Seniors, defense lead Easthampton in Division 3A state hockey final

  • Easthampton sophomore goalie Tyler Cortis prepares for a shot on goal as Jayden Blackburn (5) of Amherst slips by defenseman Jake Delisle in the second period of the Eagles' 6-2 win over the Hurricanes in their Western Massachusetts Division 3A semifinal at Olympia Ice Center in West Springfield on Saturday, March 2, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • South Hadley senior forward Ben Watkins tries to settle a shot deflected by Easthampton sophomore goal Tyler Cortis in the first period of the Eagles' 5-1 win over the Tigers in their Western Massachusetts Div. 3A quarterfinal at Olympia Ice Center in West Springfield on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

For the Gazette
Published: 3/12/2019 10:08:45 PM

HOLYOKE — The Easthampton boys hockey team is playing in the state final for a second straight year.

With nine seniors, this time the Eagles enter the Division 3A championship with experience.

Easthampton (13-7-3) will play Northbridge (15-7-1) at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Holy Cross in Worcester.

Last year, the Eagles fell 5-2 to Lunenburg in their first trip to the state final. Northbridge beat Lunenburg in overtime to set up Wednesday’s final.

“I imagine they’re ecstatic that they get to play these extra games and that they have the opportunity a second year in a row to play in a state game,” Eagles coach Bill Grise said of his seniors, Tuesday before practice at Fitzpatrick Skating Rink.

Because of the veteran presence and experience from last year’s campaign, Grise feels his team matches up well against Northbridge.

“Usually the teams from central Mass. have a little more depth than some of the teams from western Mass., but from what I’m reading, I don’t know if that’s going to hold as much truth this year,” Grise said. “I think going into this game we’re going to be pretty evenly matched.”

Northbridge will face a strong defensive front as Easthampton has allowed only five goals in three games this postseason.

In front of first-year goalie Tyler Cortis is defensemen Jake Delisle, Byron Dudas, Jacob Ross and Matt Sullivan.

“A lot of what you don’t see is the work the defensemen put in,” Grise said. “They usually don’t get their names and numbers on the score sheet and for us that’s something we’ve been emphasizing. If you look back at the last few games, we’re only letting up a few goals a game. We keep that up, we’re in good shape.”

Led by seniors Dudas and Ross, the Eagles allowed 2.25 goals per game during the regular season.

“We try our best to keep it away from the net as best as we can,” Dudas said. “We should be able to come together to shut down some more goals.”

The success from Easthampton’s defensive core is the result of zone coverage being a big focus area throughout the postseason. The Eagles held South Hadley (4.1 goals per game) to one goal in the quarterfinals, Amherst (4.9 gpg) to two goals in the semifinals and Belchertown (3.8 gpg) to two goals in the finals.

“We’ve spent a lot of time in practice going over D zone coverage and like I said, I don’t think the defensemen get enough credit,” Grise said. “They’ve done a great job and that’s been huge to our success these last few games.”

CJ Tenczar and Garren Fugiel have led Easthampton in scoring with 100 career points under each of them. They’ll be key to the offense, but the Eagles’ zone coverage is the main factor at the other end.

“That’s the key,” Grise said. “We’re trying to score first and prevent them from scoring. Our offense all year has done a great job and we’ve definitely been focusing on defense and tightening things up in the D zone and it’s been working out.”

Rather than worrying about specific matchups against Northbridge, Easthampton will be operating the way it’s been year round. The Eagles will be sticking to their system, the one that’s proven to work.

“We’re set up in a way in which we’re not going to match up with their offense,” Grise said. “We’re going to stick with our system. I think all four of our defensemen that play are capable of sticking to our system and matching up with anybody on their team.”

The stakes are high for the Eagles.

“We’re trying to keep the focus, and the mentality is that we’ve got one more shot at this,” Grise said. “We have nine seniors and this is their last high school game they’ll ever play regardless of the outcome, and we have to go out there, especially for them. We have to go all out.”




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