The Nantucket boys varsity hockey team made it all the way to the MIAA Div. 4 State Semifinal last year before losing to the Sandwich Blue Knights 3-0 and will be returning nearly all of their players this season with just two seniors from last year’s team to replace (senior captain Jack Billings and senior winger Curren Hatch).
As a result, expectations are quite high for this experienced Nantucket squad that is bigger, faster, and stronger after an offseason of work and preparation.
“I love the high expectations, but I want them to focus one game at a time,” head coach Jack Moran said. “I don't want them to get ahead of themselves thinking 'Oh this is going to be a breeze' because it's not. Our first five games are against some really strong competition. That's kind of going to set the mood for the season. We started off slow last season, got our momentum going, and it worked to our advantage. I want them to realize, you know, this isn't going to be a cake walk. We got there (to the state semifinal) last year because of hard work and dedication. You have to keep that going and they know that.”
Moran isn’t exaggerating his team’s difficult schedule to start the year. Nantucket begins their season on Sunday, December 10 with a 2 p.m. matchup against Norwell – the defending Div. 4 state champions who beat the Blue Knights 4-3 in overtime at the TD Garden to earn their state championship.
The next four games after that are home against Nauset (one of the state title favorites in Div. 3) on Dec. 13, at Martha’s Vineyard on Dec. 16, and then they play a pair of Div. 1 programs when they travel to Barnstable for a game on Dec. 20 and then host Framingham on Dec. 30 at 2 p.m.
But Moran said they are embracing the strong schedule and that while his message is one game at a time, he isn’t worried about where his team’s heads are at. He said the energy levels during dryland training have been exceptional, practices on the ice have been intense, and every player has been completely engaged. He said that not only has his team ignored the expectations and maintained their strong work ethic but was adamant that they’ve actually worked even harder and become more focused.
“I was getting texts in the middle of the summer from the players giving me a countdown of when the first day of practice is saying 'Only 85 days left coach,'” Moran said. “They're ready. They want it. They got a taste of it last year and they're so freaking hungry for it this year.”
The Whalers will be led by senior captain Griffin Starr in net. Senior center Ryan Davis, who led the Whalers in scoring last season and senior defenseman Michael Culkins are the team’s assistant captains.
Sophomores Canton and Jeremy Jenkinson will be entering their second seasons as full-time varsity players after finishing their freshman years scoring at a point per game pace. Senior center Colby O’Keefe will center the twins.
Davis will have senior winger Braden Knapp on his left and either freshman winger Nico Tedeschi or sophomore winger Ben Freeman to his right. Other players such as sophomore Gordon Raimo and freshman Paxton Fitch will round out the third line. Moran said there are several others who could rise up the ranks as well as the season progresses.
On defense it will be Culkins leading the way and playing a large bulk of the minutes with senior Hunter Strojny and sophomore Soren Edwardes operating as the Whalers second and third defenseman.
“Culkins, I mean, that kid is an animal. Just wait until you see him,” Moran said. “He will take the puck all the way down, he is great on his feet, changing directions – it is a gift. Then we have Hunter and Soren, and Soren has looked really good carrying to puck out of the zone.”
Sophomore Andrew Lavin, who saw some playing time last year as a freshman at both wing and defense, has impressed coaches so far in practice and Moran is optimistic about him as their fourth defenseman.
“Andrew has come a long way and he is a strong kid,” Moran said. “He’s getting better with his hands and being more heads up playing. He is doing really well. The defense looks really good. We will try to get a fifth (defenseman), but we will see. I think we will be pretty comfortable increasing Andrew’s playing time.”
As for Starr, Moran said he and the rest of his staff never have to worry about him, where his head is at, or his play.
“To him it’s second nature. He doesn’t even have to think about what he’s doing,” Moran said. “Michael Jordan said you get perfection in practice because when you are perfect in practice, you come out here for the games and it is just second nature and you do it automatically. That is how Griffin is and how he has always been.”
Moran was also very complimentary of his staff, which includes Bryan Larivee, his son Jack Moran Jr., Ray Patrick, and Mike Howard.
Anyone who is planning to attend Nantucket’s season opener against the reigning state champion Norwell Clippers on Sunday, December 10 at 2 p.m. is being encouraged to arrive to the rink by 1:50 p.m.