NHIAA preview: Boys' ice hockey races appear to be wide open
It's high school hockey season again.
In the boys' Division I ranks, defending champion Manchester Memorial won't call it a rebuilding year despite the loss of 11 players. In Division II, Bedford will try for its third straight title. The Division III ranks saw John Stark/Hopkinton end Kennett of Conway's championship dominance.
Memorial defeated in-city rival Manchester Central in last year's championship. But the Crusaders lost 11 players (nine to graduation, one to prep school and one to junior hockey).
"We are going into this with a target on our back as any state champion does," Putney said. "We have significant new players and we've been working on our systems for a few weeks. Once the new players start learning our systems, I know we'll be competitive."
"I think we should be very influenced by that experience. They got a taste of what it's like to get there," said Central coach Brian Stone. "They know what it takes to work hard every day."
"I think we should be in the middle of things," Stone said. "The big question for us is who is going to put the puck in the net."
That's most of the teams in the division, with the rest of the pack expected to be tough to play against on a nightly basis.
Tufts' Exeter squad lost 12 players to a combination of graduation, junior and prep hockey.
"I'm very pleased with our preseason and attitude and competition. We have a good group," Tufts said. "We're optimistic. We've been out of the playoffs a few years and we want to get back."
"I think like last year there will be a lot of parity," Putney said. "There were a lot of programs that won a lot of close games thoughout the year last season."
The largest division in the state with 16 teams, Division II might be the most wide-open as well.
Bedford won its second state title in as many years with a 5-2 win over Merrimack. The Bulldogs should be right back in the mix for a third title.
The backbone for Bedford will be goaltender Stevan Tempesta, who already has two state titles under his belt as he enters his senior campaign.
"I think we have a fairly good mix of older and younger kids. We have strong leadership. I have high expectations," Walsh said. "A lot of teams are young right now and we've got older guys and I hope to use that maturity. Our goal is to get to the Verizon and win it."
John Stark/Hopkinton is considered a strong team once again as the combined team shoots for a second state title.
They did lose Senior tri-captain Simon Hunter, who scored the game-winning goal in overtime, but most of the roster returns.
"They took it to us in the finals and they return a solid team," said coach Mike Poulin, whose Berlin squad lost to JS/H in the finals, 3-2. "We expect Belmont/Gilford to be good. Laconia/Winnisquam could step up and Portsmouth has some good young players. And Kennett, they're so well-coached."
"I think Souhegan will be a force to be reckoned with," he said.
As for Berlin, the Mountaineers lost three key players on defense, but up front will be loaded with the return of top scorers Connor Jewett (senior, last year's Division III Player of the Year) and sophomore Justin Vien. Goalie Brenden Williams is only a sophomore but went 10-0 last year in split duty.
In the ranks of girls' hockey, there has been Hanover and then everyone else over the past four years and indeed for most of the life of the sport at the varsity level.
Hanover has won four consecutive state titles and five of the six awarded. St. Thomas has the only blemish on the Marauders record, having won in 2009.
Hanover lost very little from last year's championship team. Top players such as Sarah Wagner, Matti Hartman and Eliza Laycock are all back.