KEVIN MURPHY will be counted on for lots of scoring for the Kennett hockey team this year. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
December 12, 2011CONWAY — Kennett hockey coach Mike Lane has a little bit of everything to throw at opposing teams on the front lines this season.
But the blue line will be a work in progress, with only five players suiting up as defensemen.
As always, however, expectations are high for the Eagles, who are coming off a trip to the Division III finals last season and are returning a solid core of players from that team.
"We have high expectations," Lane said. "For the most part, it's the same cast of characters as last season and we're going to expect a lot from them."
Lane points out that the kids on his team have played with each other for a while and are comfortable with each other, but he and his staff are working on making it a new season instead of looking back.
"We don't want the kids to be complacent," he said. "We don't want them to think a spot is theirs."
He said the Eagles will be relying on everyone to make a contribution at some point in the season as the goal remains to try and get to the playoffs and then make things happen.
The Eagles' top line of center Connor Todd and wings Kevin Murphy and Dillon Smith packs about as much punch as any line in the division and will be counted on for plenty of scoring.
The power line of center Justin Munck and wings Cody Richard and Nick Massa is expected to make some noise as well.
"Hopefully the two big guys will create space for Justin to do his thing," Lane said.
The speed line features center Anthony LaRusso and wings James Gallo and Gabe Lee and they are expected to see a lot of time on the penalty kill with their great speed.
Returning players Brad Canavari and Nathaniel Swift are also expected to be worked into the rotation on a regular basis and first-year player Mike Ellison will also likely get a shot at some time.
"They are key parts of the team and they are going to contribute," Lane said.
On defense, things are a bit thinner for the Eagles, who are returning three defensemen with a good deal of experience and will be relying on two more without that experience.
Chris King moved back to defense last year and did a stellar job and Matt Kelly has been a stalwart on defense for the past few years. Dan Rivera saw solid time on the blue line a year ago and will be counted on again.
The newcomers to the blue line group are Dane Rivera and freshman Robert Moody and Lane knows that they are both going to have to contribute right away with the lack of bodies on the defensive corps.
The Eagles will be returning John Bishop to the net. Bishop saw time last year in tandem with Jonny Parkhurst and Nick Kevlin and will be expected to get most of the starts.
"He's looked good in the preseason," Lane said, noting he was strong in a preseason win over Division I Berlin.
Freshmen Bobby Davis and Josh Kondrat will also likely see time in net.
Lane noted that it was important to make sure the younger kids get the chance to play as that is the best way for them to improve.
"We have to put them in a position to succeed so they can help the team," Lane said. "We understand we're not going to the Verizon every year, we've been lucky that way. But we also don't want to be a team that just disappears after being a power for a number of years."
Getting the youngsters in the rotation quickly is one way to keep the Eagle train moving in the right direction.
Lane also knows that his strong three lines will be key to getting the team far once the playoffs role around.
"Obviously, our goal is to make the playoffs, but once we're there, it's too wear teams down," the Eagle coach said. "It's going to be key to play all of our lines to get them confident in key situations."
The Eagles will have a change on the bench, as longtime assistant coach Peter Hall, who has served under coaches Jim Terry, Shawn Bergeron and Lane, has stepped down and Todd Frechette has taken his place behind the bench.
"I'm very grateful for everything Pete did for the program and we're going to miss him," Lane said. "Todd will be a seamless transition and he's going to push the kids to make them better."
The Eagles opened after deadline Wednesday at Laconia. They will play their first home game on Saturday, Dec. 17, at 6 p.m. against John Stark. On Wednesday, Dec. 21, Somersworth comes to town for a 5 p.m. game. All home games take place at the Ham Arena.
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 569-3126