Lynnfield boys hockey returns depth and experience

George DeRoche returns to the Lynnfield boys hockey team for his senior season. (Item File Photo)

LYNNFIELD — Since Jon Gardner’s first season as Lynnfield boys hockey coach in 2012-2013 when the Pioneers won only two games, the team’s win totals have increased every season. Last year, Lynnfield posted its best season in the last six years, finishing 12-5-3 to earn the No. seed in the Division 2 North tournament only to be upended in the first round by No. 14 Wilmington.

This year, with 18 returning players, the Pioneers have plenty of depth and experience, but it will be a steep climb to top last year’s team, which had a knack for pulling out close contests.

To do so, they will have to fill the holes left by last year’s seniors, a group that included CAL All-Star forward Cooper Marengi, a two-year captain, CAL All-League defenseman Joey Mack, along with forwards Kyle Nekoroski, Tyler Murphy, Robbie Brandano and defenseman Zach Rothwell.

“My biggest concern is their toughness. We lost a great deal of physicality from last year’s team,” said Gardner. “The points are there but we lost the intangibles especially in terms of leadership, but we have some size and some good skaters.”

This year’s team will be led by captains George DeRoche, Jaret Simpson, Aiden Kelly and assistant captains Chris Flannery and Danny Mack.

“We have always had a policy in Lynnfield that goalies don’t act as captains because their focus should not be on the referees, it needs to be on their position, but Aiden is such a smart player, so cerebral, that we felt there was more to be lost than gained had he not been a captain,” said Gardner. “He’s one of the best goalies around, and in my opinion the best in the league, so we are expecting big things from him again this year.”

DeRoche led the team in scoring last year with 18 goals and 22 assists, while Simpson, a defenseman, and Kelly, a goaltender, were key components of a team defense that surrendered only 42 goals, the fewest allowed since 2011-2012.
The team will carry 10 seniors and 10 juniors.

“It’s absurd, this is the first team I have had that didn’t have any freshmen,” said Gardner. “And it’s also the only team I have had with 18 returning players. The roster is extremely lopsided with only three sophomores, but the good news is there has definitely been less stress in terms of the kids getting up to speed because most of them had already been here.”

The senior forward group includes DeRoche, Jeff Brandano, Chris Fiorentino, Richie Casaletto,Will Garofoli and Flannery, while Leo Quinn, Simpson, Mack and Mike Caruso are returning defenders.

There are seven returning juniors, most of them forwards, a group that includes Sean Robbins, Sam Pifko, Jack Hammersley, Ronnie Fuccillo, John Simonetti along with defenseman Danny Mack and goalie Anthony Magwood.
Sophomore goalie Jake DeBenedictis rounds out the group of returning varsity veterans.

New to the team are juniors Jack LaCoste and Connor Denison and sophomores Alex Buonopane, Cole Trainor and Prep transfer Robbie Tarjian.

As far as team goals are concerned, Gardner said it’s all about March.

“Every year we have won more games than the year before, but it’s not about the number of wins, it’s about winning games in March in the tournament,” Gardner said. “I’d trade the 12 wins we had last year for a longer run in the playoffs. I mean last year was tough as considering how many close games we were able to win, we were battle tested, but it just didn’t go the way we had hoped.”

The Pioneers start the season Saturday with a non-league game against Gloucester at McVann-O’Keefe Rink in Peabody (12). A new wrinkle on the Pioneers’ schedule is the Wolfpack Holiday Tournament Dec. 26-27 at Murphy Memorial Rink in South Boston where the Pioneers play Watertown in the opening round (Dec. 26 at 12 p.m.) and either Boston Latin or Latin Academy the following day in the championship/consolation round (12 or 2 p.m.).

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