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Mystic Valley charter gets behind first varsity hockey squad on the ice

Posted by Marcia Dick  December 31, 2009 11:09 AM

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Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

Nick Krasco, a junior caption from Melrose, moves the puck up the ice.

The boy’s hockey team at Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Malden is unlike other school hockey teams. It has no banners hanging high, speckled with names of former greats. There are no forefathers of forechecking, no one who has laid out a foundation, no tradition-laden trophy cases.

Instead, these Eagles are the ones opening the inaugural chapter of Mystic Valley’s varsity program.

Mystic Valley has the smallest number of male students in grades 9-12 in Eastern Mass, according to Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association data. Despite the slim talent pool, coach Bill Keefe and athletic director Pete Connolly have ignited the transition from a junior varsity squad to an MIAA-sanctioned varsity team.

‘‘It’s been tough, because these parents aren’t sending their kids to Mystic Valley for sports,’’ said Keefe, explaining the challenges of being the first charter school in the area to have a varsity hockey program. ‘‘There are few athletes here, if any, that will be going on further [to play in college.]’’

Sixteen of the 19 players on the roster are in grades 9-12, which is more than 15 percent of the 104 boys enrolled in the high school, according to the MIAA. The other three are eighth-graders, and a couple team members are playing organized hockey for the first time.

The players have responded with enthusiasm, effort, and pride. Despite not putting as much raw talent on the ice as the opposition — ‘‘There are no Sidney Crosbys on this team,’’ said Keefe — the Eagles have been competitive in the games they should be, even managing to record a win and a tie to open with a 1-3-1 record as of Tuesday.)

‘‘It’s tough having a young team,’’ said tricaptain Kirk Toomajian of Malden, one of the team’s three seniors. ‘‘We play a simple game, simple hockey. We try to get everything done.’’

For Keefe, this is simply the next step in a process he has nurtured. In his seventh year at Mystic Valley, the former Division 2 state champion with Arlington Catholic has spent four years coaching the school’s middle school team, followed with two years with the junior varsity. He has experienced the highs (the JV’s 12-4-5 record last season) and the lows (the middle school team’s first game, a 17-0 obliteration by Lynnfield), and does not expect overnight miracles.

In between the season-opening 6-1 loss to Newton South and a 4-4 tie against East Boston, Mystic Valley lost to last year’s Division 3 state finalist Shawsheen, 9-0. But it was that blowout that shined brighter than either of the other games.

‘‘I was happier with the [Shawsheen] game,’’ said Keefe. ‘‘There can be games where you win and didn’t play well, and there can be games that you lose and gave a great effort. If you do your best, it’s always a success.’’

The Eagles’ first real taste of varsity success came in their fourth game this season, a 6-3 victory over Minuteman in which junior tricaptain Evan Dolber of Malden scored five goals and assisted on the other. Mystic Valley lost its next game against a very strong Northeast team, but the players believe they are on the right track.

‘‘We don’t want to be a team on other teams’ schedules that they look at as an easy win,’’ said senior goaltender Tony Genualdo, who comes from Peabody.

In the midst of his second year as athletic director, Connolly said he sees a bigger picture — one that extends beyond the ice and into other newly established programs such as a varsity lacrosse team, a competitive cheerleading program, and a freshman football squad.

‘‘A couple years ago, about 60 percent of the kids were involved in sports,’’ he said. ‘‘This past year we have around 77 percent. We have taken our lumps, but now Mystic Valley is on the map.’’

Dolber, the Mystic Valley hockey team’s longest-tenured member, also has his eyes open toward the future and the importance of this season.

‘‘After playing together for seven years, it’s pretty cool that we are finally here,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s kind of cool to think we started it, but we still want to have the best year possible. We want to make history, because Mystic Valley hockey doesn’t end when we leave.’’


Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

Assistant coach Phil Genualdo talks to the team in the locker room between periods.

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