “Nick and Alex are well suited to defense, but it means Nick isn’t on offense. Nick wouldn’t get the pretty goals. He got the difficult goals that separated us from other teams,” said Lengieza.
Also seeing time on defense was a gift for Kendall in his 14th season as coach, the skills of freshman Bobby Denaro, who patrols the back of the rink alongside Brad Colvin. “Bobby was a surprise, a big guy, a very consistent player,” s
The defensive pairs of Lengieza and Tavis and Colvin and Denaro are working well, according to Lengieza. “We all know what we are doing. We see the plays very well. To be a good defenseman you have to see the plays develop,” he said.
One place where the team didn’t have to make adjustments was in the net. Senior Devyn Levesque is back in goal after a stellar season last year. “We’re strong in goal tending,” said Kendall. Devyn is back and Luke [Gilchrest] and Charlie [Lamplough] as backups are really strong.”
The Chieftains, which include two players from Clinton thanks to a co-op agreement, skates three lines regularly with a fourth line also seeing ice time. The first line of Matt LeBlanc, captain Kevin Gilchrest, Hunter Boudreau is spelled by second line Mike Magliozzi, Jack Charbonneau and Brandon Hennessey.
“They work really well together,” said Kendall of his second line. “Mike is a confident player, he knows how to set up a goal and Brandon had two big goals against Leominster. They work hard and create opportunities.”
Kendall’s third and fourth lines combine experienced players with those still adjusting to the faster-pace varsity game. The third line is Justin Livoli, Devyn Barrett and Cody Marino, while the fourth joins brothers PJ and Dean Anastas with Trevor Sicard.
Lengieza also sees a difference in the physical game for the Chieftains. “Our team is pretty small. When there were rebounds, we just weren’t there because we’d be pushed off the puck,” he explained. “Those are the goals we need. We’re starting to get those goals as guys have realized what we need to do.”
“The goal is always to be better at the end of the season,” said Kendall, who led his team to a Co-Coughlin League Championship last year. “We’ve played well in every game and the post season is looking realistic. We don’t have a lot of kids with varsity experience, but they are doing a nice job.”