If Brendon O'Connell could be cloned 11 times, dressed in hockey pads and separated in lines of three, the Arlington Catholic High boys’ squad would likely be a Super 8 front-runner.
The Cougars would glide on skates and thrive on unselfish energy. The team would look to pass first, but scoring chances would never be missed. It would be a squad full of character and comedy, but you wouldn’t want to stand in its way.
Fortunately for Catholic Conference foes, Arlington Catholic only has one Brendon O’Connell. So coach Dan Shine gets everything he can out of the senior captain, short of stripping him down into tiny particles and sprinkling him on the rest of the team.
Still, the coach uses O’Connell to season the other players, and complement their original essences.
“Everyone wants to be his linemate,” Shine said. “He makes them better players.”
When one of O’Connell’s wings, Steve Kehoe , took a hard hit in Arlington Catholic’s season-opening 5-2 win over Central Catholic, and was forced to the bench with a shoulder injury, Shine was unsure how he would replace one of his captains on the team’s first line, which was supposed to carry much of the scoring load.
O’Connell used to joke about moving senior D.J. George from defense to forward, where George could use his speed and touch a little more freely.
Shine shared the thought and agreed to give George a chance in Kehoe’s spot alongside O’Connell and fellow senior captain Zach Blanch .
In the Cougars’ first game after the holiday break, against an Austin Prep team considered a Super 8 contender this season, O’Connell’s line scored all four goals in a 4-4 tie that could have been a win for Arlington Catholic except for another late-game defensive meltdown, its third in a row. The only other team to score four on Austin Prep this season: Malden Catholic, the two-time defending Super 8 champion.
Against Bishop Fenwick on Saturday, the O’Connell line scored four goals in the first period, finishing with six of the team’s seven goals in a shutout win.
O’Connell assisted on five of them, perhaps none prettier than when he stole a loose puck in the corner and gave an immediate, no-look pass toward the slot, where George picked it up and finished with a dangling move that left the goaltender face-down on the ice.
“That game against Fenwick, that was crazy,” said Blanch, who, like George, hopes to play lacrosse in college. “That was the first time I’ve ever been part of a line like that.”
Through Arlington Catholic’s 3-1-2 start this winter, Blanch has six goals and nine assists, George has eight of each, and O’Connell is pacing the team with 11 assists to go with his five goals.
“Tic-tac-toe: Every time we score a goal, each one of us touches the puck,” George explained. “I think us three together is an all-star line. But individually, Brendon would be the best out of the three. He just stands out more.
“He’s a solid, solid hockey player with great speed, great feet, and unbelievable hands. He’s always looking to beat somebody. We want the puck in his hands.”
At 5-foot-10,155 pounds, O’Connell has always been undersized. It’s why he learned to be such an electric skater when he was young.
He tried everything to add muscle — becoming a regular at the gym, Mike Boyle’s training, protein shakes — but his body was running on high octane, with his food absorption working so efficiently it left his doctor in awe.
“He said I have a freak metabolism,” O’Connell said. “So I’ve always been that little guy that doesn’t take anything from anyone.”
His dad, Jason O’Connell , a Division 1 shortstop in his days playing for the University of Massachusetts Amherst baseball team, didn’t understand everything about hockey, but he knew enough to teach Brendon the most important lesson he ever learned: It doesn’t matter whether you score, as long as your team is doing well.
“This has stuck with me for a while,” the younger O’Connell said. “My dad said good players make everyone else better. That’s my favorite line. I pride myself on that.”
With O’Connell sprinkling his magic at center, winning “just about every face-off,” Blanch said, Arlington Catholic’s first line has scored 19 of the team’s 25 goals.
The second line, composed of sophomores Ryan Smith , Ryan Tierney , and Ryan Spagnoli , is just starting to jell, though there’s much more substance in the potential.
If it does all come together, the Cougars think they can be relevant in the Super 8 conversation again.
The team just needs a little more flavor. Pass the O’Connell, please.
Medfield boys race to a perfect start
What’s more impressive: That the Medfield High boys’ team scored 48 goals in its first seven games this season? Or that the Warriors allowed just three goals over the same span?
“Both,” said head coach Toby Carlow , who has the Warriors off to a 7-0 start, which includes five victory margins of six or more goals.
Junior Matt Dressens has 12 goals and 10 assists while playing with seniors Ben Cox (five goals, 11 assists) and Tyler Etzkorn (eight goals, nine assists). The surprise has been between the pipes, where senior Johnny Monahan , a three-year back-up to Conor Roddy , has stopped 172 of 175 shots.
“You can’t ask for anything better than not losing,” Carlow said.
Arlington turning into contender again
In his second year coaching Arlington High after turning the Winchester program into a perennial contender, John Messuri has the Spy Ponders, who haven’t qualified for the postseason in six years, undefeated through eight games.
At 5-0-3, Arlington sits atop the Middlesex League’s Liberty Division.
“Our goal is to get Arlington back to the tournament,” Messuri said of his alma mater, where he brought former Winchester assistants Paul Krepelka and Dean Sacca with him. “We all know it’s the most storied program in Mass. high school hockey. It’s like Notre Dame not being in the BCS bowls.”