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January 8, 2014

First-year hockey program off to strong start

HAVERHILL — The name of the first-year program might be so bulky it’s forced to use an acronym, and a quick look at the girls on the roster leaves one wondering who’s old enough to do the driving, but the Haverhill/Pentucket/North Andover hockey squad has proven more than capable on the ice.

Despite having more eighth-graders (five) on the roster than seniors (zero) and juniors (three) combined, HPNA hit the .500 mark in Merrimack Valley/Dual County League play with a 5-1 victory last night at the Veterans Memorial Rink over Central Catholic, which itself is in its second year of play.

Starting four freshmen and one eighth-grader would force most coaches to think long term — as in three- and five-year kind of plans — but HPNA’s Gary Kane incredibly is much more optimistic.

“Our goals from the start were to be competitive in every game and to make the state tournament,” said Kane, who has coached about half of this year’s squad in the local under-12 program the past five years. “That’s an ambitious goal. As we’ve seen the level of competition in this league, we know it’s a daunting task.”

Last night after spotting Central (2-4 overall, 1-3 league) an early lead on an Emily Frocione goal, HPNA (2-3-1, 2-2-1) jump-started its offense with a couple strong power plays that resulted in goals by junior Maggie Belanger and eighth-grader Rebecca Harty. Belanger, a junior transfer from Lawrence Academy, is the only player with previous high school experience.

“I told the kids we’re a third of the way through the season, and we haven’t had time to work on a power play,” said Kane, who guided the under-12s to the state title in 2012. “We’ve been focusing on the breakouts ... as we can start homing in on the intricate parts of the game, I think the kids are just going to improve. We’re going to see more dynamic passing and more shots on net.”

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