Newburyport junior Ben Ventura and Amesbury junior Tabor Smith fit the description of players who found the scoresheet as early as their freshman seasons. Local coaches seem to bristle about revealing exact stats for players that may approach 100 later in their careers, but Yameen estimated Ventura needs about 60 over his final two seasons. Smith, a returning All-Cape Ann League forward who led the Indians in scoring as a freshman and sophomore, will need more than 50, according to Amesbury coach Chris Kuchar.
“The game has changed, both with systems and coverages,” Kuchar said. “Goaltenders seem to be more athletic and specialized, and their equipment is better.”
With the jump to Division 1 for Newburyport and Triton, it figures to become more difficult for freshmen to earn ice time. Both programs have year-round strength and conditioning programs, creating more of a size advantage between the 14-year-old freshmen and 17-year-old seniors.
“A kid who’s 14 has a hard time handling upperclassmen,” Wile said. “It’s a tribute to our strength and conditioning. To get to 100, you have to get at least 20 your freshman year. Now, we’re playing a much higher-caliber schedule, and you can’t bang out a four- or five-point night three nights a week.”
In making the switch to Division 1, both Newburyport and Triton have added six games against Division 1 opponents per season to their respective schedules. In those instance, the coaches sacrifice opportunities for players to pad statistics in lopsided games against inferior competition.
“Who is going to put up four or five points against Beverly, Arlington or Burlington?” Wile said. “Division 1 teams have three strong lines, so you can’t match your guys up against freshmen and sophomores to bang in points.”
In an effort to offset the transition from eighth grade to high school for his potential players, Yameen has opened his strength and conditioning program to Newburyport eighth-graders. His next wave of 100-point scorers may be entering the program this season. Yameen’s coaching staff selected five freshmen for this year’s varsity team.
“There’s certainly a couple that will see ample ice time,” Yameen said. “I don’t think it’s impossible for a freshman to contribute right away. We spend time with them as eighth-graders, and the physical aspect is huge. If you get a year under your belt, and another three months in the fall of your freshman year, it makes a huge difference.”