The Whitman-Hanson Regional High boys’ hockey team knew it could improve, and a fixation on its vision fueled its turnaround this winter.
One season after posting a single win, the Panthers raised that number to eight, as they just narrowly missed out on the tournament by two points with an 8-10-2 record. W-H head coach Chris Googins said the success had nothing to do with anything he tweaked, but was largely in part due to what his returning juniors and seniors set out to accomplish.
“It has a lot has to do with the players that came back,” Googins said of the turnaround. “The core group that came back from last year were very serious about improving and they showed that in the offseason. A lot of the kids played summer hockey, a lot of the kids played fall hockey and I think they saw the fruits of their labor of putting in that extra work.”
Through their first 10 games, the Panthers sat at 6-3-1, highlighted by a 1-1 tie against Duxbury, a pair of wins – 7-3 and 4-2 – over Abington and a 3-1 triumph over Silver Lake. All those teams would go on to make the tournament, but W-H would not, as some of the aspects that you can’t control in sports caught up to it.
“It’s pretty evident that three kids went down with significant injuries [and] along with any other team, we had a bout of the flu,” Googins explained. “At times, there were kids playing that weren’t used to playing so much. We had a lot of key players out.”
At one point, the Panthers were dealing with a pair of broken wrists. Senior defenseman Ryan Lincoln had one of those, and he even returned with a week remaining and a cast on to try and salvage the Panthers’ playoff chances.
“Ryan Lincoln [is a] high-character [kid],” Googins said. “He’s just a tough kid who said I want to come back, got cleared and really couldn’t even shoot the puck, but it showed he wanted to come back, and he was a kid that was out for a while that we needed.”
Kevin Willis was another key defenseman out of the equation after suffering a torn ACL toward the latter half of the season.
“You’re talking two of your top four defensemen out,” Googins said. “It hurt.”
Sophomore Chris Stoddard, who was tied for fifth on the team with nine points through 12 games, would also be sidelined for the final three weeks.
But, despite the injuries, there was no lack of drive from the Panthers, especially out of their elder statesmen.
“The best thing that stands out was the group of seniors that every night just gave their best effort, they really did,” Googins said. “I don’t think it was one particular game or one shift. Just every night it seemed like whatever seniors were in the lineup, they would just almost be like assistant coaches and help out. They were just there to get the kids fired up, and I appreciated that. It was such a pleasure to come to the rink every day. It really was, based upon those kids.”
It is certainly a unit – led by captain Ryan Sawtelle and assistant captains Korey Howard and Alex Uva – Googins will have tough time replacing.
Howard (18 goals, 10 assists) and Uva (9 goals, 16 assists), both of whom were Patriot League All-Stars, paced the team in points. But, ranking behind them were junior Ed Scriven (11 goals, 11 assists), sophomore Adam Solari (8 goals, 11 assists) and junior Owen Manning (7 goals, 6 assists). Sophomore goalie R.J. Flynn, who posted a 3.22 GAA in limited action, is likely to take over the reins from senior Ricky Welch. Freshmen Jack Allen, Josh Pike and Kevin Willis also form a solid nucleus set to return inside the blue line.
“I’m very optimistic of the retuning players,” Googins said. “What they need to understand is that they need to take a couple months off from the game, but then you have go to start to re-fire the engines up again.”