, Newburyport, MA

January 3, 2014

Amesbury's strong December changes local complexion

By Dan Guttenplan
Sports Editor

---- — Paul Yameen and Drew Wile know how this looks.

Yameen, the Newburyport hockey coach, and Wile, the Triton hockey coach, spent the entire offseason fighting to have their programs recognized as Division 1 teams instead of Division 2. There was some opposition from Cape Ann League foes, but the two local coaches eventually won their collective fight, and the Clippers and Vikings are in the midst of playing their first seasons as Division 1 teams.

Through the opening month of the season, the Newburyport and Triton hockey teams have combined to go 1-7-2. By comparison, Cape Ann League rival and Division 2 competitor Amesbury is 3-0-2 with a Palm Division title in the Haverhill Tournament to its record.

“We’ve had tough luck, but the worst thing guys can do is feel sorry for themselves,” Wile said. “I’m sure there are a lot of people with smiles on their faces seeing these two programs with two points each. It’s a matter of staying together as a team. I expect to pull out of this.”

The irony of the slow starts for Newburyport and Triton (0-3-2) is that the struggles have little to do with the teams’ moves from Division 2 to Division 1. Newburyport (1-4-0) has played only two of its five games against Division 1 teams, the same number the team played last season when it participated in the Cape Cod Freeze Out for the first time.

Last year’s team simply performed better en route to a 12-3-5 regular-season record, collecting an overtime victory over Braintree in the opening round of the Cape Cod Freeze Out before falling to Springfield Cathedral in the final. This year’s team was outscored by Barnstable and Braintree by a combined score of 8-0.

“I don’t blame our start on being Division 1,” Yameen said. “I’ve heard the rumblings. The year before we went to the championship (in 2009), we started out very slow. That team ended up losing to Tewksbury in the sectional finals. We’ll stick to the game plan.”

Yameen and Wile have both said the move to Division 1 was spurred by long-term visions for their respective programs. A losing season in Year 1 will not make the move a failure, as the idea is to build the programs into perennial Super Eight contenders.

While neither coach will say it, there is a possibility that the timing of the moves to Division 1 comes in transition years for both programs. Over the last two years, Triton graduated a slew of important role players from the team that won a CAL title in 2012. Newburyport entered this season with a loaded freshman class, but without a goaltender with a single minute of varsity experience.

“I can’t stand the word, ‘rebuild’,” Wile said. “I said coming in, we expect to produce. We have to produce better, and that responsibility falls on the players. We’re in position to win games, we need guys to step up and make plays.”

Both Newburyport and Triton struggled to put points on the board in December. Newburyport has been shutout in each of its last three games. Triton has scored a total of seven goals in its five games. On the bright side, the Vikings have outshot their opponent in four of their five games.

“We’ve been a little inconsistent,” Yameen said. “We’ve had a couple of losses where we played well enough to win, but we’re not scoring. We’re not going to panic now. This stuff happens, and we’ve been down this road before. We’ll work through it.”

Somewhat remarkably, Amesbury has been the class of the local teams, posting a 3-0-2 record just a few years removed from being a perennial bottom-feeder in the CAL. The Indians’ ascent to respectability has been swift and calculated under fourth-year coach Chris Kuchar, who in 2010 took over a program that had logged a cumulative record of 6-67-6 over the previous four seasons.

Amesbury, criticized in the past for playing a Division 3 nonleague schedule, beat two Division 2 teams in Haverhill (2-3-1) and Stoneham (2-4-0) to clinch the Palm Division title in the Haverhill Christmas Tournament. Only one of the Indians’ five games was played against a Division 3 foe -- the 3-3 New Year’s Day tie against Silver Lake Regional.

If the season were to end today, Amesbury would earn a state-tournament berth for the first time since 2006. Newburyport has not missed the state tournament since Yameen’s first season in 2003-04.