Change in the air as MAIL hockey opens new season

by Jeff Lajoie
Sports Reporter

Senior goalkeeper Connor O'Neil returns between the pipes for the Renegades this winter. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
December 16, 2013
REGION The winds of change have blown through the Moultonborough/Inter-Lakes hockey team this season. After graduating a pair of 100-point scorers and several other reliable starters, the Renegades enter this winter with just eight returning and a new head coach on the scene. Needless to say, it'll be a new-look MAIL team that takes to the ice this season, which was scheduled to open last night after deadline on the road at Berlin.

"It's a great, passionate group of kids who want to work hard and learn," said first-year head coach Chuck Yaeger, who takes over for Kevin Campbell. "We're pretty young with only eight returning players so it's going to have a whole different look to it this year than the last couple of years."

Gone are forwards Simon Campbell and Tim Casey, who became the second and third players in MAIL program history to reach 100 career points. The high-scoring duo led the team in points last year as seniors. Other seniors like Chris Brown and Brian Wakefield were also lost to graduation.

"I think the buy-in has been good," said Yaeger of the program. "We've been working really hard on our skill development and just getting better every single day. As the season goes on here, we're working on continuing to get better every time we go on the ice. The group knows it doesn't have one or two people to rely on, they're going to have to work as a cohesive group."

MAIL made its first-ever postseason appearance last winter, grabbing the seventh seed in the Division III postseason before falling to second-seeded John Stark/Hopkinton in the quarterfinals. That loss put the Renegades with a final record of 9-9-1 overall.

Enter Yaeger, whose coaching career dates back to 1980 in Ohio. After beginning with the high school ranks, he moved on to the staff at Plymouth State for 16 years. For the past few years he's been involved with the Laconia Leafs program, while also coaching the golf team at Inter-Lakes High School.

"I've had my hands in it for awhile," Yaeger said with a chuckle.

While the Renegades have an overall young and inexperienced roster, they do have the benefit of some experience in a key position. Senior goalkeeper Connor O'Neil returns, and he's been the starter between the pipes since his freshman year.

"We have to provide him with the support that's necessary but I'm looking for Connor to be a solid player and a real leader on our team," said Yaeger. "He's going to have to get some help out in front though. The best goalie in the league with no help is still going to have some long nights."

O'Neil will serve as a captain for the Renegades alongside junior Dylan Sheehan, who will lead the defensive unit. That blue line contingent actually does have some experience, with Sheehan and sophomore Gus Kromer both back from last year's team. But overall, it'll be a young group as sophomore Wyatt Saylor and freshman Dominick Doliber are also penciled into key roles.

"I'm hoping that our defense can provide us the opportunity to be successful so our forwards have enough time to put the puck in the net," said Yaeger.

The Renegades will have many new faces on offense, though sophomore Cody Burns returns and he was on the top line with Campbell and Casey last year as a freshman. Burns will center that line with wings Collin Sheehan (freshman) and Brandon Eldridge (senior).

"We've got a freshman, sophomore and senior on that top line so that shows you kind of overall how young we are as a team," Yaeger explained.

Things don't get any older on the second line, as freshman Drew Dunlap will center a unit that also features junior Aidan Conn and freshman Mike Dalzell. The third group of forwards features senior Justin Klingler, sophomore Alyssa McCarthy and freshman Alex George, while senior Travis Manville, sophomore Daniele Boucher and freshmen Tyler Reid and Nathan Manville will also figure into the offensive mix.

"It's a lineup that has an awful lot of new players to it," said Yaeger of the offense. "Any time you have that, there's going to be some growing pains to go through but we'll work hard and see what happens."

The Renegades don't play a home game until 2014, as they open with Berlin and Souhegan (Dec. 21). The home opener is slated for Jan. 4 against Kearsarge, with MAIL once again playing its home tilts at Laconia Ice Arena.

"I haven't seen a lot of the teams in Division 3 so I don't have a really good handle on that but all I can do is concentrate on the kids I have and working with them, getting them to raise their level of play each and every day," Yaeger said. "Every team will be a unique experience and we'll just have to face it and grow as a group and see what develops from there. Each team takes its own identity and sometimes it takes a little bit of time to figure out what that identity is. How much success we'll have, only time will tell."

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