Winter sports preview: Runner-up Belchertown hockey gets back to work

  • Belchertown head coach Matt Crutch strategizes with his team during a timeout over Greenfield in a Western Massachusetts Division 3A semifinal at Olympia Ice Arena in West Springfield on March 2. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Belchertown goalie Ethan Rajpold defends the net from Sean O'Sullivan, right, of Greenfield in the second period of the Orioles' 4-2 win over the Green Wave in their Western Massachusetts Division 3A semifinal at Olympia Ice Arena in West Springfield on Saturday, March 2, 2019. Belchertown's Nathan Ayers is at far left, Doug Hanieski of Greenfield is behind the net. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Belchertown goalie Ethan Rajpold deflects a shot from Chicopee during the Western Massachusetts Division 3A Tournament quarterfinals, Feb. 26 at Olympia Ice Center in West Springfield. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Belchertown players Vaughn Gillen, from left, Cody Lambert, Matthew Pacheco, Nathan Ayers and Francis Nigro pass the bench after Pacheco's goal against Chicopee in the second period of the Western Massachusetts Division 3A Tournament quarterfinals, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019 at Olympia Ice Center in West Springfield. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kouji Ishida, right, of Amherst Regional, celebrates his goal against Ludlow with teammates Gio Rivera, left, and Carter Beckwith, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019 at Orr Rink in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

For the Gazette
Published: 12/13/2019 12:00:27 PM
Modified: 12/13/2019 12:00:15 PM

Alarms went off at 4 a.m. in Belchertown over the past two weeks.

With that, marked a new season for the Belchertown hockey team.

Following back-to-back losses in the Western Massachusetts 3A final, the Orioles return with new motivation and a new team. Last season saw the team finish with a 14-4-3 record after a 5-2 loss to Easthampton in the Western Mass. final.

In the offseason, the Orioles lost several players to other teams, including leading scorer Vaughn Gillen, who joined the Worcester Railers Junior Hockey Club.

“It’s a newer challenge for us,” coach Matt Crutch said. “We actually had five players leave to go play Juniors, to try to get to the next level of hockey. We really have a big turnover on our roster, but the kids that are here are working extremely hard. It’s hard to get here in the morning but they’re here every day working.”

Despite the consecutive losses in the final and losing top-level players, the Orioles still believe that they are able to compete with the teams in Division 3A. The expectation is still to make the playoffs and to make a deep run in it.

Belchertown returns some experience in seniors Chris Buffone, Francis Nigro, Nathan Ayres and goalkeeper Ethan Rajpold, who has been a standout performer for the Orioles. Now a captain, Rajpold is tasked with trying to get a group of young and inexperienced players to the playoffs.

The Orioles are rebuilding their roster with fresh talent. Belchertown has 13 new players and there is real hope that the crew can repeat on its past success.

“We did lose a few key players like Matt (Pacheco), Vaughn (Gillen) and Cody (Lambert), who were our top players last year,” Rajpold said. “The freshmen don’t necessarily totally make up for them, but they fit in and I think we’ll have a really good season.”

Belchertown plays in the Wright League with defending champion Easthampton, Greenfield, Southwick, Drury and Mount Everett. The Orioles also cross over and play Amherst Regional, South Hadley, Ludlow, Chicopee, Chicopee Comp and Wahconah.

Last season, the top four seeds in the Division 3A tournament each won at least 70 percent of their games, yet it was the fifth-seeded Eagles (10-7-3 during the regular season) who won the sectional title.

Each year is a slugfest for the Orioles, so getting the young players adjusted to the grind of a full season is the focus of the coaching staff this offseason.

“There’s a lot of parity in this league,” Crutch said. “Hockey is kind of a different animal in that you don’t know the roster coming into each year. It’s hard in this league.”

AMHERST — The Hurricanes went 16-4 in the regular season and earned the top seed in the Division 3A tournament, but they fell 6-2 to eventual champ Easthampton.

Amherst returns several players with hopes of getting past the semifinals. Johnny Hanscom is back in net, while Kouji Ishida returns after recording double digits in goals and assists last season.

Seniors Eli Slovin and Brandon Peritz bring experience.

GIRLS HOCKEY — Northampton sophomore Rowan Howe will skate with Longmeadow this season. The Lancers finished 14-3 and reached the state Division 1 semifinals, where they fell 9-1 to Methuen/Tewksbury last winter.

Amherst Regional

CO-OP: Palmer, Hopkins Academy

COACH: Mike Rousseau, fifth year



LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: 2019, lost 6-2 to Easthampton in WMass semifinals

RETURNING STARTERS: Seniors — Eli Slovin, F; Brandon Peritz, F; Juniors — Kouji Ishida, F; Justin Masteralexis, D; Sophomores — Chris Foster, F; Johnny Hanscom, GK.

