H.S. hockey notebook: New coach leading Belchertown in return to the ice

  • Francis Henderson, left, of Belchertown, moves the puck against Brandon Peritz, of Amherst Regional, during action in 2020 at the Mullins Center. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Published: 12/13/2021 3:36:43 PM
Modified: 12/13/2021 3:36:05 PM

It had been over a year since the Belchertown hockey team last hit the ice. Last season they didn’t compete at all because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This year, they’re looking for a fresh slate, and with a new head coach behind the bench, they’re ready to show off the skills they’ve been honing.

New coach Derek Chandonnet enters his first season in charge after serving 15 years as an assistant coach at Ludlow High School. As the season gets going, he said he’s learning more about his new team as the players get used to being back with each other on the ice after not getting to play at all last year because of COVID-19.

“The guys are beyond thrilled to be back playing ice hockey together for Belchertown High School as a team. And they're all very dedicated, working hard on (and off) the ice,” said Chandonnet. “So it speaks volumes to the character of these guys and the culture that we’re building here.”

Chandonnet said he’s been impressed with what he’s seen from his team so far, and is ready to surprise a few people with the talent the Orioles have on the ice. Particularly, he’s excited for opponents to match up against the line of Andrew Fijal, Francis Henderson and Brady Moreau, a trio that he thinks could be the most dominant line in all of Western Mass.

“They really do bring a lot of high-end skill, and I don't think people know about them,” said Chandonnet. “I think teams are actually gonna be really surprised when you see these guys… they’re going to be tough to handle.”

The Orioles opened their season with a 4-0 win over Southwick over the weekend.

NEW STRIPES FOR THE TIGERS – South Hadley will also have a new head coach with Kevin Stefanik stepping into the head coaching spot after spending five years as one of the team’s assistants.

The Tigers are in an interesting position heading into this season. They lost a significant number of seniors last year but still return 14 players, including 12 upperclassmen. It’ll be hard to fill the seniors’ skates, but Stefanik is confident his players are ready to shoulder the load of more responsibility, much like he has in his new role. 

“The upperclassmen that are returning, we're going to need more out of them. They're going to be playing more minutes than last year, and they're going to be playing in a lot more situations,” Stefanik said. “We expect, and (with) me being a first year coach, it's (about) discipline and responsibility, and then let's try to have the play do the talking.”

They're looking for a strong performance after a lackluster season last time around. Much like everybody else, the Tigers had to deal with a shortened season because of the pandemic, but Stefanik noted that the group underachieved during that time, going just 3-3-1. A number of factors could have contributed to that end result, but the hope is that this year, they’ll come in with higher expectations with the athletic conditioning and on-ice skill to back it up. South Hadley opened with a 1-1 tie against Amherst last week.

“Guys are buying in pretty easily. The practices have been flowing pretty well, we’re getting back into the swing of things,” said Stefanik. “A good core of this group has played in the offseason. So we don't have too many guys fresh out of the gate.”

FAMILY SAVING THE DAY (AND PUCKS) AT EASTHAMPTON – The Eagles entered the season unsure if any of their players could be a goalie. Then Hampshire Regional sophomore Paige Galpin stepped in (Easthampton is a co-op team comprised of players from Easthampton, Hampshire, Northampton and Smith Vocational). She originally planned to play girls hockey for Pope Francis then changed her mind to come play for the Eagles and play with her brother, senior Tyler Galpin, one more year.

The Eagles didn’t compete last season due to the difficulties of bringing together athletes from so many schools during the pandemic. They’ll lean on experienced seniors like Tyler Galpin and Tyler Garwin, who helped Easthampton win a second straight Western Mass title as freshmen.

“They want to get back there, and this team knows that they can,” Easthampton coach Timothy Pfau said.

Owen Hunter will provide a boost of experience after playing junior varsity at Williston and seeing some varsity action last season.

The Eagles will also benefit from a talented corps of sophomores whose debut was delayed a year like Zach Roy and Gabe Growhowski.

WAVE FINALLY CRASHES – Greenfield’s 3-2 loss against Westfield last week was the team’s first defeat in 653 days. The Green Wave finished last year’s pandemic-abbreviated campaign 12-0-1 after winning the program’s first state title in 2020. Their last defeat previously was Feb. 12, 2020, against Whitman-Hanson 4-1.

ORR NOT – Amherst Regional won’t be playing its home games at Amherst College’s Orr Rink this season like it typically has due to the college limiting outside access to its facilities. Instead, the Hurricanes will host teams at the Mullins Center Practice Rink, sharing the space with rival Belchertown.

Amherst played 11 games last season and took its lumps with a startlingly young team.

Senior leader and 100-point scorer Kouji Ishida graduated, but leading goal scorer Georgios Alimionos returns along with a talented crop of sophomores that received a healthy amount of seasoning last year.

GIRLS HOCKEY – There are a number of local girls’ players who will be competing for Pope Francis this upcoming season. They include Amherst's Ivory Arguin, Ava Carvel, Felix Goeckel, Eleanor Jacoby, and Brooke Weinman, Lila Roche and Camryn Rogalski from Frontier, Ava Hentrick, Madeleine Labrie, Mary Styspek, Addison Write and Sara Wright from Hopkins Academy, and Rowan Howe from Northampton.

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