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.
“We’ve had teams that have tied us or beaten us in the last three years, you look at their bench, and it looks like they won the Stanley Cup,” Shuman said. “It’s probably the case for these guys too. You get everybody’s best. That’s what you get when you have a proud program that’s been the best.”
Yesterday, Newburyport harkened back to its formula for winning from the 2009-10 era. Against a good team, the Clippers came out with their collective hair on fire en route to a 2-0 lead at the first intermission. Then they played physical hockey for the final two periods, making Canton work for every inch of space on the ice.
“We’re starting to learn when to play the body and when to back off,” Yameen said. “There weren’t too many penalties (three for each team). That’s the way the game should be played. I think we’re starting to play better, and that’s encouraging.”
Brothers Connor and Tim Brennan scored the goals for Newburyport. Tyson Gudaitis, Nick Federico, Ty Therrien and Austin Roy had assists. Jim Jenkins scored the Canton goal on an assist from Brian Hagan. Newburyport’s Robbie Federico posted his fourth consecutive win in net.
Looking at the big picture, the Clippers have to be extremely satisfied with a 5-1-0 record in 2014, considering their 1-4-0 start and the fact that their freshman class may be the strongest of the four classes. Ben Mirageas looked like the best player on the ice for stretches yesterday, and younger players like him will certainly benefit from learning the Clipper way of picking up the level of play after the calendar turns to a new year.
Back when the Clippers were making Garden appearances each year, that was the formula for success. Sometimes it takes a visit from an old rival to take a team back to its roots.