Saugus boys hockey has tournament aspirations

C.J. Graffeo scored a goal for the Sachems in Saturday's game. (Item File Photo)

SAUGUS — The 2017-2018 season wasn’t a memorable one for the Saugus boys hockey team. But with a new season around the corner, the Sachems will use last year’s shortcomings as motivation to make the state tournament. They fell three points short of the postseason last season with a 6-9-5 record.

“We missed the tournament by three points so we were definitely a little disappointed with that,” Saugus coach Jeff Natalucci said. “Last season came down to game 19 before we got eliminated. Going into this year the goal is always to get to that mark of the tournament, that’s where we want to be.

“These guys who were here for it last year have a bad taste in their mouths especially going to the North semifinal two years ago and then missing the playoffs entirely,” Natalucci added. “It’s a motivator for us.”

With experienced players leading the way and new faces stepping up, Natalucci has been happy with his team’s effort this preseason.

“We have a pretty good mix of both experienced players and some young guys that will step up,” Natalucci said. “The offseason has been good so far. The guys are showing a lot of energy and excitement every day.”

On the ice, the Sachems will be led by an experienced defensive group led by Joe Cross, CJ Graffeo and Anthony Cogliano.

“That’s where most of our experience is at the defensive position,” Natalucci said. “Those three all had a ton of minutes for us last year and that will carry over. CJ and Joe are really good in the offensive and defensive zone and Anthony is a gritty defender for us.”

The Sachems also have some experienced leaders on their first line with Adam Rodrigues (center), Dante McGrane (right wing) and Lorenzo Keegan (left wing).

“Dante and Adam are some of our most experienced players,” Natalucci said. “They’ve been with me taking regular shifts since they were freshman and Lorenzo has joined us after transfering from Bishop Fenwick.”

The offseason has also been highlighted by a three-way battle for the starting goaltender position between junior Jack Deveraux and sophomores Nick Divola and Colin Ronan.

“Jack got some time on the ice last year, but all three guys have been competing well,” Natalucci said. “This is probably the position that we are most excited about so far. All three guys have just been great competing and working hard. It’s been great.”

Saugus will go into the season looking to build chemistry in order to win games in a tough Northeastern Conference.

“We want to be a tournament team and that starts now,” Natalucci said. “We have a great mix of older and younger guys. That means we will have some growing pains at times, but we just want to get better every game and keep building off every one.

“The NEC is always tough,” Natalucci added. “Every night you’re going to have a battle on your hands and if you’re not prepared you’re going to be on the losing end. But that’s a good thing because at the end of the season if you were able to get those 20 points you know you’re battle-tested. It’s a big reason why the teams that do make it out of this conference are making runs in the playoffs.”

The Sachems will look to get off to a quick start on the road next Wednesday when they open the season at Gloucester.

“We want to get off to a good start,” Natalucci said. “When you look back on last year, not making it, you see that early games in the year could’ve been different. Our focus is to play good hockey down our end of the ice. We trust our speed to help get us chances and we are going to have to grind to get goals in front, it’s not going to be pretty. The kids have done a great job buying in to that early on.”

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