Western Massachusetts hockey fans got to see what Jeff Hancock is capable of when he has time to shoot in Monday night’s Division III-A semifinals.
The Wahconah forward teed up a slapshot that beat Belchertown goalie Kyle Greene in the first period to open the scoring in the Warriors’ 2-1 win.
Just wait, Wahconah coach Don Disbrow said, until Hancock is parked in front of the net, though.
"More than half of his goals have come down in front," Disbrow said. "He’s kind of a rock in front. Most defenders can’t push him out. Any point shots, he’s redirecting."
Whether he’s blasting in shots from the slot or knocking them past a goalie on the rebound, Hancock has been a valuable part of Wahconah’s offense this season. He and the Warriors take to the ice Thursday night for their biggest game in school history, the Western Mass. Division III-A championship against Chicopee at the Olympia Ice Center in West Springfield.
The junior forward is part of Wahconah’s "orange" line with Devon Battaini, Vinnie Orlandi and Mike Bloom -- the latter two trading off shifts as floating forwards. The line is just as capable of scoring as the top, or "blue," line of Dan Flynn, Hjalmar Gustafsson and Andrew Beaudoin.
If you ask Hancock, any Warrior can score.
"Everybody has a chance," he said. "Everybody has a good shot. We play hard and get the puck to the net whenever we can."
But Hancock isn’t just going hard to the puck on offense. Disbrow said that one of the most important additions to the junior’s game this season was his two-way play.
"He has come out and shown he’s willing to skate both ends, and show he’s willing to skate as hard as he comes up the ice," Disbrow said.
"When you get into the higher levels, those players are coming back just as hard, if not harder. Jeff did that from Week 1 of the season."
As his game has improved, so have the Warriors’ fortunes. They’re riding a 12-game win streak into Thursday’s final -- but don’t say that to anybody in blue. Disbrow looks at it as something not to be mentioned, like baseball players not talking to a pitcher who is in the middle of a no-hit bid.
Hancock’s the same way.
"You don’t think about it," he said. "You play the game, every shift, just as it goes."
If the puck gets to Hancock by the point, and he’s got time to shoot, his slapshot has plenty of power and accuracy behind it. Disbrow said the forward has "a bomb of a shot," and he’s always looking to take the shot when it’s there.
"When the puck squirts out to him, and he has the time, he lets it rip," the coach said. "He’s usually pretty accurate with it, and he’s got a lot behind it."
Hancock is one of a select few Warriors over the past few years who call Drury High School home. Ryan Ouimet, the team’s leading scorer last season, was also a Drury student. Currently, Hancock is the only Drury student on the Wahconah roster.
He never wore the Blue Devil hockey uniform, as the program folded in 2010. It’s not a big deal to him, though, and he’s much more focused on winning a sectional championship than carrying the torch for a school.
"You’ve just got to keep playing, and keep the drive for hockey going throughout the county," Hancock said.
It’s that focus that backs up Disbrow’s belief that Hancock has matured both on and off the ice -- without losing the outgoing, supportive personality that the coach sees from his forward.
"He’s become much more restrained," the coach said. "That keeps him out of the penalty box.
"He likes to laugh. He’s got a rough edge to him every once in a while, and we kid him about that."
To reach Matthew Sprague:
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On Twitter: @BE_MSprague.