LYNN — The St. Mary’s boys hockey team’s defense of its 2017 Division 1 state championship didn’t go the way the Spartans hoped it would. St. Mary’s peaked into “Super 8” contention but was bounced in the play-in game and then fell to Winchester in Division 1 North quarterfinals.
Overall, the Spartans finished the 2017-2018 season at 12-7-4 and their tournament run concluded much sooner than they wanted it to.
“We came off as state champions the previous year,” St. Mary’s coach Mark Lee, in his 34th season guiding the Spartans, said. “The year before, we lost in double overtime in the state championship. Last year was a little disappointing the way we went out. I don’t think we had our best day that game. In the tournament, it’s one-game elimination. If you don’t show up, you don’t move on. We battled hard, we just lost to a good team.”
Now the Spartans are eager to put last year behind them and get back to the “blue-collar” mentality that has brought them postseason success as the 2018-2019 campaign approaches.
“We’ve always been a blue-collar team that has to punch the clock to go to work,” Lee said. “That’s usually how we become successful, we try to outwork the opponents because the teams we compete against are very talented. We’ve always had pride in our work ethic. Hopefully this year it continues to be a hard working team.”
Leading St. Mary’s core of returners are four senior captains in forwards Damon Maribito and Colin Reddy, and defensemen Nick Napolitano and Kyle Ouellette.
“I think this veteran group has very good leaders,” Lee said. “I think behind them, we’ll definitely be competitive.”
St. Mary’s also returns freshman defenseman Davis Kinne, who tallied 21 points last winter as an eighth-grader, and junior goalie Joe Purtell, who posted a 1.88 GAA last season. Sophomores Kyle Ouellette (defenseman) and Brady Carpenter (forward) will also play key roles.
The Spartans welcome three newcomers who project to make key contributions in juniors Will Flynn (forward), Max Giardina (forward) and Alex Nazarian (defenseman).
“Those are the guys we’ll be looking for leadership,” Lee said. “There’s a lot of other guys that’ll be out there competing. We’re cautiously optimistic. It’s a good locker room and that’s where it starts. We’ll take it one day at a time. We like what we see so far.”
Lee said it starts with defense for the Spartans. With a solid defensive core and an experienced goalie in net, St. Mary’s feels defense will be one of its strengths.
“We have a solid defensive core,” Lee said. “In hockey it’s always been my belief that you start your team from the goaltender out. Joe’s a junior and he’s talented. Our defensive core is as good as it’s been in a long time. That’s huge in high school hockey.”
Offensively, the Spartans feel positive about the competitions they have at forward during the preseason. Lee said they’re looking to put the puck in the net a bit more than they did last winter.
“We’re hoping to put some more pucks in the net,” Lee said. “We’re a program that’s always held a defense-first philosophy. We’re in a lot of these 2-1, 3-2 games at the level we play. Hopefully we try to work on getting pucks in the net a bit more. We’d like to see our production be a bit better from last year. It takes a lot of work. The biggest thing we need to work in creating more offense.”
With a deep tournament run at the top of its list of goals, the Spartans put together a grueling regular-season schedule. In addition to matching up against tournament mainstays in the Catholic Central League, St. Mary’s will face-off against a number of top-notch non-conference opponents.
“As every year, it’s a very strong (CCL),” Lee said. “Austin Prep, Arlington Catholic, Archbishop Williams, they’re always strong. Bishop Fenwick has improved, Matignon’s always competitive. We have a non-league schedule of all ‘Super 8’ teams. Hingham, BC High, Pope Francis, Malden Catholic. We don’t really dodge any bullets. That’s a big part of what we do with our schedule and we think it helps prepare us for the state tournament.”
St. Mary’s hosts Matignon Dec. 12 at William Connery Rink before hosting Winchester in a rematch of last season’s tournament quarterfinal Dec. 15.