HINGHAM, Mass. - It's a bit stunning to note that a team firmly entrenched in the mix for a Super 8 bid is making it happen with a defense and goaltender that are seeing the ice for the first time this season.
That has been the case with No. 4 Hingham, who rode that defense and the stellar play of netminder John Grenier to a 4-0 shutout of No. 19 St. John's (Shrewsbury) last night at Pilgrim Arena.
Grenier, a junior, only had to make 13 saves, thanks in great part to the work of his unheralded defense. Led by Nolan Driscoll, Pat Cahill, Andrew Flynn, Noah Ellis and Corbin Robichaud, the Harbormen (10-2-0) put on a shot-blocking clinic, as the stat sheet showed a total of 42 shot attempts by the Pioneers (8-4-1).
"Its not unexpected because although they didn't play in the games with us last year, they practiced with us every day most of those guys," Hingham coach Tony Messina said. "We know what they can do, they've been in the system for a couple years so we were hoping they could acclimate pretty quickly and they have."
"With the goalie, we didn't know how good John was or what he was capable of but he's been more than we expected, more than we could ask for," Messina continued. "Together, they've been pretty good. Its really been team defense too. We try to make sure the forwards are coming back to help and that's obviously a big thing. A lot of blocked shots, a lot of long sticks trying to get sticks on pucks. You have to against the best teams. Otherwise they'll eat you alive."
For his part, Grenier is also very appreciative of being able to man the cage behind such a hard-working blue line corps.
"It was huge," the junior netminder said of his defense's ability to block shot. "The shots they don't block, they could come in, come to me, and you don't know what happens when they get to the net. It either bounces out for a rebound or can get to the net. It's just not a good situation if it comes to the net. If they dont stop it its not any good."
SECOND LINE STEPPING TO THE FRONT
The bulk of Hingham's offense against the Pioneers came courtesy of its second unit. James Gordon had two goals and an assist, Matt Brazel had a goal and two helpers, and Sam D'Antuono dished out three assists.
The tenacity of the second line bore though particularly on rebounds, as Brazel and Gordon notched Hingham's first two tally's by being aware of where the puck was after shots.
Matt Hughes scored the third goal on a one-timer courtesy of a beautiful, cross-crease pass from Brazel, and Brazel and D'Antuono helped spring Gordon for his second, and the game's last, score with 1:03 left to play.
"They've been good for us all year," said Messina in praise of his second line. "They play hard in the offensive zone. the thing we to watch with them is coming back in the defensive zone, but they can put the puck in the net which is great. The first line was a little off tonight but the second line was great."
A PLAYER TO WATCH IN SHREWSBURY
One player from St. John's that immediately jumped off the page was senior forward Kevin Emmerling. The Whitinsville native is listed at a mere 5-10, 170 pounds, but skates with a flash and a flair that leaves no recourse but to generate offensive opportunities.
Emmerling is already drawing looks from Hockey East schools such as UMass-Lowell and Merrimack, a list that will undoubtedly grow as the season wears on.
"He's a very offensively skilled player, said Pioneers coach Brian Murphy of Emmerling. "He's got good speed and great hands. We're pushing him, trying to get him into college and get him ready. I think he can play at a high level, he just needs an opportunity.
PLAYING THE IRON
St. john's has designs on making a run at a Division 1 state championship, or even better, a cherished bid to the Super 8. A year ago, the the Pioneers were oysted by Winchester in the Div. 1 North quarterfinals, 2-1. In an effort to prepare themselves better, Coach Murphy has set up his schedule for his team to face no less than 11 teams from Eastern Mass., including stalwarts such as Hingham and BC High.
While the result haven't been what Murphny had hoped for (the Pioneers are 1-5 thus far against EMass. competition), the goal to is to improve and try and reach the same level of some of these opponents.
"The big thing is the pace, the quickness, the speed of the game. These guys are good players and they play hard and they play quick and so you're going to have to adjust to that pace if you're going to play at a high level," Murphy said. "Thats why we do it, thats why we play all these teams. We want to pick up that pace, we want to challenge ourselves and see if we can get up tthat level."
"Sometimes its frustrating, sometimes its difficult, sometimes you take your lumps but like we said to them in the locker room, we'll be in the tournament, which one who knows, and we just need to keep working, take one game at a time and see if we can get some good things out of this. We can't change it, we just try to see if we can build on it."