OTHER RETURNING PLAYERS: Junior — Graham Goodhind, D; Sophomores — Joe Freniere, F; Carter Beckwith, D; Nick Paul, D; Aiden Valley, F; Isabel Rich, D; Georgios Alimonos, F; Gunyoung Choi, F.

NEWCOMERS: Sophomores — Nick LaFrennie, D; Andrew Martin, F; Quinn Schein, F; Freshmen — Taylor Hanson, F/D; Brooke Weimann, F; Walker Goeckel, F.

OUTLOOK: The Hurricanes return an experienced group. Ishida has another year under his belt, while Slovin and Peritz are projected to be difference-makers. Hanscom played well in goal as a freshman.


COACH: Matt Crutch, seventh year



LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: 2019, lost 5-2 to Easthampton in WMass final

RETURNING PLAYERS: Seniors — Ethan Rajpold, GK; Christopher Buffone, Francis Nigro, Nathan Ayers; Juniors — Jake Delaney, GK; Colby Masse, Daniel Chrzanowski; Sophomores — Koy Monette, Andrew Fijal, Ryan O’Neil, Aiden Mugford, Tim Mitus, Glenn Scott, Austin Hastings.

NEWCOMERS: Juniors — Rory Nee; Sophomores — Cameron Bacon, Terrel LaDue; Freshmen — Zack Aktiv, James Loudon, James Delaney, Joey Mankowsky, Nathan Oldenburg, Aidan Torna, James Greene, Ryan Fernandez, Francis Henderson, Cody Samson.

OUTLOOK: The Orioles are coming off back-to-back losses to Easthampton in the WMass 3A final. Belchertown lost five key players to the Junior level in the offseason, but several players return with experience. Rajpold is back in net and provides a solid foundation to start.


CO-OP: Hampshire Regional, Northampton, Smith Vocational

COACH: Bill Grise, third year



LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: 2019, beat Belchertown 5-2 in WMass final; Lost 3-0 to Northbridge in state finals

RETURNING STARTERS: Seniors — Garren Fugiel, F; Jake Delisle, D.

OTHER RETURNING PLAYERS: Juniors — Matt Sullivan, F; Ryan O’Connor, F; Sophomores — Tyler Galpin, D; Tyler Darling, F/D.

NEWCOMERS: Tommy O’Connor, Pete Sullivan, Andrew Kloc, Jon Callahan, Jayden Darling, Owen Duda, Ethan Marowitz, Liam Reynolds.

OUTLOOK: The Eagles are back-to-back reigning WMass 3A champions, but the program graduated 11 seniors. The team is bringing in some fresh faces. Fugiel surpassed 100 career points last season and will be the focal point of the offense. Delisle bring experience to the blue line.


CO-OP: Athol, Franklin Tech, Frontier Regional, Mahar, Pioneer Regional, Smith Academy, Turners Falls

COACH: Adam Bouchard, fifth year



LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: 2019, lost 4-2 to Belchertown in WMass semifinals

RETURNING PLAYERS: Seniors — Riley Drew, GK; Bryan Baumann, F; Mike McGoldrick, D; Sean O’Sullivan, F; Adam Savoy, F; Booie Harris, F; Cameron Rice, D; Matt Wilhite, F; Nick French, D; Porter Clancy, F; Trevor Beaudet, F; Juniors — Aiden Roach, F; Derek Lenois, F; Jacob Bryant, D; Kyle Barnes, F; Sophomores — Jake Croteau, F; Kevin Baumann, D; MJ Paulin, D; Owen Wilhite, F.

NEWCOMERS: Freshmen — Jayson Smith, D; Sammy Knight, F; Shane Prusak, F; Billy Woodall, F; Josh Bordeaux, GK.

OUTLOOK: The Green Wave were the second seed in the playoffs and return a lot of experience from that team. Drew has played goalie since eighth grade. He has over 1,200 career saves. Bryan Baumann had 27 goals and 23 assists last season.

South Hadley

CO-OP: Granby

COACH: Larry Camus, fourth year



LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: 2019, lost 5-1 to Easthampton in WMass quarter final

RETURNING PLAYERS: Senior — Mike Mazza, F; Juniors — Cameron Pete, D; Matthew Brunelle, F; Johnny Cadorette, F; Anthony Cigal, G; Thenis Tsilibocos, F; Ryan Tucker, F; Jeremy Courtney, F; Alex Dyer, D; Sophomores — Aidan Sullivan, D; Gabe Arabik, F; Joe Cigal, F; Dylan Laramee, D; Ben Gardiner, F; Kadyn Laramee, D.

NEWCOMERS: Sophomores — Joe Meon, F; Freshmen — Mike Arabik, D; Cole Hambley, F/D; Nick Hartley, F; Austin Deren, F; Josh Chateauneuf, F; Nate Loughman, F; Sean Sullivan, F.

OUTLOOK: The Tigers are two years removed from reaching the state championship. The departure of key seniors adds to the challenge this season. The deep crop of returning players, highlighted by Anthony Cigal, will look to vault South Hadley back to the playoff success.

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