Two teams that many expect to meet in the NHIAA Division I boys' basketball championship game will open the season against one another tonight (7), when Manchester Central plays at Trinity of Manchester's McHugh Gymnasium.
Trinity returned several key pieces from a team that defeated Bishop Guertin of Nashua, 50-46, to win last season's Division I title. That group includes senior guards Patrick Keefe, Ryan Otis and Brad Rhoades, and senior forward Carmen Giampetruzzi.
It will also be the first regular-season game for Trinity's Luke Testa, who transferred from Pinkerton Academy in Derry.
Trinity coach Dave Keefe said he expects junior forward Wenyen Gabriel to play. Gabriel suffered a fractured tibia and had the cast removed Nov. 25.
"He'll definitely be out there as much as he can go," Keefe said. "He's been running the last three or four days. As a coach you don't want to jeopardize anything three or four months down the road, but we'll try to get him in there as much as we can."
In addition to last season's championship, Trinity also won the Division I title in 2009. The Pioneers finished as the Division I runner-up in 2007, 2008 and 2011.
"I have a senior-laden team and they know what it takes to get there (the championship game)," Keefe said. "We know that target is there. It feels like that target has been on our back for the last three or four years. It's almost become a way of life for us."
Trinity will be facing a Central team that Keefe called the deepest and most talented in the state. Central returns four starters from a team that finished 16-4 last season after being upset by BG in the quarterfinals.
"We didn't finish the way we wanted to last year," Central coach Doc Wheeler said. "We expect to have a better team (this season)."
Central's Dawson Dickson is entering his third season as the team's starting point guard. Senior Jon Martin, a 6-foot-4 forward, and junior guard Brett Hanson will be counted on to do much of Central's scoring.
Martin and his younger brother Joe played in Florida last season.
The Central program is seeking its first state championship since 2006, and its first trip to the championship game since 2012.
"It'll be a good matchup," Wheeler said. "I think we'll both learn a lot."