Watching game film Sunday night allowed Dan Legro to analyze his undefeated team with nearly one-third of the boys' hockey season now history.
Merrimack High's fourth-year coach, during a brief break from studying tape, discussed why his team is 5-0 in Division II.
“You can beat a team that's better than you, if you refuse to lose for 45 minutes,” Dan Legro said. “I think it's a mental thing.”
Mental toughness certainly fueled the team's two league wins since returning from the holidays.
Far from sharp at winless Bedford High on Jan. 6, the Tomahawks worked a 4-3 comeback victory at St. Anselm College's Sullivan Arena. Legro said his team was lucky to beat the first-year Division II Bulldogs.
Yet the real eye-opener took place two days later.
Merrimack hosted perennial power and preseason favorite Dover High, then 3-1, at Manchester's West Side Arena on Jan. 8. The Tomahawks orchestrated a 3-2 overtime win.
The score alone, however, doesn't do Merrimack's most recent win justice. It's all about the details.
Legro's boys twice trailed by a goal. That put the pressure on Merrimack to keep its deficit from doubling. Dover entered the matchup with per-game averages of 5.5 goals scored and two tallies allowed.
Standout senior Erik Glendye (team-high 13 points) twice set up Merrimack's equalizing goals by classmate Casey Bourque and junior Chris Fortin. Glendye also buried the game-winner just 2 minutes, 32 seconds into OT. Glendye's sophomore sibling, Brett, stopped 35 shots in net.
Legro carries 18 skaters, including three goaltenders, on his varsity roster. Under ideal circumstances, that leaves him with 15 skaters to call upon.
Injuries reduced the coach's depth chart to 12 skaters for the matchup with Dover. First-line center Chris Kinney, who's second on the team in points, did not play.
But wait. There's still more.
Tapping into his team's mental toughness and superb conditioning, Legro shortened his bench after the first period.
He played only three defensemen – Bourque, and juniors David Downie and Rutger Tupper – for the second period, third period and OT.
He played six forwards in that same span. Glendye, Fortin, sophomore Dom Valluzzi and freshman Connor Powell were mainstays on the ice. Senior Marcus Poudrette and freshman Mark Feeney split time.
Considering Merrimack is the league's lone remaining unbeaten, has it sent a message?
“I don't know,” Legro said. “We just happened to win five games. We have a lot of improvements to make."
One such area is the power play. Merrimack is capitalizing with less frequency than last year's team that opened with seven straight wins.
And as the Tomahawks move closer to matching last season's strong start, Legro is preaching the need to play with even greater focus. Despite starting 7-0 last winter, the 'Hawks finished 11-7. They were a first-round playoff casualty.
“Our goal is to be playing in the Verizon,” Legro said, referring to Manchester's Verizon Wireless Arena, site of the Division II title game. “Right now, I don't see us as a championship team. Yet.”
A RARE OCCURANCE
The boys' basketball team at Jaffrey's Conant High rarely loses. That's what made the team's 47-43 Jan. 7 setback at Mascoma Valley Regional of Canaan such a shocker.
It snapped Conant's 46-game league win streak.
The five-time defending Division III champion Orioles last lost to a league rival in the season-opener of the 2008-09 campaign. Stevens High of Claremont ended Conant's state-record 63-gamer.
Katie Cullerot, a senior guard for the girls' basketball team at John Stark Regional of Weare, connected for her 1,000th career point on Jan. 4. She needed just four points and recorded them all in the first quarter of her team's 58-23 Division II home win over Pembroke Academy.
Stark's 21-year coach, Wayne Thomson, said Cullerot joined Beth Chartier (Class of 1993) and Justine Nims (2004) as the program's 1,000-point scorers.
“Katie had over 200 points as a freshman and she averaged 350 her next two years,” Thomson said. “All three (1,000-point scorers) played pretty good roles as freshman. I think you need to do that these days to get to 1,000 points.”
