Woburn loves its high school hockey team
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They come hours before the game, cooking sausages and hamburgers over a hot grill, blasting music from their cars, getting hyped up for the action of the night.
They flood into Ned O’Brien Rink 15 minutes before game time, a slow moving stream of orange-clad bodies slowly filling the stands at the end of the arena.
When they fill up the section at The Ned, it becomes a wave of orange in a sea of 300-plus students.
It is a Wednesday night and it is only the third game of the season.
After a season of unfulfilled expectation, the Woburn boys’ hockey team enters the 2012-2013 season a more relaxed bunch, despite the lively behavior that swirls around them in the stands during home games.
Following a Super 8 run in the 2010-2011 season, the Tanners were poised to do great things last year with high-profile players Casey Shea, Danny Holland, and Jake Secatore leading the way.
After a scorching 7-1-1 start, those high-profile names drew high-profile attention, as opposing teams met the Tanners with full force.
Soon the intense pressure and untimely injuries would lead to inconsistency down the stretch, and preseason hopes soon slipped from their grasp.
The team did not make the Super 8 tournament and was subsequently knocked out in the second round of the Division 1 tourney by Acton-Boxborough, 4-3.
Turn the page and those big names are gone this season.
In a stacked Middlesex League, which features both the defending Division 1 (Burlington) and Division 2 (Wilmington) champions, Woburn seemed to be a mere afterthought coming into the season, and they would have it no other way.
“This year is fun,” said Woburn coach Jim Duran . “We had some really good players, but there was a lot of pressure and guys wanted to knock them off [last year]. We’d rather be the underdog and with this group of kids, they just work.”
This year’s group includes a crew of seven seniors, headed by captains Joe Connors and Jared Baker, a pair of first-line forwards who lead the young Tanners squad.
Over their first four games Woburn scored 12 goals against some of the better teams in the Middlesex league, and seven different players accounted for the scores, including two each from the captains and three from sophomore Nicholas Baldino .
Baldino, a second-liner alongside twin brother Christian and freshman Evan McDonald (two goals) , all provide the Woburn Tanners with a speedy, skilled scoring threat over the boards once the first line is spent.
After starting every game in net as a sophomore, Jeremy Flibotte takes his place back between the pipes, having polished his skills with the EMass Senators in the offseason.
Now with a year of experience under his belt, he brings a renewed confidence in his abilities, which in turn gives his team and coaching staff confidence in him.
“Jeremy we threw to the wolves last year,” said Duran of his goalie. “He really had no experience, but he’s been good now, he has to be. You can’t be average. Hopefully he is going to get better and better because he has already.”
“Jeremy has been great for us,” said Baker. “His confidence has grown so much since last year and it has helped him improve and he is only going to get better.”
In front of Flibotte stands an inexperienced unit of blue liners, with all but senior Andrew Deane getting their first major minutes with the Tanners defense.
Duran has lauded the continued growth of this unit.
“Right now I think our defense is really unsung,” said Duran. “Andrew Deane thinks he can play 45 minutes. Brian Elliot and Billy Bird, they’ve stepped in and haven’t had much experience, but they’re playing very, very well. They’re keeping it simple.”
“They are doing a great job,” added Connors of his blue liners. “Every day at practice they get better. We don’t have any household names, like a Jake Secatore, but they work as a unit and they are getting better every day.”
In that third game of the season, with the crowd surging, that unsung defense stepped up against defending champion Burlington, held them to four shots over the final two periods, and received the equalizer from defenseman Mark DeSantis.
An orange eruption nearly knocked the lid off The Ned as the Tanners skated off with a 2-2 tie.
“It was a big crowd and Burlington has a lot of experience and a lot of good players,” said a content Duran following the game. “We tried to slow everything down and keep it simple and they did that.”
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