LYNNFIELD — The Lynnfield High boys hockey team may have a few holes to fill this season, but with 17 players returning from last year’s team and some promising newcomers, the Pioneers are optimistic.
This year’s team has six seniors. That group is led by captains Cooper Marengi and Joey Mack. Marengi is a hard-hitting forward, while Mack, a defenseman, is coming off an all-star year behind the blue line. Senior forwards Kyle Nekoroski, Tyler Murphy and defenseman Zach Rothwell are also returning. Murphy will serve as a captain and Nekoroski and Rothwell will serve as assistant captains. St. John’s Prep transfer Robbie Brandano, a center, rounds out the senior group.
“Cooper is a 2-year captain and he is our Mr. Nasty, a very physical winger who can also win draws and is a real leader on the team,” said Pioneers coach John Gardner. “Joey has the potential to be the league player of the year the way he just takes over games. He played over 23 minutes a game last year and plays the power play, the penalty kill and scores a lot of points as a defenseman and will be a huge part of whatever success we have this year.
“Murphy plays much bigger than his size and is a big puck possession guy who forechecks and will dump the puck in, plays the body well and gets the puck back. Kyle is a good centerman with good wheels and Robbie is a nice addition to the team, he brings a different set of wheels and a lot of energy to the team,”
Eight juniors are also back. That group includes defensemen Leo Quinn, Michael Caruso and assistant captain Jaret Simpson as well as forwards George DeRoche, William Garofoli, Chris Flannery and Chris Fiorentino.
Gardner expects the sophomore class is ready to take up where it left off last year as rookies.
Ron Fuccillo and John Simonetti saw plenty of ice time last season as freshmen on the front line, while Danny Mack, younger brother of Joey, got a fair share of minutes behind the blue line.
The team’s most critical need is to finding a replacement for Cape Ann League All-League goaltender David Langone, one of seven seniors lost to graduation. Junior Aiden Kelly, who along with Joe Breslow, served as Langone’s back ups last season, has nailed down the starting role in net. Sophomore goalies Jake DeBenedictis and Anthony MagWood may also see time.
“So far in three scrimmages we have only given up five goals, so we’ve been keeping people off the board and that’s promising,” said Gardner. “Aiden’s the most technically sound kid I’ve seen at a young age and he stays very calm in net, he doesn’t get flustered, which is important.”
Juniors Sean Robbins, Jeff Floramo, Richie Casaletto and sophomore Sam Pifko made the leap up from the junior varsity squad. Freshman Myles McKay also made the squad.
The Pioneers’ power play looks to be strong with four of five players back. DeRoche, Joey Mack, Marengi and Simpson along with either Simonetti or Murphy will man the unit.
“Cooper’s just a beast in front of the net, while Simonetti is more of a finesse player and is very long,” said Gardner. “Simpson’s a very poised player and a very smart special teams players who will get more than 25 minutes a game. George’s bigger and stronger, has good vision and is a good passer. Last year our power play really took off with his creativity.”
Simpson, Mack, Murphy and Nekoroski with help from Simonetti, Brandano, Flannery and Hammersley will comprise the penalty kill unit.
Gardner said the team must also find a way to beef up scoring.
“We didn’t lose a top-heavy scorer, in fact, that’s a luxury we have never had,” he said. “Our scoring has always been balanced, but we have never been a high-scoring team, so we need guys to step up this year. Our goal is to win more games than we did last year and to do that, we need to score more.”
The Pioneers are coming off their best season in the last five years, finishing with an overall record of 11-9-2.
Lynnfield opens the season on Dec. 9 when the Pioneers host Gloucester.