STONEHAM — In order for a team to make a state tournament run, its seniors have to step up and lead the group in crucial moments.
Without question, the seniors on the Swampscott boys hockey team were at the forefront of the team’s run to Wednesday night’s Division 3 state semifinal — a 5-0 loss to South sectional champion Hanover.
The seven seniors on Swampscott’s roster this season were defensemen Dominic Codispoti, Tim Farley and Jack Poska, forwards Brett Benoit, Thomas O’Keefe and Stevie Santanello, and goaltender Dan Johnson. Santanello, the ninth 100-point scorer in Swampscott team history, was named to the Northeastern Conference all-conference team. Santanello, along with Benoit, Codispoti and Johnson, were all selected as NEC all-stars for their efforts throughout the season.
“All year long those guys, all the seniors, stepped up for us,” Big Blue coach Gino Faia said. “I’m really happy for them.”
This season’s group of seniors had a monkey on its back coming into the Division 3 North state tournament. A handful of them have been on the varsity team since their freshmen seasons and have suffered early exits in their previous three state tournament appearances.
Last season’s team ran through its regular season schedule for a 17-3 record and the No. 1 seed in the Division 3 North bracket. The season came to an early end with a 3-2 loss in the quarterfinal to No. 8 Lowell, the eventual sectional champion.
This year’s team didn’t make quick work of its regular season opponents but it saved its best performances for the biggest games. Swampscott went 9-5-6 in the regular season and earned the No. 8 seed in the Division 3 North bracket. Victories over No. 9 Revere/Malden and No. 1 Lowell, a revenge win, set up a clash against No. 5 Lynn in the semifinal.
In a battle for the ages, Swampscott took down the Jets, 3-2, to advance to the final. There, they rolled past No. 11 Wayland with a 7-2 victory. But the tournament run fell just short of a TD Garden appearance.
Despite coming one win shy of playing for a state championship, the Big Blue seniors will have plenty to be proud about when they look back on their final season donning the Swampscott uniform.
“We wanted to get to the tournament, No. 1, and try to win one game,” Faia said. “Our senior group has been there three years in a row with three losses. We wanted to get one and just see what we could do from there.
“It’s great,” Faia added of his team’s tournament run. “The seniors will have these memories for the rest of their lives. It just says a lot about that group.”
Next year’s Big Blue team faces the challenge of filling the key vacancies left by the six seniors who will graduate this spring. For Faia, the challenge of replacing a hard-working senior core is one he faces each season.
“I’m going to miss them,” Faia said. “We’re losing another big group. Last year we lost a big senior group. This year we’re losing a goalie, three forwards and three defensemen. That’s kind of a unique senior group.”
The positive moving forward for Swampscott is the underclassmen on this winter’s roster have a tournament run under their belts. As they defend their Division 3 North title next season, the Big Blue underclassmen will know what it takes to get back to the big games of the postseason.
“They got to see what the playoff atmosphere’s all about,” Faia said. “Hopefully they can learn from it.”