NEWBURYPORT — The Newburyport varsity hockey team (12-7-2) faces off against No. 8 seed Winchester (11-5-5) tonight in the first round of the Division I North tournament, which will be held at the Stoneham Arena starting at 5 p.m.
“They’re obviously a good team from a good league,” said Newburyport coach Paul Yameen. “We’re going to have to play well, and I think we’re going to.”
This will be Newburyport’s 10th consecutive postseason appearance, and also the program’s first in the Division I tournament. For a while it looked as if that streak would be broken, particularly after the Clippers opened the season 1-4, including three straight shutouts and a 6-0 shellacking at the hands of Barnstable.
The Clippers rebounded, however, and went on to win five of their next six games. Newburyport has been bolstered all season long by a number of solid contributors up and down the roster and now come into the tournament riding a four-game unbeaten streak.
“I’m proud of this team. I think that we’ve battled all year and I think that’s a sign of a good team, and I think a lot of that has to do with our senior leadership,” Yameen said. “They deserve some credit.”
Leading the charge for Newburyport is senior captain Travis Wile, who leads the team with 10 goals and 15 assists. Right with him is junior forward Ben Ventura with 9 goals and 16 assists, freshman standout Ben Mirageas with 7 goals and 11 assists, junior defenseman Matt Kelleher with 5 goals and 11 assists and sophomore forward Scott Webster with 6 goals and 9 assists.
The Clippers also have a good situation in net, with two underclassmen posting nearly identical goals against average. In just over 13 games this year, freshman Robert Federico has posted a goals against average of 2.21, and in nearly 8 games, sophomore Noah Kolesha has posted a GAA of 2.24.
Yameen wouldn’t say which goalie would get the start tonight, but said the key to victory would be limiting turnovers and playing tight defense in order to contain what he said is a very talented top Winchester line.
“Their top line is very skilled,” Yameen said. “We’re going to have to do our best to shut them down, play good team defense and take care of the puck. You have to limit turnovers, you can’t be turning the puck over, and I think if we do that, we’ll be good.”
Should Newburyport win, the Clippers would advance to the quarterfinals, where they would face the winner of tonight’s matchup between No. 1 St. Mary’s (14-4-2) and No. 16 Waltham (8-8-5) on Saturday at a location to be determined.
“We’re excited,” Yameen said. “I think this will be the first time a Cape Ann League team has played in the Division I tournament, so we’re looking forward to it.”