- Scott Barboza, ESPN Staff Writer
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FRAMINGHAM, Mass. – Expectations are high for Framingham boys’ hockey this season. But the Flyers’ brightest days still may lie ahead.
A core of talented young players will keep the Flyers competitive as they face perhaps the most intense out-of-conference schedule in the state this year. Despite the tough road ahead, the group’s focused one simple goal – returning to the postseason. Last season, for the first time in more than decade and the first time during Paul Spear’s tenure as head coach, the Flyers failed to qualify.
With that said, the Flyers – although experienced in games played – are still young. Their schedule is unforgiving at best. That means they’ll be fighting for their lives the entire season.
And, quite frankly, captain Jake McKinnon wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s a huge year for us,” McKinnon said after an early season practice. “[Last year] was the first year in 20 years that we didn’t make the tournament, so a lot of people in this town are looking to us to do big things, even though they’ve seen the schedule and they know what we’re up against. We’re going to give it our all.”
Now, the Flyers (who made our preseason Top 25, but have since dropped from the poll) have had their share of disappointments early. Against the likes of Top 10 teams, BC High, Catholic Memorial and Hingham, in recent weeks, the Flyers came away with a goose egg on the scoreboard. In those three games against Super 8-flight competitors, Framingham was outscored 12-0.
The Flyers dipped below .500 with Monday’s 4-0 loss to No. 7 Hingham at 3-4-1. It was a healthy reminder of where Spear hopes his team will be in the coming years.
“I’ve always wanted us to be like a Hingham or a Needham, those great public school programs in the state,” said Spear, who’s in his 13th season with the program. “I want us to get to that level.”
Spear believes the best way to accomplish that is to play the best.
“It inspires kids. It gets them to work hard in the offseason. If they don’t, they know it’s coming one way or another.”
The reason for Spear’s optimism hinges largely on the Flyers’ young talent. While McKinnon (6 goals) provides leadership and a scoring spark, it’s a young cast, including sophomore Corey Gorovitz and freshman Ryder Lessing, that has the program on the rise.
Defensively, the Flyers will be set for years to come with sophomore Al Lynch (35 saves vs. Hingham) and freshman Brendan Cytulik seeing time in nets, along with junior Casey Brigham. On the blue line, Framingham’s elder statesman is junior Brian Meaney. Framingham’s top five is filled out with four sophomores.
“Even though we’re a young team,” Gorovitz said. “We make up for it with the time we’ve had playing together.”
Now, all the Flyers have to do is make it to the second season. Heading into the thick of their Bay State Carey schedule, and with a couple more Catholic Conference challenges against Malden Catholic and St. John’s Prep later in the season, it won’t get any easier.
“Our league is brutal,” Spear said. “The way I look at it, we were one period away from the tournament last year. But I felt if we’d gotten in, we would’ve been able to beat anybody.”
He skipped a beat.
“We just need to get in.”