The early 2000s were good days for the Pentucket hockey program, immediately following its co-op with Georgetown.
The Sachems won the Cape Ann League in 2003, going undefeated along the way. But time has not been as kind to the Sachems after their last state tournament appearance in 2006. The team posted a 3-16-1 record last season.
Sachems coach Bill Burns believes that his strong class of nine seniors this season can get the Sachems back to where they’ve been before.
“I understand that Newburyport has been good lately,” said Burns. “But the years that we were good, Newburyport was down. It’s public high school hockey. You’ve got hills and valleys.”
Hoping to climb a hill are Burns’ seniors: captain Tom Pingree, goalie Samantha Bomba, defenseman Dan Thornton, along with role players Ian Mitchell, Zach Graham, Joe Mangano, Brendan Moynihan, Branscombe Dubina and Mike Lincoln.
“They’re all on the same page,” Burns says of his seniors. “They’re setting a goal to see if we can get back into the tournament, and after that, everything is gravy, really.”
A CAL All-Star last year, Pingree preaches the same message as his coach.
“The goal is to make the state tournament this year,” Pingree said. “I think we have a good group of guys, and I think that it’s definitely not out of reach for us if we play well together. We’ve just got to gel together as a squad and really come together. If we don’t do that, there’s no way we can do it.”
As far as gelling goes, Burns feels that process has already begun.
“Although it is two different high schools, these kids have gelled already,” said Burns. “They’ve known each other for a long time. They played youth hockey together. So they’ve all known each other most of their lives, and this is kind of a great way to end it up with nine seniors coming in.”
Defense will be a priority for the Sachems this year, according to Burns, with Bomba one again between the pipes and the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Thornton in front of her.
“We’re playing the same system as we’ve always had,” said Burns. “It’s a pretty much a box-plus-one (defense) that we play, and our guys do it well down-low.”
Speaking of systems in place, the Sachems have earned a reputation as a team that sends a plurality of players to the penalty box at any given time. One game against Newburyport four years ago was notable for having three Sachems taking a forced breather at the same time on three separate occasions. This is something that Pingree, for one, would like to see end.
“In the past, we’ve had a lot of penalties, and we’re trying to stay out of the box this year,” said Pingree. “We’re definitely still playing the body, but we’re just staying away from the stupid retaliation penalties and stuff like that. The coach says that it takes a better man to take a hit and not do anything about it than to retaliate.
“We’ve just got to focus on the ultimate goal of winning games and not letting anything else get in the way,” said Pingree. “The group of seniors we have this year can set the right example, which I don’t think we’ve had as strong in the past.”