By Jeff Hamrick
---- — 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.”
HPNA took control in a three-minute span of the second on a pair of goals from freshman Jessica Chicko, who had five shots on Central goalie Sydney Thornhill in the second period alone.
“She’s a center by trade,” Kane said of Chicko, who entered last night with one goal. “When she showed up this year, we put her on the left wing and she’s been dynamic. She’s was electrifying the way she came through the neutral zone.”
While the offense was supplying the lead, freshman goalie Leah Rosenbaum was shining in the first start of her career. Although she faced only 18 shots in the match, seven of them came during a 4-minute stretch of the second, enabling her mates to build on the lead.
Freshman Kim Carroll wrapped up the scoring with 8:09 left in the third, converting a nice crossing pass from Harty. The squad is so young that eighth-graders and freshmen accounted for six of the eight points tallied last night. But the strong play goes beyond just scoring.
“In fact, we have three kids who never, ever put on hockey gear before, and all three of them played tonight,” Kane said of junior Alyson Ruzycky, sophomore Lauren Hiller and freshman Chrissie Hogan. “To make the transition from youth coach to high school coach was a fun thing for me, but a lot of kids knew each other and were ready to play. Then you had the kids who haven’t played before and they’re strong and dynamic. So it’s been exciting and a ton of fun.”
Of the 22 players on the HPNA roster, 17 hail from North Andover while Haverhill and Pentucket feature three and two members, respectively.
“The goal would be to someday have three girls teams from all three different schools,” Kane said. “This is the largest group that North Andover has ever had. But we’ll see. We have a lot of youth in our youth hockey program and there are girls from all three schools active in that and other youth programs.”