Division 3 hockey preview

Tough schedule awaits for Marblehead

By Jason Mastrodonato
Globe Correspondent / December 17, 2010

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When Bob Jackson was asked who the best player was on his Marblehead High hockey squad, returning 14 players from last year’s Division 3 North championship squad, he couldn’t name one.

“Our team chemistry is our best player,’’ Jackson said.

It may sound like a cliche, but the Magicians' roster includes a pair of twin brothers, two cousins, and a first line that has played together on the varsity for four consecutive years.

Rather than having each player skate to center ice as his name is announced before games, the entire team comes out together.

“We don’t have just one leader,” said Jackson, who has four different captains listed on the roster. “This is a close knit group. They do a lot as a complete team. The whole team bonds well together.”

After cruising to the state semis last year, outscoring opponents 14-2 in the sectional rounds, the Magicians were stunned by Scituate, 5-2, in the EMass championship. Playing a schedule filled with mostly Division 3 teams, Jackson didn’t think his squad was challenged enough last year.

To make sure that doesn’t happen again, the coach put together a demanding list of opponents for the new season. Marblehead will face off against Brookline (Division 1) early in the schedule, before taking part in the Haverhill Christmas Tournament, which includes Lexington, Wilmington, and North Andover.

“I needed to prepare them,” Jackson said. “We wanted to try to take it up a notch. We thought if we could get some Division 1 or Division 2 teams willing to play us, there would be an opportunity for us to get better. If you have to play up a notch you tend to work a little bit harder to play at that quality and that level.”

As for crafting a schedule that will take the Magicians on a bus tour of Eastern Massachusetts, Jackson said, “We’ll give the kids a geography lesson before the year is over, that’s for sure.’’

But the talented squad might be among the favorites in the D3 North this year, a division that will no longer include perennial-contender Concord-Carlisle, which moved up to Division 2.

Marblehead will rely on 10 seniors, including the experienced top-line of Chris McLeod at center, the speedy leading-scorer Ryan Dempsey at left wing, and Alex Whitmore on the right side.

On the blue line, the 6-foot-1 Jake Kulevich will anchor a defensive unit in front of senior goalie Tony Cuzner, who collected eight shutouts last year. The Magicians allowed 16 shots against per game, and will also count on Whitmore’s twin brother, Hunter, and Kulevich’s cousin, Ben Koopman, a 6-foot-3, 265-pound force who wants to play defensive tackle for the football team at either Brown or Holy Cross.

“We feel that we have a good nucleus but we need to work hard,” Jackson said. “We’re hoping that we’ll work on defense first and score enough goals to be one goal better than our opponent.”

Shawsheen will likely be Marblehead’s primary competition in the D3 North, where juniors Joe Sodergren and Mike DiGiorgio, both Commonwealth League All-Stars from a year ago, will lead the attack.

Head coach Chuck Baker, the assistant coach for the Rams’ Super Bowl-winning football team, is expecting big things out of his two forwards. Sodergren, a grind-it-out type of player with a cannon of a shot, centers the top line, while DiGiorgio provides the speed and scoring touch.

“I think the group of kids we have we have has a lot of potential,” said Baker, who like Jackson, also believes chemistry will take his team a long way. “They’re a good bunch of kids. Two years ago, when we got to the Garden (and lost 3-2 to Shrewsbury in the state championship) it was the same thing. That goes a long way, the chemistry, and if you have talent on top of it, the sky is the limit.”

Zach Teal, a 5-foot-10, 205-pound center for the football team, will captain the defensive unit, while senior Ryan Maskell, who collected a 1.94 goals against average last season, will be in net.

With defending D3 South champion Scituate graduating Globe All-Scholastic goalie Jamie Murray (1.29 GAA and a .945 save percentage), among others, Westwood will look take home the South title this season.

The Wolverines lost just four seniors to graduation and return Tri-Valley All-Star Kevin Gavin on the attacking end with fellow All-Star Chris Treon between the pipes. Treon made 16 stops in the team’s season-opening 4-1 win over Weston and coach Michael Welby believes his goalie is among the best in Division 3.

“We’re hoping he’s going to keep those goals-against down and give us a chance to win every night,’’ Welby said of his four-year varsity goaltender. “He’s grown and gotten bigger and more athletic over the years. So our strength will start in net with him.”

After defeating Ashland twice during the regular season, Westwood fell to the Clockers, 6-5, in a surprisingly offensive battle during the D3 South semifinals.

“We went into the playoffs and wanted to focus on playing defensive-minded, but it was the reversal of that,’’ Welby said. “We just became unraveled and got into a shootout.”

The Clockers made a shocking run in the postseason, squeaking past their opponents by just one goal in three of their four wins. But without reigning TVL MVP Chris Weilandt, who scored 30 goals and added 20 more assists, Ashland has work to do.

“It’s always difficult to replace an MVP,’’ said second-year head coach Mike Roman, who piloted Ashland to a program-best 16-7-2 record last season. “There are always growing pains when you have a new group of kids learning a new system and how everything runs at a new level. We just have to work hard every day and try to improve.’’

Roman will rely upon three senior captains manning the first line. Ryan Kennedy, Tyler Zukowski, and Kyle Murray will try to make Ashland fans forget about the loss of Weilandt.

“It’s tough to tell in December what you’re going to look like in February,’’ Roman said. “I didn’t know what type of team we had last year until mid-to-late January. We peaked at the right time, we got some good bounces that went our way and the kids just played really well. It’s possible [to do again]. We’re certainly going to work for it.’’

Starting 6

A preseason look at the top players in Division 3 boys’ hockey.

G — Nick Comeau, Lynn

D — Jake Kulevich, Marblehead

D — Zach Teal, Shawsheen

F — Kevin Gavin, Westwood

F — Jim McGrath, Medfield

F — Mike DiGiorgio, Shawsheen