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Nick Watkins steps up on defense for South Hadley hockey team

  • Nick Watkins of South Hadley, center, eyes a loose puck after his goalie, Devin Hoagland, left, blocked a shot from St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink. Jeff Beauregard of South Hadley looks on, right.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Nick Watkins of South Hadley, center, eyes a loose puck after his goalie, Devin Hoagland, left, blocked a shot from St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink. Jeff Beauregard of South Hadley looks on, right.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Nick Watkins of South Hadley, right, moves the puck against Brett Pecor of St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Nick Watkins of South Hadley, right, moves the puck against Brett Pecor of St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jacob Knowles of South Hadley, right, shoots against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Jacob Knowles of South Hadley, right, shoots against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Joe Whalen of South Hadley, left, celebrates his goal against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Joe Whalen of South Hadley, left, celebrates his goal against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Joe Whalen of South Hadley, top, shoots against St. Joseph's goalie Andrew Leitch, left, while defended by Cody O'Dowd Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Joe Whalen of South Hadley, top, shoots against St. Joseph's goalie Andrew Leitch, left, while defended by Cody O'Dowd Monday at Olympia Rink.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Tom Crotty of South Hadley, front, drives to the goal against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Tom Crotty of South Hadley, front, drives to the goal against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Tom Crotty of South Hadley, left, drives to the goal against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Tom Crotty of South Hadley, left, drives to the goal against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Tim Sweeney of South Hadley, right, races to a loose puck against Lance McColgan of St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Tim Sweeney of South Hadley, right, races to a loose puck against Lance McColgan of St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Beau Kass of South Hadley, right, shoots between St. Joseph's defenders Brett Pecor, left, and Derek Romejko Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Beau Kass of South Hadley, right, shoots between St. Joseph's defenders Brett Pecor, left, and Derek Romejko Monday at Olympia Rink.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Beau Kass of South Hadley, right, shoots against Brett Pecor Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Beau Kass of South Hadley, right, shoots against Brett Pecor Monday at Olympia Rink.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Brian Bak of South Hadley, left, moves the puck ahead of Luke Perry of St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.JERREY ROBERTS

    Brian Bak of South Hadley, left, moves the puck ahead of Luke Perry of St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Nick Harris of South Hadley, right, shoots between St. Joseph's defenders Cody O'Dowd, left, and Derek Romejko Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Nick Harris of South Hadley, right, shoots between St. Joseph's defenders Cody O'Dowd, left, and Derek Romejko Monday at Olympia Rink.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Joe Whalen of South Hadley, second from left, looks for a shot against St. Joseph's goalie Andrew Leitch Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Joe Whalen of South Hadley, second from left, looks for a shot against St. Joseph's goalie Andrew Leitch Monday at Olympia Rink.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jeff Beauregard of South Hadley, center, looks for a shot against St. Joseph's goalie Andrew Leitch, left, after getting past Nick Lillie Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Jeff Beauregard of South Hadley, center, looks for a shot against St. Joseph's goalie Andrew Leitch, left, after getting past Nick Lillie Monday at Olympia Rink.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Tom Crotty of South Hadley, right, scores his second goal against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Tom Crotty of South Hadley, right, scores his second goal against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Tom Crotty, from left, Evan Sullivan and Joe Whalen celebrate Crotty's goal in the third period Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Tom Crotty, from left, Evan Sullivan and Joe Whalen celebrate Crotty's goal in the third period Monday at Olympia Rink.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Beau Kass of South Hadley, right, tries to steal the puck from Cody O'Dowd of St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Beau Kass of South Hadley, right, tries to steal the puck from Cody O'Dowd of St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Beau Kass of South Hadley shoots against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Beau Kass of South Hadley shoots against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Nick Watkins of South Hadley, center, eyes a loose puck after his goalie, Devin Hoagland, left, blocked a shot from St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink. Jeff Beauregard of South Hadley looks on, right.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Nick Watkins of South Hadley, right, moves the puck against Brett Pecor of St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Jacob Knowles of South Hadley, right, shoots against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Joe Whalen of South Hadley, left, celebrates his goal against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Joe Whalen of South Hadley, top, shoots against St. Joseph's goalie Andrew Leitch, left, while defended by Cody O'Dowd Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Tom Crotty of South Hadley, front, drives to the goal against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Tom Crotty of South Hadley, left, drives to the goal against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Tim Sweeney of South Hadley, right, races to a loose puck against Lance McColgan of St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Beau Kass of South Hadley, right, shoots between St. Joseph's defenders Brett Pecor, left, and Derek Romejko Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Beau Kass of South Hadley, right, shoots against Brett Pecor Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Brian Bak of South Hadley, left, moves the puck ahead of Luke Perry of St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.JERREY ROBERTS
  • Nick Harris of South Hadley, right, shoots between St. Joseph's defenders Cody O'Dowd, left, and Derek Romejko Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Joe Whalen of South Hadley, second from left, looks for a shot against St. Joseph's goalie Andrew Leitch Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Jeff Beauregard of South Hadley, center, looks for a shot against St. Joseph's goalie Andrew Leitch, left, after getting past Nick Lillie Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Tom Crotty of South Hadley, right, scores his second goal against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Tom Crotty, from left, Evan Sullivan and Joe Whalen celebrate Crotty's goal in the third period Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Beau Kass of South Hadley, right, tries to steal the puck from Cody O'Dowd of St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Beau Kass of South Hadley shoots against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

