By Jim Sullivan
---- — With six games to go in the regular season, the Pentucket hockey team still has a decent shot at making the state tournament, a destination the Sachems haven’t sniffed since 2006. Certainly skating nine seniors has helped get the Sachems there, but coach Bill Burns says his captain, Tom Pingree, is an even bigger part.
“He’s one of those kids when you talk to him for five minutes, you like him,” Burns said of his co-captain. “He’s easy-going off the ice and just the opposite on the ice.”
Pingree’s time with the Sachems (6-7-1 overall, 3-6-0 CAL) has been extensive, playing with the JV squad when he was in eighth grade and moving up to varsity when he was a freshman. But Burns says it was Pingree’s leadership off the ice that got him the “C” on his jersey.
“He was an easy choice or me,” Burns said of naming Pingree captain this year. “Everybody is on the same level (as Tom). Nobody’s looking down on anyone else. Everybody has got each other’s backs, and that has everything to do with Tom. From day one, he’s kind of stood out. He developed very quickly. He actually played on the third shift when he was a freshman. But as a sophomore, he stepped right up and became part of our regular first two lines. And he’s just gone on from there. He’s one of the best face-off men I’ve ever seen.”
With five goals and nine assists as a center, Pingree is matching the numbers he put up last season.
“It fits my skating style,” Pingree said of playing center. “I like to use my speed. And playing center, I can get going pretty quick and get a good pass. Defensively I’ve always liked playing in the middle too.”
“He’s a complete player, really, all three zones,” said Burns. “He’s a fantastic transition player. He doesn’t have the puck, then he has it. He’s very quick. He’s got great wheels and good hands. He’s got a great shot. Really, the kid is, in my mind, one of the top five forwards in the league.”
Burns also calls the three-sports athlete (hockey, baseball, golf) a student of the game. That work ethic transfers down to the younger players. Pingree tries to keep the pressure off them because he knows what it was like to have that on his shoulders at such a young age.
“I wouldn’t say I’m taking them under my wing,” Pingree said of the younger players. “I’m real with them. I treat them like my equals. If they ever need help, I’m there for them. But I try to lead more by example. Yelling at kids and stuff is not how I like to do it.”
“He’s out there knowing that it’s on him, and he understands that,” said Burns. “He’s been an extension, in my mind, of the coaching staff for a couple of years now, but especially this year.”
With less than three weeks to go in the regular season, each game will be the most important they’ve ever played for these Sachems.
“We’re at the must-wins now,” Burns said. “You’ve got to go in and I think you’ve got to play every contest like it’s your last. If we take care of business in these last six games, we should be able to qualify. But anything can happen. We’ve really got to remain focused.”
Pingree himself has never played in a tournament game, and right now there is nothing he wants more.
“We want it,” Pingree said of a post-season berth. “We have to go at it with everything we’ve got. I know I will be. There’s nothing I want more than making (the state tournament).”