ORLEANS – It wasn’t the victory that the Nauset Regional High School boys’ hockey team had hoped for, but the Warriors remain confident that their performance in Saturday’s season-opening loss gives them a foundation they can build on going forward.
After skating to just three wins a year ago, Nauset was eager to return to the ice in what marked the debut of first-year head coach Drew Locke, who had overseen the Warriors’ boys’ junior varsity hockey program the past five seasons.
Although visiting Nantucket handed Nauset a 3-0 loss at the Charles Moore Arena, the Warriors left their opener feeling optimistic about what they can accomplish this year.
“It’s really, really tough because these kids have worked their butts off to get to the rink every day and have been following these (COVID-19) protocols,” Locke said. “All they want to do is win. We lost and made some mistakes, but now we have chalkboard material and know what we can work on.”
Neither team looked particularly sharp in the opening minutes. It wasn’t until late in the first period that the visitors struck first when senior Gavin Pekarcik snuck a low shot past Warriors’ freshman goaltender Kaden Bono from the slot to give the Whalers a 1-0 lead with 2:30 remaining in the first frame.
Nantucket made it 2-0 midway through the middle period when junior Hudson Perry bested Bono off a rebound. The Whalers tacked on an insurance goal late as another senior, Marsh Hickman, buried an empty-net goal with 14 seconds to play in the third period.
It was a rewarding result for the Nantucket players and coaches. The school opted to not play fall sports due to an uptick in COVID-19 cases, meaning the Whalers hockey players became the first Nantucket athletes to compete in sports since last winter’s season ended in March.
“It was great to see them in an actual game atmosphere,” Nantucket coach Scott Corbett said. “It’s been a little more than 10 months for our school since any of our teams have competed, so it was great.”
Although Whalers senior goaltender James Culkins made 20 saves to secure a shutout, the Warriors were able to manufacture multiple scoring chances. Perhaps the best scoring opportunity of the day came in the third period when senior co-captain Clayton Hussey drove to the Nantucket net and launched a backhanded shot on goal.
Hussey’s offering bested Culkins, though it bounced off the crossbar and out of the net. The co-captain’s immediate reaction looked as though he thought the puck crossed the goal line, a belief Hussey confirmed after the game when asked about the play.
“I was pretty confident that it went in,” Hussey said. “We all thought it went in. We should’ve celebrated more to try to trick the refs.”
Other bright spots for Nauset included sophomore left wing Cooper McIntire, who peppered Culkins with shots on goal throughout the night. Locke also praised sophomore center Logan Valine, sophomore defenseman Sam Weiner and sophomore center Cam Taylor for turning in strong performances.
Bono was another Nauset underclassman who was impressive, making 17 saves in his varsity debut. He entered the preseason as the second netminder on the depth chart behind sophomore Kevin Wright, who had to sit out the start of the year after it was determined he was in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
Locke said he knows Wright will give the team a boost when he returns to play, but the coach was also quick to compliment Bono for hanging tough between the pipes.
“I was definitely pleased with him,” Locke said. “He’s a big kid but he can go side to side and flash his pads. He has great instincts. To see where he’s at as a freshman, I can’t wait to see how he improves and where he’s at in the middle of the season.”
Bono said his confidence grew each time he made a save.
“It was pretty nerve-wracking at first, but once I got out on the ice, I got the feel for everything and got into my own zone and started feeling more comfortable,” he said. “It made me more comfortable when I made a few saves.”
Saturday also served as the team’s first taste of playing hockey during a pandemic. One of the most noticeable differences about this year is that the players are forced to wear masks, which Bono said “requires more stamina” out of players.
With only three seniors on its roster, Nauset will rely on Hussey, his senior co-captain Ethan Kenney, and their assistant captain, Noah Clarke, a junior, for leadership. Even after experiencing the frustrations missing a goal by a centimeter or two, Hussey said the Warriors are optimistic this year will be special for the boys’ hockey team.
“After what we went through last year, we have a group of kids that know what it takes,” Hussey said. “Over the summer, we all made a commitment and went to the gym and captains’ practices throughout the fall leading up to now. It’s frustrating (to lose), but it’s also nice to know we were right in that game.”
The Warriors are tentatively scheduled to return to the ice Jan. 13 for their Cape and Islands League opener against Barnstable at 6 p.m. at the Hyannis Youth and Community Center.
Email Brad Joyal at email@example.com