Just minutes into the third period Saturday afternoon, Central Catholic senior captain Nick Gorski collected a pass from Cam Smith in the defensive zone, skated through or around every Billerica defender on the ice, soared over the blue line on the right wing, and sniped a shot into the back of the net.
The play was executed with the determination and desperation typically on display at the end of a game that hangs in the balance.
The 6-foot-1 Gorski stood on his skates after the goal, offering only the slightest fist pump before skating toward the Central bench, where his linemates offered congratulations.
His late tally finished off Central’s 6-0 Merrimack Valley/Dual County Division 1 win, ultimately serving as a microcosm for the Raiders’ season.
“You want to act like you’ve been there before, so you can get back there again,” said cocaptain Mike Kelleher of Tewksbury.
At Central Catholic, students are encouraged to commit to excellence and do ordinary things in an extraordinary manner. The Raiders take those values to heart every time they step onto the ice.
“There’s a lot of character in the locker room and a lot of camaraderie in the locker room that you really see on the better teams, and that’s a big piece of what makes us successful,” says 12th-year coach Mike Jankowski .
Off to a 10-2-3 start, including 8-0-2 in conference play, the Raiders can score (63 goals) and also defend (27 goals allowed).
It starts with goaltender Colin Soucy , a 6-foot junior from North Andover who was tremendous in the shutout over Billerica, as well as last Wednesday in a 1-1 tie with rival Austin Prep.
“He’s where we start. . . . I can’t say enough good things,” Jankowski said.
“The report card is where any parent would want it to be. He’s a friend every kid would want to have, and as a player he’s what every coach would want to have. He’s fantastic.”
As good as Soucy has been in net, his teammates have been just as solid playing in their own zone.
Take a five-minute chunk out of any Central game, and undoubtedly there will be bodies hitting the ice, not just because of the Raiders’ physical play, but because they are diving in front of shots to help Soucy.
“Everyone’s accountable for what they do,” said Jankowski. “They buy in and really try to execute.”
Central is skilled and can play with finesse, but the Raiders are by no means soft pushovers.
On Saturday, Billerica was starting to get into a rhythm offensively before junior Lloyd Hayes , a 5-11 first-line winger from West Newbury, who Gorski says “is used to sniping from the top of the circle,” came onto the ice and bodies actually started to fly.
He is unafraid to get physical on the boards, and while big hits often go overlooked, they often set the tone.
As disciplined and talented as they are in most facets of their game, the Raiders know that playing with confidence, coupled with a humble persona, will not only keep them in check, it could carry them a long way.
Hayes exemplifies that attitude in his preparation.
He and his teammates were completely focused on their matchup against Malden Catholic on Wednesday night, though the Lancers were sporting a so-so 5-6-3 record.
“They’re still stacked, and as far as we’re concerned they’re still number one, so we’re treating them that way,” Hayes said of the two-time defending Super 8 champions.
After graduating 10 seniors off last year’s 16-4-5 squad that reached the Super 8 semifinal before losing to Malden Catholic, 4-0, Central is slowly building some well-deserved confidence.
“We’re not looking too far ahead of us — just focusing on one shift at a time, one period at a time, one game at a time,” said Jankowski.
But, said Kelleher, “I think we can beat any team in the state right now, and there’s a consensus in that locker room. But you’ve got to be very prepared and you’ve got to come to play every game.”
Quite fitting for the Raiders, who are employing ordinary attitudes and getting extraordinary results.
Young team surprises in its first season
In the team’s first season, the Tewksbury/Methuen girls’ squad is 4-6-3 overall.
Through 13 games, sophomore winger Amanda Conway has 34 points, including 31 goals, accounting for 72 percent of the team’s goal output.
“It’s a unique dynamic,” said coach Kim Bruff . “The girls have done a fantastic job adjusting to it.”
One of the challenges the team faces is its youth. At times, the team has 17-year-olds on the ice with 12-year-olds. Bruff has relied on some of the elders to make it all click.
As impressive as Conway has been, the team’s second-leading scorer, Kelly Golini (13 points, 6 goals), is just a seventh-grader on a squad that features four seventh-graders and three eighth-graders.
The team’s oldest player is goalie Taylor Lirakis , one of three juniors. Lirakis, despite an inexperienced defense in front of her, has a .910 save percentage.
Last season, she played on the Tewksbury varsity boys’ squad, and this past summer she placed third in the regional section of the International Goaltending Competition, held at the Breakaway Ice Center in Tewksbury.
“Part of the reason for our success is because we have her,” said Bruff.
Ultimately, the team is very excited for the future.
It’s exciting “just knowing this year that we have had such a successful season and we’re not losing anyone next year,” added the coach. “This is a building year, but we’re excited for the future and things to come.”