Wahconah ice hockey getting serious about 2019-20 season

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PITTSFIELD — "It's almost bittersweet that it's here already, but we are ready to go."

Those were the thoughts of Wahconah hockey's Ryan LaPierre last week, as his Warriors prepared to take to the ice at the Boys & Girls Club of the Berkshires. The thoughts were echoed by his teammates.

"It's always great to be back with the boys," Trey Massaro said. "I'm looking forward to this year."

The cautious sense of optimism on display by two of the team's four captains highlights the change in this year's Wahconah team. Last year, the team went into the season with high expectations, only to fall flat on the way to a 3-15-2 mark. Now, every player and coach knows what it's going to take to be good.

"It's a new team," Mike Cullet said. "We've got a lot of returning guys but there's a new energy out.

"I think we can really put something on the table this year."

The table-setter is Thursday, when the Warriors host Drury for the first game of the season.

"It's a lot more tense this year," Jake Risley, the fourth and final captain, said. "Last year we were all lackadaisical, screwing around, having fun.

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"This year, we know most of us are seniors, we know what has to be done."

Risley will anchor the goal for Wahconah, while Massaro will be one of the defenders in front of him. Cullet and LaPierre will help lead the forward line. Around them, Wahconah has a good mix of veteran leadership, plus an injection of young talent.

One of the big new names is Owen Kroboth. Kroboth played for Pope Francis last winter before transferring back to Pittsfield.

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"Our defense is a lot different this year," Risley said. "We are talking a lot more, a lot more communication. We are playing together more, clearing pucks out quicker, we are doing good right now."

If there is an area of concern for the year, it is the offense. While LaPierre, Cullet, Mason Alfonso and others bring experience to the top line, the team couldn't always capitalize last season. Wahconah scored 32 goals last winter, while giving up 66.

"I think our strength is defense and goal," coach Matt Risley said. "I think we struggled last year putting the puck in the net, but we do have some senior leadership there this year. I expect a lot out of them, I expect them to put the puck in the net to make it easier on us."

Another new thing for Wahconah this year is its depth. Coach Risley said that he has almost 30 players on his roster, and that he hopes to field a JV program this year. With hockey as a whole suffering from a numbers problem in the Berkshires, the coach said that a JV team helps to keep players engaged, and get them quality game minutes to practice their skills.

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The depth will also help Wahconah deal with a difficult schedule. The Warriors are the lone Berkshire team in the Fay Division of Western Mass. Division III-A, and will play Ludlow, Amherst, Chicopee, Chicopee Comp and South Hadley in the league. Wahconah will also play Minnechaug at home on Jan. 2. The regular season wraps up on Feb. 18 with a trip to Ludlow.

While all of the captains agreed that this is a team that can make noise if it executes on the important things, Jake Risley offered up one piece of advice on how his team will be able to execute when it wants to.

"Practice," Jake Risley said. "Practice and transfer it into games. We aren't going to have any wins without any sacrifices. We need to try our hardest and do what we can to win.

"No matter what it takes."

The first look at a determined Wahconah team will come Thursday. From there, the players say they are ready to pick up the torch and run with it as far as they can.

"We've got to be confident, but there's no room for cockiness," Cullett said. "It's just all about that balance."

Geoff Smith can be reached at gsmith@berkshireeagle.com, @GSmith_Eagle on Twitter and 413-496-6254.


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