LUNENBURG – Through the midway point of the season, it seems that something special is brewing over at the Fitchburg State University Wallace Civic Center. The Lunenburg/Ayer Shirley co-op boys’ ice hockey team has been doing the little things necessary, and doing them consistently, to find a way to open the first half of the regular season about as good as anyone could ask.
The Knights are hoping to keep this collective team effort going on a more grueling backend of the schedule, as the Blue, Maroon, and White seem to be positioning itself for a postseason run.
“We’ve been young for a few years and we needed to rebuild with numbers and talent, so we’re starting to get back to where we were for a long time,” Lunenburg/Ayer Shirley boys’ ice hockey co-op head coach Eric Short said. “In terms of playing good hockey, and culture, and winning. Practices have been good, so it’s just good to get back to where we were a few years ago.”
LAS has started the season almost perfectly, boasting two tournament victories, including most recently its home Mark Bushnoe Tournament, where the Knights took care of business against Leominster and Fitchburg/Monty Tech for the title. The Blue, Maroon, and White sit in first place in the Coughlin Conference standings, with an 8-1-1 overall record, having just a lone blemish against Gardner/Narragansett Regional, which it had defeated earlier in the season.
“We’ve had a great year,” Short said. “We’ve won a lot of close games too, it’s not like we’re blowing teams out. We’ve just been finding a way to win.”
The Knights have been boosting their resume of late, with quality tournament building wins over both Fitchburg and Littleton, both of which will help the team’s strength of schedule. LAS had been undefeated until last week’s loss to Gardner/Narragansett, which Short thinks could turn out to be a valuable learning lesson that helps fuel future success.
“We made some mistakes in the Gardner game in the third period that cost us,” Short said. “We took a bad penalty and didn’t score as many goals as we’d been scoring in the other games. I think that it was a good loss for us, it taught us that if we don't have three good periods and aren’t disciplined we can lose to anybody.”
“I’m also reminding them that we play a lot of the same teams in the second half of the season, and in the first half we won a lot of close games,” Short said. “That could easily go the other way if we don’t keep improving. I think the loss was good, it keeps us humble, but we’re not a powerhouse, we’re not this dominant team, we’ve just played very well, and have had good goaltending and timely goals and hopefully the second half of the season will be similar.”
The Blue Knights have been getting healthier as the season has been progressing. Backup goaltender Tyler Cyr made his return for the Gardner game and played well in the defeat. Junior captain Tyler Fortier made his return as well, and he’s one of the strongest weapons in the defensive pairings, after leading the team in scoring last season.
“Fortier is playing well,” Short said. “We did very well without him in the lineup, surprisingly, but we are much better with him in the lineup. He’s definitely our best defenseman and good on the powerplay, and adds a lot more depth. He’s just another threat too, he can take the puck and go, so he out of all of them is the most offensive threat among all the defensemen, and adds a great dynamic.”
Senior goaltender Garrett Hakey has been an absolute force between the pipes, keeping LAS in a strong position in every contest it has competed in this season.
“Hakey has really had a strong year,” Short said. “He’s played outstanding in every game. We’re going to rely on him down the stretch, and keep going. And we’ve been getting goal scoring too, so that’s huge. I think we’ve averaging three or four goals per game.”
Scoring for the Knights is still well dispersed, with many hands racking up points relatively evenly. Drew Short (18 points, 9 goals 9 assists) and Andrew Nicosia (16 points, 8 goals 8 assists) have pulled a little bit ahead of their peers in offensive production but then a grouping of others are around the 10-11 point mark, including Owen Hurley, Dom Benner, and Logan Martin.
“There’s a good contribution from several players on the team (offensively),” Eric Short said. “It’s not just one kid or two kids, it’s spread out.”
Defensively, Fortier, Jack Heffernan, Connor Lammi, and Ronin Duval continue to elevate their games as the season has been progressing.
The schedule going forward features a lot of duplication from the first half, but Ludlow, Amesbury, and Southwick are one-off opponents coming up that will be fresh faced opponents. With two Eastern Mass teams on the schedule, the thinking with it was searching for stronger eastern programs for postseason preparation.