ANTHONY LARUSSO is one of three captains for this year’s Kennett hockey team. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
December 10, 2012CONWAY — The only thing better than starting a season with a banner-raising ceremony is ending the season by winning the banner.
The Kennett hockey team will begin its journey toward the latter by taking care of the former as a new season gets under way.
The Eagles raised their Division III championship banner to the rafters of the Ham Arena after deadline on Wednesday prior to the first game of the regular season and as the season begins, the Eagles will once again be looking to make a trip to the Verizon Wireless Arena in February.
However, it won't be an easy trip to get there.
"We lost seven really good seniors, who were all major contributors the last four years," coach Mike Lane said. "But I think the rest of the division has had some big losses as well.
"I like what we've seen from the young guys that we've thrown into the fire," he added.
Perhaps the biggest loss the Eagles face is that of goaltender John Bishop, who backstopped the team to a 16-1 regular season last year and a 4-3 overtime win over Alvirne in the Division III finals. Adding to that is the fact that the Eagles lost their top three defensemen, making the blue line the chief point of rebuilding for the new season.
The goaltender job has not been won by either of the returning sophomores, Josh Kondrat and Bobby Davis. Lane said he expects that to be the case most of the year.
"We have a lot of confidence in both of them," he said. "We think they'll battle for the job all season, each of them has to prove themselves on a week-to-week basis."
Lane is hopeful that the duo will push each other and make themselves better in the process.
"We hope they have their own fraternity, so to say," Lane said. "They'll push each other to make each other better goaltenders."
The Eagles have the luxury of returning five solid bodies up front, including three who will be serving as captains.
Connor Todd, Anthony LaRusso and Nick Massa will all be back for their senior season and all three will be serving as captains.
"They're all very capable of putting up 30 to 40 points," Lane said. "I feel comfortable that we'll be able to score quite a few goals."
Senior James Gallo also returns to the front line and junior Brad Canavari, who missed portions of last year with an injury, is also back.
Tough news for the front line, however, was the loss of senior Nathaniel Swift to an injury. Additionally, both Todd and Massa are returning from injuries suffered prior to the season, so the offense has yet to find its groove in the preseason.
Freshman Nick Ansaldi is also expected to step up and contribute right away in his first high school campaign.
"Offense isn't something we're real concerned with right now," Lane said. "But with the low numbers we have, with one injury that could all change."
The blue line is where the Eagles will be most thin, with only Dane Rivera and Robby Moody returning to the lineup. Both saw some time in the regular season last year and will be asked to step up in a big way.
"The biggest thing for them is confidence and believing in themselves," Lane said. "We as a coaching staff believe in them."
Freshmen Dan Nusbaum and Bryan Baker will be added to the defensive mix and will be thrown into the fire right away.
While the numbers are down a bit from years past, Lane is impressed with the group of kids he's putting on the ice.
"They're a group of kids that are really coachable, which has made our lives a lot easier," Lane said.
Getting back to the finals is never an easy task. This year, former Division I squad Berlin has joined the Division III ranks and Lane's Eagles have seen the Mountaineers twice in the preseason.
"I think a lot of people are looking at Berlin as the team to beat and they'll definitely have a target on their back," he said. "They're going to be very strong."
However, Lane notes that Belmont-Gilford, Hollis-Brookline and Souhegan could also provide some stiff competition.
"I think, with the top five or six teams, there's a lot of parity," Lane said. "But until you see those teams, it's tough to gauge what they might have."
With the first game already in the rearview (Con-Val), the Eagles will hit the road to Hollis-Brookline for an 8 p.m. game on Saturday, Dec. 15. The boys head north to Berlin for a 6 p.m. game on Wednesday, Dec. 19.
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at email@example.com or 569-3126