THE NRHS boys’ hockey team finished the regular season at 8-9-1 and will now await the seedings of the Div. 4 state tournament. The Hornets were ranked No. 13 in the latest rankings announced on Tuesday. (Eric Evans File Photo)



SAUGUS — As the high school hockey season winds toward the MIAA Tournament, much of the attention of coaches, athletes, and fans is focused on the Power Rankings which, several years ago, replaced a team’s win-loss record as the deciding factor in playoff placement.

Along with the record, the Rankings take into account strength of schedule and margin of victory.

In recent weeks, North Reading ice hockey has made great strides, climbing steadily to reach No. 13 of the 51 teams represented in Division 4. Despite dropping 5 of their last 7, the Hornets have faced a number of top-10 teams in their respective divisions which, regardless of the end result, has driven an upward trend in the rankings.

Margin of victory played a role in last week’s rematch with Pentucket. In the earlier meeting, North Reading overpowered the Panthers, 8-2. On Valentines Day, the Hornets repeated the effort, handing the visitors an 8-4 defeat. Goal scorers included Max Forristall, Tom Gazda, and Jack Hodgin. Nolan DeGregorio had a breakout game, with two goals and two assists while the Hornets current scoring leader, Christian Lava, notched a hat-trick.

“Winning by that margin will certainly help us with the Power Rankings and hopefully boost us up a couple of notches,” said North Reading coach Brian McAuliffe, at the time.

Exhibiting tremendous accuracy, blue-liner DeGregorio seems to have found a home on the right point.

“My dad has been telling me to keep shooting from the point so I took his advice,” said the senior co-captain, who is now third-ranked in Hornets scoring with 4-goals and 13-assists. “Those were my first two goals from the point and I was glad to be able to help the team.”

“Nolan was locked in and played a great game, probably his best of the season,” said McAuliffe. “He was able to find the net on a number of occasions.”

Lava, who has tallied 7 times in the last 5 games to add to his team-leading 13-goals, buried the eventual game-winner, from DeGregorio, while skating on the man advantage. The freshman lit the lamp once in each of the three periods.

“Without a doubt, Lava has been a force out there,” said McAuliffe. “He puts his head down and goes to work, powers through, and gets pucks on net. He had a number of goal scorer’s goals tonight so it looks like he’s coming into a nice little zone.”

“This was a CAL (Cape Ann League) game and we needed this win to keep us in the race for the league title,” said Lava who, in addition to 13-goals, has 11-assists. “We put up a good effort tonight. Their goalie played well but we kept peppering him and a few popped in.”

North Reading didn’t fare as well on Saturday night when the club traveled to face the D3 10th-ranked Triton Vikings. Trailing 3-0 heading into the third period, the Hornets rallied with three to tie it only to suffer their second overtime defeat in the last two weeks.

Junior Duncan Gulino enjoyed his second multiple goal outing of the season, scoring a minute into the pivotal third frame to snap the shutout and again, to knot it at 3-3 with 2:16 left in regulation. But the Vikings proved one better, beating netminder Charlie Cooper 3:20 into the 4-on-4 overtime segment.

“To fight back like that, down three and coming back, that one hurt,” said McAuliffe. “I give them credit. We challenged them before the third period, especially Coach (Dan) Giddings, and they responded. But then we took a number of unnecessary penalties which was the difference in the game.”

On Monday, North Reading traveled to take part in the 12th Annual two-day Jeff Hayes Tournament, staged at the Gallo Rink in Bourne.

In the opening round, the Hornets finally snapped the overtime woes of recent weeks, defeating the 2nd-ranked 15-2 Nantucket Whalers in a shootout. Scoreless until deep into the second period, Max Forristall buried a go-ahead, unassisted goal, while skating on the man advantage. Nantucket tied it midway through the third. The five-minute, four-on-four failed to resolve the deadlock, sending the contest to a 3-man shootout.

McAuliffe chose to go second, sending Gazda, Lava, and Forristall as the Hornet shooters. The first-up Nantucket skater beat Charlie Cooper to go up, 1-0. Gazda was stopped on a nice save by the Whalers netminder. Cooper stuffed their next shooter and then Lava evened it at 1-1, burying a goal glove side. Cooper stoned the third shooter, leaving it to Forristall.

“Max fired one low to the blocker side, just inside the post for the huge win,” said McAuliffe.

On Tuesday, North Reading wrapped up the regular season with a 4-1 loss to 15-5 Auburn-Millbury in the Jeff Hayes championship round. The Hornets finish at 8-9-1 overall and now await the MIAA Tournament assignments, expected to be announced in the week ahead.