Hockey is Back!
By Ellen Oliver
On January 6, the NHL announced a tentative deal to end the hockey lockout. But the big news on the ice is that the Nashoba Chieftains are 7-1-1. “I’m very happy,” said Coach Steve Kendall. “We didn’t expect to be this good. We expected to be good, but this is great.”
The success isn’t a simple win/loss numbers game. The Chieftains have had five shut outs and only lost their first game on Saturday night against Lunenburg/Ayer. On Saturday Nashoba held a 1-0 lead until Lunenburg got a spurt of energy and scored twice in the third period. The clock ran out before Nashoba could muster a counter. “Once you get a loss it’s a wake-up call,” added senior captain Mark Laskey. “People want to win even more.”
Last year, Nashoba didn’t record a win until their fifth game, but roared back to progress all the way to the 3A semi-finals. This year, things are different. “I told the kids at 6-0-1 we have a target on our back,” said Kendall, prior to the Lunenburg loss. The coach has been trying to turn the great start into a learning opportunity. “I tell them that we’re going to feel the pressure, but it’s through adversity that you learn,” he said. “This is just a different kind of adversity.”
Kendall said the core strength of his team is good goal tending combined with
good defense. Nashoba goalie, junior Devyn Levesque, is ranked fifth in the state according to stats on MassHSHockey.com. “Devyn is doing great,” said Kendall. “A lot of people are surprised and said they didn’t know he was so good, but we knew what we had. We’re not giving up many goals.”
The focus on defense as good offense is part of Kendall’s game plan coming to fruition. “We preached [strong defense] for a number of years and the veteran players have bought in,” said the coach. “We have excellent forwards, but with a focus on defense first, it cuts into the shots you have to take, so we can take quality shots.”
Guarding the net with Levesque are two of the team’s captains, Laskey and Drew Foster. “Mark and Drew are the backbone of the defense,” said Kendall. Kendall said Laskey and Foster are quiet leaders, but when they talk, the team responds.
The security of veterans in the home end, plus the addition of strong sophomores and juniors to the defense allowed Kendall to make some changes. “We moved Chris Lamplough up front where we really needed him,” said Kendall. “Chris is doing a good job wherever I put him.”
Lamplough, a senior, is one of five seniors making up Nashoba’s front two lines. Led by seniors Mike Charbonneau and third captain Mike Lengieza, the coach says his two top lines are so talented he alternates them. “I can’t really even call one first or second, they’re interchangeable,” he said. “The kids tease each other about who is really the first or second line. I tell them whoever is first line today, is first line. It will change tomorrow.”
Kendall expanded his praise to his third line, saying they are doing their job very well. “We tell them don’t give up a goal, give the team some energy and give the other guys a rest.” Kendall said the third line has also shown a talent for drawing penalties. “They get in there and frustrate the other teams,” he said.
Nashoba’s defense is secure with talent and with the offense gaining momentum, Kendall likes what he sees. “We’re in position to make the shots and we’re getting better opportunities.” From his position on defense, Laskey has faith in his teammates with scoring responsibilities. “We get a lot of scoring opportunities, we have good offensive power. The goals will come over time,” he said.
If there’s a silver lining to Saturday’s loss, at least it was at the hands of family. The Lunenburg/Ayer coach Eric Short is brother to Nashoba assistant coach Trevor Short and the coaches and players know each other well from clinics and camps, so the game is a highlight on the schedule. “Unlike a lot of sports, hockey is a small fraternity. We all help out other players and each other because our goal is to promote the sport,” said Kendall. “On the ice, there aren’t any friends, but afterward, we go out.”
Great defense plus emerging offense and strong leadership from veterans, put the Chieftains in a great position. “We’re thrilled with the great start. The kids are working hard,” said Kendall. “We always tell them it doesn’t matter how you start, its how you finish. In the past, we’ve wanted to forget our starts,” he laughed. “This year we want to be playing our best hockey at the end of the year.”