The Newburyport hockey team’s first Cape Ann League title in Paul Yameen’s 10 years as coach does not figure to offer much suspense.
The Clippers (7-1-4 overall, 6-0-1 CAL) sit five points ahead of each of the next best teams in the league, Triton (4-3-0 CAL) and North Reading (4-3-0). Each team has five games remaining on its league schedule.
Under Yameen and assistant Jed Beauparlant, Newburyport has always been a team more concerned with its performance in the state tournament than league titles, and that has never been the case more than this season. The CAL lost perennial top-tier teams Wilmington and North Andover in the last two seasons, and Masconomet figures to follow next season. Longtime Lynnfield coach Vin Mirasolo also left the CAL this season to take a head coaching job at Division 1 Melrose, leaving Lynnfield as another struggling program in a shrinking league.
All year, Yameen has been making his case for Newburyport to disband from the CAL and become an independent team in Division 1, so he can’t exactly take a victory lap now that his team is on the precipice of its first CAL title in more than 10 years.
“We’ve worked hard to get where we are,” Yameen said. “That being said, we need to get better. Our inconsistency at times could haunt us. But ... a Cape Ann League title is certainly something we’d like to grab this year.”
The Clippers have outscored CAL opponents 24-5 in seven games. With two victories over Triton to their record, they are expected to finish the league schedule with an unbeaten record.
However, one would expect going undefeated in league play is pretty low on Yameen’s list or priorities this season. More likely, Newburyport’s finish in the state tournament is paramount.
Yameen made a name for himself as one of the top coaches in the state in 2009 and 2010, when his Clippers went 9-1 in the state tournament over two seasons, earning one Division 2 state championship and two Division 2 North sectional titles.
The Clippers haven’t had any tournament success in the last two years. Yameen’s teams are 0-2 in the tournament with first-round losses to Masconomet and Wilmington.
“I know we’ve been one and out in the tournament the last couple of years,” Yameen said. “It’s a one-game playoff. If you don’t play your best game, you don’t win. It just so happens we didn’t play our best game. That’s why we’re stressing consistency this year. If we don’t bring our best performance every night, we’re done.”
If the season ended today, Newburyport would draw the fifth seed in Division 2 North, behind Beverly (11-0-1), Lincoln-Sudbury (9-0-2), Wilmington (10-2-0) and Tewksbury (8-2-1). The Clippers proved they can play with the top team in Division 2 North last Tuesday, when they played Beverly to a scoreless tie at the Graf Rink. Still, Yameen said tournament seeding will be his team’s primary focus over the final eight games, as he would prefer not to see a team like Beverly or Wilmington before the semifinals.
“Right now is when I start to look at that,” Yameen said. “We’re getting to a point in the season when every point is a big point. I told my guys they’ve worked hard to put themselves in a good position. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a position this late in the season with one loss. Ideally, we’ll be a top four seed.”
The biggest positive for the Clippers this season — besides their record — is the play of goaltender Alex Buckley. The senior net minder had an up-and-down year in his first season as a full-time starter last winter. He allowed six goals in the final game of the season, a 6-2 loss to Wilmington in the opening round of the tournament.
Buckley has been Newburyport’s best player so far this season. He has played in all 12 games, allowing 14 goals (1.17 GAA). He has also posted three shutouts, one of which came in a 22-save effort against Beverly last week.
One negative: The Clippers have struggled to score goals. Senior defenseman Connor Wile is tied for the team lead with 10 points (all assists), along with forward Jason Dylingowski (5 goals, 5 assists). The Clippers do not figure to have a 30-point scorer on the roster, unlike most teams that make deep tournament runs.
Pentucket girls could go undefeated
Pentucket girls basketball coach John McNamara expected his team to go through its share of early-season struggles, after graduating a strong senior class that included All-CAL selection Sarah Higgins.
Thirteen games into the season, the Sachems (13-0 overall, 9-0 CAL) have yet to hit a single bump in the road, and may be destined for an undefeated season. They have passed every test thus far, winning 12 of their 13 games by double-digits. Pentucket’s most impressive victories came against Ipswich, Notre Dame of Hingham, Masconomet and Hamilton-Wenham. The Sachems also swept Dover, N.H. and York, Me. in the York Holiday Tournament. The Sachems do not have a single team remaining on the regular season schedule that they have not already beaten this season.
“We haven’t (talked about going undefeated),” Pentucket coach John McNamara said. “Three years ago, we won 26 straight games, and lost the last one (in the Division 3 state championship). We learned a lot last year when we started 3-3, and went on to win the state championship. In the past, a loss would be devastating. Now, we want to make sure we peak at the right time.”
The Sachems have won 29 games in a row over two seasons, spanning back to January 2012. Senior Alex Moore, Tess Noguiera and Coley Viselli have been the mainstays during that run, taking turns as the team’s leading scorer on any given night. McNamara says he has never heard any of the three CAL All-Stars complain about playing a reduced role.
“We always open the season by saying no one on this team will lead the league in scoring,” McNamara said. “It’s not the way we play. We’re a small school playing big schools, so each player has to adjust her role accordingly. It takes sacrifice, and we have three unselfish players who don’t have any idea of their point totals until they see it in the paper. They will do whatever it takes to win. If they were on another team, all three would be top scorers. Instead, all they can say on this team is they’re state champions.”