The boys’ hockey team is looking to be even better than last season’s tournament team.
There seems to be a different feeling surrounding the Whitman-Hanson Regional High boys’ hockey team entering this season than in years past.
The Panthers are coming off their first playoff appearance since 2013 and return a bulk of their core, putting them in prime position to make another run to the postseason.
“The goal is to try to be as competitive — if not even more competitive — than the previous year,” said head coach Chris Googins, who enters his 10th season overall leading the Panthers. “So, let’s try to close out some of those games that we maybe couldn’t close out or couldn’t play three periods, let‘s try to do that and I think good things will happen. Overall, you need to play your 16th game like your third game. Just be consistent.”
The Panthers welcome back five of their top six forwards, all three goaltenders and a some key defensemen, which should help them with that consistency.
Senior Chris Stoddard will don the C on his jersey and center the first line this season, on the heels a 23-point (13 goals, 10 assists) junior campaign.
“He played a high level in the offseason and had a really good fall,” Googins said. “He’s just elevated his game to another level, in regards to his hockey IQ — his decision making. I expect big things out of him.”
The Panthers’ leading scorer with 10 goals and 14 assists last winter, senior assistant captain Adam Solari is also back in the fold on the first line.
“Another kid who worked so hard in the offseason and still has a very bright and optimistic senior year,” Googins said. “I think he can have a breakout year.”
Senior Eddie Collins rounds out the top line at left wing.
“He had a great offseason,” Googins said. “I expect big things from him, too.”
Googins pointed to his club’s depth last season and his ability to roll out three lines as a key reason it was able to sustain its level of play. He said he fully expects to be able to do the same this season with a third line likely featuring juniors Zach Either and Josh Pike along with freshman Matt Solari.
The second line will be made up of senior Calvin Cooper centering classmate John Hagan and sophomore John Ward, the Panthers’ only top six forward who is not a senior.
“They could be the difference, if they can just really show off some of their offensive abilities and take care of business in their own end,” Googins said. “I think we could really be in good shape. There’s some talent there.”
There’s also some talent in net, where they return both junior Bobby Siders and sophomore Erik Dean. Siders saw a majority of the action last winter and flourished, holding Division 1 state champion Duxbury to three goals over six periods of action and winning consecutive do-or-die games down the stretch. But Googins said he’s like what he’s seen from Dean early on, and the job between the pipes may be fluid throughout the year.
“I’m not ruling out every other game or maybe the hot hand staying in there,” Googins said. “Either one could happen.”
Senior assistant captain Reed Watson, juniors Jack Allen, Mike Savicke, Kevin Willis and sophomore Sean Doucette form a strong nucleus on the blue line.
“Having a good core at each position will hopefully make us competitive every night,” Googins said. “I don’t think we have a major weakness on our team. I think we have a good, solid base at every position.”
Googins said the Panthers’ strength this winter is their leadership.
“Even though there’s three captains, I consider there to be at least five to seven captains,” Googins said. “There’s a number of kids I could lean on to take a role on the team and run with it.”
As for departures, the graduations of Patriot League All-Stars Ed Scriven (11 goals, 12 assists last season) and Owen Manning (six goals, 14 assists last season) leave some holes.
“Along with their solid numbers and the minutes, they were just tremendously great competitors and leaders,” Googins said.
W-H is back in action Saturday, Dec. 21 at 5 p.m. against Patriot League foe Duxbury at The Bog Ice Arena in Kingston.
“I want to see them adapt to the new systems, but at the same token, we have to play three periods, you can’t play two,” Googins said. “There’s no give-me night in the Patriot League. You might not win every game, but you have to say that you went out there and tried 45 minutes.”