THE MELROSE High boy’s hockey team was opening playoffs on the road against Newburyport this past Wednesday (post deadline) Pictured is junior Declan Baker. (photo by Raj Das, edphotos.com)
Melrose facing Newburyport in round 1
By JENNIFER GENTILE
NEWBURYPORT—At press time, the Melrose High boy’s hockey team were embarking in the opening round of the MIAA Div. 2 playoffs, entering the field as # 27 seed, traveling to Newburyport to face the #6 seed Clippers on Wednesday evening, March 1 (post deadline) at Graff Rink.
Melrose (5-12-3) is coming off a 3-1 win over Bedford on Feb. 22 at home at Kasabuski Rink in Saugus. It’s been grueling season in terms of schedule—that’s life in the Middlesex League—but it’s that strength of schedule that has made Melrose friendly to power rankings. The team has never fallen over #30 all season and with good reason— they battle some of the states’ best in the ML league, including the Freedom division.
Last year, Melrose entered playoffs at 1-18-1 on account of that schedule. Knocking off 6 losses in one year under the guidance from new Melrose coach Joe Ciccarello certainly speaks of an upward trajectory for Melrose.
That was evident in Melrose’s 3-1 win over Bedford, whom they hosted on Feb. 22 at Kasabuski Arena as a sampling before playoffs. The two teams were locked at 0-0 after the first before Melrose’s Justin D’Antona and Jackson Burdick found the net to put Melrose up 2-0. Despite Bedford scoring off a power play in the third, Melrose’s Jason Pino scored an empty netter to seal the victory.
Said coach Ciccarello, “We came out fast for the first time in a while and had chances. Fooch [Matthew Fuccione] in net and played well.”
The coach took over a 1-win team from 2022 and has seen advancement. “Since I met these kids, they were committed to do whatever it takes to improve from last season,” he says. “They committed themselves to the weight room and the leadership from the seniors has been great from the start. We improved but in the tourney hope to learn valuable lessons from the games that slipped by us.”
Newburyport comes into the game at 9-9-3, a fairly modest record but a nice power ranking in Div. 2 at #6. A lot of that has to do with their tough Div. 1 non-league schedule (not so much unlike Melrose) with the Clippers having faced teams like BC High on their schedule this season. Should Melrose win, they will play the winner of Westborough and Plymouth South, presumably on the road and at a time TBD.
“Newburyport will be a very difficult team to compete against,” says Ciccarello. “They’re big, fast and physical and play a difficult schedule, so we’re not letting their 9 losses make us think they are vulnerable. We will have to play our very best and hope for a few bounces.”
In order to do that, they need to play clean fundamental hockey. Says Ciccarello, “We must minimize mistakes in the middle of the ice. Get more shots on net and make good on our chances. But above all, we MUST win our zone. Defensive zone coverage is paramount and what we look at first before anything else.”
That said, he sees what they can do when they play at their best. “We feel like we can skate with any team in the league and that will only help us against non-league teams. We are excited to get started.”
Fans are encouraged to visit our social media pages and the MIAA website at www.miaa.net for up to date playoff information.