Published January 3, 2019


SAUGUS — As 2018 draws to a close, the North Reading boys’ hockey team is hoping the New Year ahead brings an upgrade to what has been a punishing start to the season. The losses continue to mount, both results-wise and via devastating injuries to key personnel.

Most recently, the winless Hornets suffered back-to-back shutout defeats in the Kasabuski Christmas Classic. In the opening round of the two-day holiday tournament, held the day after Christmas, North Reading was toppled by a Saugus club that until the teams met, had yet to win a game. After battling through a scoreless first period, Saugus cranked up the intensity in the second and netted three goals during a discouraging two-minute span. The Sachems added another in the final minute of the game to claim a 4-0 win, sending the Hornets to the consolation round.

Early in the contest with Saugus, North Reading lost the services of senior forward Joshua Zelikman, who had led his team with four goals and an assist over the first five games of the young season. Zelikman sustained an upper body injury and according to assistant coach Brian McAuliffe, will be out of the lineup indefinitely. With Zelikman accounting for all but two of North Reading’s six total goals, he will be sorely missed.

“We’re waiting on some CT scan results so it’s a little early to discuss a prognosis on his injury,” shared McAuliffe. “But luckily, we got sophomore Jake DiNapoli back. He suffered a neck injury in an early practice. He’ll be a guy who we expect will fill a scoring role.”

THE HORNETS line up for the National Anthem during their first game of the Kasabuski Christmas Classic on Dec. 26. (Dan Pawlowski Photo)

When tournament play resumed on Thursday morning, the Hornets faced an even steeper challenge in Triton, a team that earlier had been dispatched to the consolation game by eventual Kasabuski Classic champion Melrose.

North Reading and Triton opened the season two weeks ago, with the Vikings pulling out a 5-2 win over their host. It was déjà vu all over again for the shorthanded Hornets. In the first go around, North Reading trailed 2-0 early but surged back to tie only to give up three late goals. On Thursday, Triton clung to a 1-0 advantage until early in the third when the Hornets yielded a quick pair, two minutes apart.

North Reading certainly didn’t lack opportunities to put a couple in the net. The officials ensured the scorekeeper earned his keep, whistling thirteen penalties in all – eight to a Triton group that seriously lacked discipline. While the Hornets were penalized for the typical tripping and hooking infractions, Triton skaters were frequently sent to the box for unsportsmanlike incidents. Their best player, TJ Regan, who scored the Viking’s first goal and assisted on the second, was disqualified and sent to an early shower for sharing his unwelcome verbal viewpoint with a referee.

CAM ALTER covers up a loose puck against Saugus during the first round of the Kasabuski Christmas Classic. (Dan Pawlowski Photo)

Even skating on the man advantage, however, North Reading struggled to get shots on net. In fact, the Hornets allowed a shorthanded tally that put the upstart Vikings in front, 3-0, midway through the third period.

“We’re doing the little things well, like shooting the puck low and looking for rebounds,” explained McAuliffe. “It’s just a matter of getting a good bounce here and there and building some confidence, as well as building chemistry between our lines.”

While the Hornets were unable to apply sustained pressure, there were a number of noteworthy individual chances that tested Vikings netminder Ben Fougere. Mark Potter, Alex VerColen, and William McCann each had a pair of decent bids but were ultimately unable to snap the scoring drought.

There are always positives to be taken from a negative and in the case of the Hornets, that would be Cameron Alter. In the consolation round, the junior goaltender came away with 23-stops and kept his team in range until very late in the game when Triton’s opportunistic Sam Rennick scored a pair back-to-back on follow-ups. In fact, most of the goals Alter has thus far given up have been on second chances, when the defense in front was slow to render aid.

“Cam has been a pleasant surprise,” said McAuliffe. “He has shown he is definitely capable at the varsity level. In front of him, we are a young, inexperienced team but I think we’re progressing. It’s only a matter of time before we start rolling with some wins.”