WEST SPRINGFIELD — When the South Hadley hockey team lost defenseman Ben Kravetz for the playoffs with a broken leg, it gashed a troublesome hole in the Tigers’ already thin blue line. It also opened an opportunity for Nick Watkins to step up at a crucial time for his team.

Watkins, a forward, moved back to defense and the junior responded with a strong outing in South Hadley’s 6-0 Western Massachusetts Division 3A quarterfinal win over Greenfield on Feb. 26. He followed that up with another stellar performance in the team’s 3-2 semifinal victory over St. Joseph on Monday at the Olympia Ice Center.

“For adjusting, Nick’s played phenomenal back there,” Tigers coach John Houle said. “Last game he was outstanding. I don’t even think about it now, Nick’s just like a regular” defenseman.

Watkins isn’t a newcomer when it comes to defense. He grew up playing the position throughout youth hockey and only made the move to forward after arriving at South Hadley three years ago. With that experience in mind, Watkins volunteered his service to Houle after Kravetz went down.

“I told him I was an option, but I knew he had a couple choices that he wanted to make,” Watkins said. “It was between me and Tom Crotty.”

Crotty, who was freed up offensively by Watkins’ positional move, scored two goals in the win over the Crusaders Monday.

Houle made a similar move with Watkins during the Tigers’ playoff run to the state championship last season. With his hand forced again this time around, he wasn’t hesitant in making the same decision.

“Nick’s played (defense before),” he said. “Only took him two games, and it’s like he never left defense. (He) knows the position, he hustles, the kid’s nonstop. Plus, he’s a forward, too, so he can play up front.”

Watkins said playing both positions gives him the advantage of knowing how the opposing forwards he’s lining up against might be thinking. The edge allows him to anticipate player movement and make puck handlers uncomfortable.

That tactic was on full display late in the game Monday after St. Joseph scored with just over two minutes left in the third period to cut the deficit to 3-2 and snatch away some of the Tigers’ momentum. A quick South Hadley turnover left Watkins on an island against a 2-on-1 rush for the potential game-tying score.

True to form, Watkins instinctively slid in front of the lead attacker, checked him to the ice and swatted away the loose puck, ending the Crusaders’ final threat of the game.

“After they scored, I made the hit and I just dumped the puck out to the wing,” Watkins said. “I feel comfortable, my linemates (have been) great after the transition, they’ve helped me out with that.”

The Tigers aim for a fifth straight sectional championship Thursday when they face Agawam at 5:30 p.m. at the Olympia. South Hadley has beaten the Brownies in the last three postseasons.

“We’re very confident,” Watkins said. “We’ve been looking forward to this game. We wanted to play Agawam, they’re like our friendly rivals. We’ve been playing well, so we hope to go in and go out with a bang.”

Related

South Hadley edges St. Joseph’s to make Division 3A hockey final

Thursday, October 9, 2014

WEST SPRINGFIELD — South Hadley hockey coach John Houle honestly didn’t know before the season if his team would make it back to the Western Massachusetts Division 3A final. He received a definitive answer Monday night as the Tigers grinded out a 3-2 victory over St. Joseph-Central of Pittsfield in the sectional semifinals at the Olympia. “We don’t take anything …

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