LUNENBURG – The Lunenburg/Ayer Shirley ice hockey team is off to exactly the kind of start that it hoped for. If the Knights can keep this momentum going forward, the hopes are a postseason bid, and possibly a bit of a run, could certainly be in the cards.
LAS is a young team this year, but at the same time, a young team with a good chunk of varsity level experience. The core of the team is mostly freshmen and sophomores, but the majority of the bunch had the chance to play in eighth grade, so their experience is more akin to upperclassmen.
“We’re in a much better spot, and have much better depth than we’ve had in the last few years,” Lunenburg/Ayer Shirley hockey head coach Eric Short said. “We have three solid lines that can play, we have good goaltending, and a lot of competition at every position, so we’re off to a great start and I think it’s going to be a very competitive year.”
LAS started the year 4-0-1 winning the Lowell Tournament (Cobblestone Tournament) the first weekend of the season. The Knights have won their first three Coughlin Conference games to start the year as well.
The Blue Knights tied the opener with Nashoba Tech but for tournament purposes it had to be settled in a shootout. Then the Blue and White claimed the title with a victory over Minuteman Tech.
Conference victories have come over St. Bernard’s, Gardner, and Oakmont Regional, scores were 3-2, 3-1, and 5-4 victories.
“They’ve all been close games, so we’re not dominating,” Short said. “But we’re finding a way to win and definitely showing some depth.”
Senior captain Garrett Hakey leads the way between the pipes with Tyler Cyr, a sophomore, also making strong contributions until a recent injury sidelined him temporarily.
Dom Benner, a junior wing, Drew Short, an eighth grade center, and Andrew Nicosia, a sophomore wing, make up the team’s first line. It’s a balanced line in point production, with Drew Short posting 9 points, Nicosia contributing with 8, and Benner adding 7, where all three have benefited each other.
Freshmen Owen Hurley and Jameson Nicosia, along with junior Logan Martin make up a quality second line. Ethan Dionne sometimes shifts up to the second line from the third line, and is a high level comp to the trio.
“Our lines are pretty interchangeable,” Eric Short said. “Even our third line, it’s not really a true third line, we’ve been pretty much been rolling the lines because they’re pretty similar in ability. If you can do that, that’s a huge advantage.”
Dionne, with center Sam Brand, and wing Dylan Sprague have been holding down that highly touted third line.
Junior captain Tyler Fortier and sophomore Jack Heffernan are the first pairing on defense. Heffernan is a multipurpose puck moving defenseman, and Fortier, despite being a little banged up to start the season, is a true offensive defenseman, leading the Knights in points last season.
Connor Lammi and Ronin Duval serve as the second pairing on defense and are more traditional lock-down defensemen.
Collin Holbrook, Eddie Julius, and even eighth graders Collin Hakey and Lugh Dumais also see a lot of quality minutes on defense as the groupings have plenty of talent and depth.
“(The decision for defensive minutes) has really been who’s playing well,” Eric Short said. “None of the D are that much further along than the other ones, so it’s more of how they’re playing in different situations. Some of those younger guys, even though they’re younger, are a little bit better on the power play, so we’ve actually used them in key situations, and some of the older guys are bigger and stronger so we’ve used them in defensive situations.”
Lunenburg-Ayer-Shirley has postseason ambitions on its mind, but it’s a game-by-game mentality, which Short says is having benefits through the early portion of the season.
“We have a strong schedule,” Eric Short said. “I think if we keep playing the way we do and are .500 or better we’ll be in that top 32 in the state. The goal right now is just to keep winning as many games as possible, and be competitive in every game, and I think the rest will work itself out. So far it’s worked, we’re off to the best start we’ve had in a few years now, so hopefully we can keep it up.”
LAS next hosts its Mark Bushnoe Memorial Tournament with a game on 12/29 against Leominster at 6:30, and the finals on 12/30 at 4:00 and 6:00.