Warriors, Crusaders ready for Western Mass. hockey
Wahconah Regional doesn't need to worry about its offense on the ice. The Warriors hockey team boasts three of the top 10 scorers in the state of Massachusetts, including leading scorer Ryan Ouimet.
So it should be no surprise that Wahconah has put more of a focus on defense lately.
"Our offense is doing fine," Warriors forward Nick Montferret said. "It's been doing fine all year."
Wahconah, the Hennessy League champion, is one of two county teams in the Western Mass. Division III-A hockey tournament. In pairings released Saturday, Wahconah was given the No. 4 seed. They will meet No. 5 Easthampton on Thursday, while No. 6 seed St. Joseph faces No. 3 Chicopee on Tuesday. All games are at the Olympia Ice Center in West Springfield.
Easthampton has only been beaten once in its last seven games, winning its last three.
"Obviously, you've got to expect they're as good as anyone in the tournament," Montferret said. "You've got to go in thinking they're just as good as Agawam and South Hadley, and bring the best you've got."
The Warriors won't be able to keep their high-scoring front line a secret from the rest of Western Mass. Montferret said everyone knows who Ouimet is when he hits the ice.
The key, other than the defense, could be the play of goalie Roger Stedman.
"Roger's coming along," Montferret said. "It's one of the parts you count on in the playoffs. Roger's got the talent to help us out a lot."
The 8-7-2 Crusaders, meanwhile, have met Chicopee this season. St. Joe lost 3-1 to Chicopee in the Winter Classic championship game Dec. 27 in Holyoke.
However, the Crusaders are playing better. They've won three in a row, and in a 3-1-1 stretch to end the season, gave Wahconah its first blemish in league play in three seasons.
"We're playing a lot better than we were earlier in the season," St. Joe coach Tim Kelly said. "I know our team's ready ... to take that next step, maybe get to that second game."
Kelly said Chicopee's forechecking pressure and shooters will have to be worked around in order to pull off a first-round win. Derek Romejko and Eric Leitch will be counted on to provide the offense for St. Joe, while Andrew Leitch will have to be the solid backstop he's been the last three seasons. He's shut out three teams this season, and given up just one goal on three other occasions.
St. Joe has also been playing with an increased sense of urgency in recent weeks just to make the Western Mass. draw.
"I think they realized we really had to knuckle down and get more serious," Kelly said. "The kids were good about it. They accepted that challenge and went forward.
"Everybody's been working hard in the last few games. Our last five or six games have showed that."