Set to play women's hoop at Assumption College, Cullerot first sank two free throws. She hit quadruple figures for her career with an “And 1” bucket resulting from a baseline drive.
Prior to Stark (4-2) playing in a holiday hoop tournament, Thomson knew Cullerot needed 52 points to reach the magic mark. He said she closed within 16 points during Stark's third game of the tourney.
As she moved closer, Thomson brought the matter to the team. The options were to let Cullerot reach 1,000 points on the road or pull her from the game and celebrate at home.
The vote was unanimous.
“You have to be pretty consistent for four years,” Thomson said of the formula for scoring 1,000 points. “You have to be good enough to get quality playing time – and score.”
Plenty of basketball teams like to push the pace. But the boys' squad at Goffstown High is hitting another gear altogether.
The Division II Grizzlies (4-1) are averaging 93.8 points per league win. In their four victories, they twice cracked 100-plus points in regulation.
They beat ConVal Regional of Peterborough, 102-65, in the Dec. 17 season opener. They beat Hanover, 108-94, on Jan. 7. They also netted 101 points in a holiday tourney win over Kennett of Conway.
Here's what makes Goffstown's point production most impressive: Regulation games are just 32 minutes (8-minute quarters).
That means the Grizzlies are netting a shade more than three points per minute.
“It goes back to the Loyola Marymount days in the 1980s,” said second-year Goffstown coach Justin Gorham, a 20-year hoop mentor from California. “It's one pass, two passes and shoot. You're taking as many shots as you can get. We try to get 80 to 90 shots a game.”
Eleven Grizzlies earn playing time in the fast-paced system Gorham installed this season. Goffstown, which dropped from Division I, doesn't have much height. But it has plenty of scorers.
Seniors Alex Wageling and Ryan Lange, junior Connor Shaw, and sophomore Jake Mount average double-figures in Gorham's high-octane offense.
“Everybody gets to play and everybody gets to shoot. Everybody gets a green light,” Gorham said. “Our goal is to run everybody down and outscore you.”
NO SLOWIN' DOWN
The graduation of three-time Gatorade New Hampshire Player of the Year Tiffany Ruffin (Boston College) and fellow Division I women's college hoop recruit Emily Siegart (St. Francis), along with several other key contributors, certainly hasn't slowed Winnacunnet.
Hampton's four-time defending Division I girls' basketball champion continues to win – and win big.
The Warriors are 6-0 in league play. Their average margin of victory is 23.8 points.
All told, the Warriors have won a state-best 54 consecutive NHIAA games.
Returning starter Samantha Corcoran, a 6-foot senior forward, is fueling Winnacunnet's continued dominance. Corcoran and Kirsten O'Neil are averaging double figures.
In a span of four days, the Division I boys' hockey team at Trinity High of Manchester recorded two wild wins. Tyler Theodoulou contributed mightily to the back-to-back improbable comebacks.
Trinity's junior forward scored the game-winning goals in both contests.
The Pioneers stunned Salem, 2-1, on Jan. 5. Joe Libby's point-blank shot knotted the game with 5.3 seconds remaining in regulation. Theodoulou delivered the dagger with a redirected shot in OT.
Then, on Jan. 8, the Pioneers erased Nashua North's three-goal lead in the game's final 6 minutes and won, 6-5, in OT.
Libby pulled his club within 4-2. Theodoulou struck for three goals that gave Trinity a 5-4 edge with 90 seconds to play. North netted the equalizer, but Theodoulou struck for his fifth goal of the game in the extra session.
Did the Pioneers use a season's worth of good fortune in those games?
"I don't think of it that way," Trinity coach Mike Connell said. "I think of it in terms of the team finding ways to win, which will help us down the road. We can call on (these experiences) when needed. But I hope we don't need it too often this season."
Marc Thaler is a staff writer for the New Hampshire Union Leader & Sunday News and UnionLeader.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.