Back when the Newburyport hockey team had an annual appointment for the Division 2 state championship at the TD Garden, this was the type of game it played in January.
The Clippers (6-5-0) inspired memories of the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons yesterday with a 2-1 victory over former Garden rival Canton (3-3-4). At the halfway point in the season, the Clippers have a record better than .500 for the first time since their opening-night victory over Lynnfield. They have won four in a row after starting 2-5.
Canton and Newburyport met in the Division 2 state championship games in 2009 and 2010, with each team coming away with one state title. In 2011, they started an annual North vs. South matchup with the teams taking turns hosting.
Neither team has experienced the same success since those ’09 and ’10 seasons. Newburyport has gone 0-3 in the state tournament since its last Garden appearance in 2010. Canton has gone 1-3 with all three losses coming against lower-seeded teams.
“It seems like it’s been a while,” Newburyport coach Paul Yameen said of the Garden appearances. “We have a lot of good memories when we see them. Whenever I see (Canton coach Brian) Shuman, we talk about it. I like seeing them because we know they’re going to be good.”
As the Garden appearances have gotten further away in the rear-view mirror for both teams, the coaches have gained an appreciation for the difficulty of taking teams to the state championship game in back-to-back seasons. It certainly takes talent; for instance, five players from Newburyport’s state-championship team scored 100 career points. But it also takes perseverance, leadership and a knack for rising to the occasion in the biggest games; for instance, five players from Newburyport’s state-championship team have also paved paths to college hockey through juniors or prep schools.
One way in which Canton can relate to the Clippers is that the Bulldogs have become marked men on the South Shore after their two Garden appearances. After yesterday’s game, Shuman recalled an experience Yameen has mentioned many times over the last three years: teams treating every contest against the former state champions as measuring sticks for themselves.