Sabers begin quest to return to the Verizon
Jake Latham remembers the feeling. There’s nothing like tournament time for high school hockey players.
“I’m excited,” the Nashua High School North standout senior forward said. “We went there my freshman year against Londonderry, and obviously it didn’t go so well. It’s great to get back there my senior year; hopefully we can do better this time.”
The Titans started the year ablaze at 5-0 and ended up the eighth seed in Division I at 8-8-1.
“We were fresher then,” North coach Dan Legro said, alluding to a start that begin with the 7-4 opening night win over Londonderry, which finished the third seed at 14-4. “Hopefully our last win over South (7-2) has shown that we have picked it up. … The way I see it, it all depends on who wants to come to play and how good a game your goalie has.”
The Titans, with a small roster, were tired down the home stretch, but Legro feels his netminder Jake Genest is equal to the task and is hoping players like Dan LeBlanc and Joe Paige can boost second line production. North will face No. 9 Manchester Memorial at Conway Arena at 8:10 p.m. on Wednesday in the preliminary round. The Crusaders own last minute and overtime wins over the Titans but sputtered (0-4-1) down the stretch to finish 7-8-3.
The only other prelim game involving an area team on Wednesday is in Division II as No. 7 Merrimack (10-8) takes on No. 10 Kingswood (7-11) at 6 at Manchester’s West Side Arena. Merrimack beat Kingswood 8-1 a couple of weeks ago.
Two other boys teams will wait until Saturday’s quarterfinals to play. In Division I, No. 6 Bishop Guertin (8-8-2) will travel to face Londonderry at 9:20 p.m. at the Salem IceCenter, while in Division III second seed Souhegan (15-2) will host No. 7 Laconia-Winnisquam (7-11) at 5 at Conway Arena.
In the girls division, Bishop Guertin finished fifth at 11-7 and visits No. 4 Oyster River (11-6-1) at UNH’s Whittemore Center on Friday in the quarterfinals at 7 p.m.
The Sabers certainly would have been sitting pretty had they beaten Belmont-Gilford this past Saturday. Can they win the rematch?
First they have to beat Laconia again, a team that they felt they started slowly against despite an 8-3 win.
“You’ll see this team stay on task, stay on focus,” Sabers coach Dan Belliveau said. “Hopefully we’ll reach our goal.
“We’re just a little bit deeper. Our fourth line can compete with some of the other teams’ second lines.”
It’s going to be one of the three: Berlin (16-2), Souhegan, or Belmont-Gilford, the latter led by 20-goal scorer Caleb Drouin. Berlin’s Connor Jewett had another outstanding year with 51 goals (77 points), but is there enough around him? Word is he understandably is desperate to bring home a title to the small town after the Mountaineers were upset by John Stark-Hopkinton in last year’s final.
But no one has a top line that can rival the Sabers’ trio of Mike Hayden, Matt Wilson and Joe Nutting.
“It’s the team to beat,” Kennett coach Mike Lane said. “Berlin, you can pretty much concentrate on shutting one guy down, and if you can do that, you can be successful. Souhegan’s got one whole line of Connor Jewetts. And they have a real solid defensive unit, too (players like seniors Vincent Silvestri and Alex Mendola). A lot of people around the league thought it would be a weakness for them and it hasn’t been.”