By Dan Guttenplan
---- — Newburyport hockey coach Paul Yameen has made so secret of his desire to play the toughest schedule of all the public schools on the North Shore, and his team’s holiday plans fulfill that desire.
The Clippers will return to the Cape Cod Freeze Out, which includes three other Division 1 teams, for the second year in a row Dec. 27 and 28. Last year, Newburyport delivered one of the highlights of its season over the holiday vacation by posting an overtime victory over Barnstable in the opening round. The Clippers then fell to perennial Super Eight contender Springfield Cathedral 4-1 in the championship game.
Newburyport’s victory over Braintree was arguably the team’s high point of the season. Braintree finished 19-5-1 on the season and earned the No. 3 seed in the Division 1 South bracket. Newburyport (12-4-5) had a mostly positive regular season before falling in the first round of the Division 2 North tournament.
“I think you look at game like these, and games against teams like Beverly and Canton, to measure if you’ve had a successful season,” Yameen said. “Those are the games you look back on. If you compete and play well, those are the best teams in the state. The state tournament is a one-game playoff, and we’ve been on both sides of the fence numerous times.”
Newburyport and Cape Ann League rival Triton both made moves from Division 2 to Division 1 this season. Yameen realizes if his team wants to advance in the state tournament this season, the Cape Cod Freeze Out is the type of environment in which it will need to thrive. If anything, Yameen will likely learn something about his team by the end of the trip to the Cape. Two of top Yameen’s four defensemen and his starting goaltender are all freshmen.
“Any time you can play a game team -- I don’t care what part of the season it is -- it’s better for your team,” Yameen said. “That’s the way I look at it. Win or lose, we expect to go down there and compete.”
Triton will also look for early-season teaching moments when it plays in the Gloucester Holiday Tournament Dec. 27 and 28. The Vikings will meet Beverly in the opening round and face either Marblehead or Gloucester in the second game, depending on which teams make the championship and consolation games.
Beverly is coming off a dominant 2012-13 season in which it finished the regular season 18-1-1. The Panthers were in the conversation for Super Eight consideration into early February. The Panthers’ season ended with a thud in the quarterfinal round of the state tournament with a loss to Danvers.
Marblehead has moved up from Division 3 to Division 2 this season. Last year, Marblehead posted a record of 18-6, falling to Swampscott in the Division 3 North semifinal.
“Marblehead has a really good coach, Bobby Jackson, who was also a really good player in his day,” Triton coach Drew Wile said. “Gloucester is traditionally a great program, but like anything else, it’s cyclical.
“The fact that we’re playing Beverly first is the reason we went back to the tournament. The only lost three kids from a team that, if they ran the table last year, would have gotten Super Eight consideration. (Beverly coach) Bobby Gilligan has been one of the top coaches around for two decades now.”
The Vikings will gain the first tournament experience in what will prove to be a familar theme this season. They will also play a tournament in Arlington in January as well as the Newburyport Bank Tournament in February. Although Triton stumbled a bit in its opener against Amesbury -- a 2-2 tie -- on Saturday, Wile believes stiffer competition will bring out the best in his players.
“We try to get as much of a tournament atmosphere as we can,” Wile said. “Maybe there’s a game down the line we shouldn’t win, but we’re used to that environment so we’ll pull it out.”
Amesbury will play in the Haverhill Christmas Tournament over the holiday break.