Locals keying impressive starts for Pope Francis girls, boys hockey teams
|Published: 01-30-2023 8:10 PM
It can be hard for any new program to get off the ground during the early stages. There’s a lot that goes into creating a team — finding the right coaches, developing enough chemistry together, getting used to the grind of practice and games.
But in just three short years, the Pope Francis girls hockey team has established itself as one of the premier programs in the state. For the second straight year, the Cardinals cracked the Hockey Night in Boston’s Division 1 Top 10, a prestigious list highlighting the top teams in the state.
“Going into this year, we knew that the training wheels were off. This is our third year as a program so our schedule is probably, safe to say, one of the hardest schedules in Division 1,” Pope Francis head coach Chris Connors said. “I made that [schedule] with an intended purpose to get us battle tested for the state tournament and again, our group has answered the bell.”
Pope Francis has an 8-2-1 record, and the Cardinals are currently riding a seven game winning streak. In the MIAA’s most recent power rankings, the squad was No. 13 in Division 1.
The program is a co-op that includes a variety of schools, with local players from Granby, Easthampton, Frontier, Amherst and Hopkins Academy helping comprise the roster. Fourteen players returned from last year’s team, including senior captain Lila Roche from Frontier who has been a critical part of the team’s defensive core. That group has been one of the team’s biggest strengths this season.
“Our strong point is definitely our overall team depth and if you want to take it a step further, our team defense is extremely stingy,” Connors said. “We practice defensive zone coverage, we practice backchecking on a daily basis and our girls take great pride in it. They realize that to have a good offense, you need a solid defense… and that all starts in goal.”
The team’s go-to goalie this year has been Amherst’s Felix Goeckel, who has been a reliable and consistent presence in the crease all season.
“She is a competitor. Felix stands at probably five feet tall, but she plays goal like she's six feet tall,” Connors said. “She's been the backbone of our team, and a big contributor to our success.”
Other local players playing key roles this year include Hopkins Academy’s Addie Wright, Madeline Labrie and Ava Hentnick, Amherst’s Eleanor Jacoby and Ivorie Arguin, Granby’s Grace Sands and Nadiya Champigny, Easthampton’s Giada Musa and Camryn Rogowski, formerly of Frontier.
Pope Francis next hosts East Catholic on Friday at Smead Arena in Springfield.
Last year was a learning situation for the Pope Francis boys’ hockey team. The Cardinals skewed younger than usual as they got used to playing together, and the team finished with a 10-7-1 record – not bad, but not up to the program’s usual lofty standards.
A lot of those same players are back with another year of experience under their belts. The Cardinals’ hard work is paying off; the team has a 9-1-3 record this season, and is ranked No. 3 in the most recent MIAA Division 1 Power Rankings.
“Our expectations are always pretty high. We've generally been a top a team, I'd say in the last 12 years,” Pope Francis head coach Brian Foley said. “Last year we were young, we had a lot of first-year varsity players, and all those kids are back. So that year of experience last year is vital and we had a lot of high expectations coming into the season with our experience.”
This year, the group is one of the most well-rounded teams that Foley has had, and that depth has been showcased when the Cardinals have been besting their opponents. The team has been able to roll four forward lines along with a solid group of defenders. Add in steady goaltending from senior goalie Vincent Maggi, and there aren’t many teams in Massachusetts that have been able to keep up with them.
“We always have competitive teams but they're always built differently. This team, what makes us unique like past teams is the depth. Being able to play four lines regularly and then to have a 1A and 1B (line) that scores equally, we haven't had that a lot over the years,” Foley said. “To couple two really high offensive-producing forward lines with maybe our most balanced [defensive] core and good goaltending – I think we're a tougher team to play against.”
The top two lines – made up of the trios of Josh Iby, Mossey Kearney and CJ Watroba, and Nick Petkovich, Jacob Petrin and Easthampton native Ryan O’Leary – have mostly shared scoring responsibilities. O’Leary’s brother Sean and Belchertown native Zachary Buffone are part of a defensive core that has garnered much praise from Foley. Also contributing to the roster is another Belchertown native, RJ Cormier, in goal.
Last year, the squad fell in the Round of 16 of the Division 1 state tournament. If the Cardinals can keep playing like they have this year, they should go much further than that this time around. Pope Francis next hosts Mount Saint Charles Academy on Thursday at the Olympia Ice Center in West Springfield.