Amesbury Indians Boys Ice Hockey '07-'08

Michael Duggan, 11, of Amesbury watches an Amesbury hockey game against North Andover earlier this season. Amesbury enters its regular season finale against Triton this evening winless (0-18-1). Some feel that Amesbury's trying season may dissuade youth leaguers like Duggan from playing hockey at Amesbury High. » Mary Muckenhoupt, Staff Photographer

Amesbury hockey program looking for first win in regular-season finale

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Thursday, February, 21 By Dan Guttenplan
Sports editor

It had been 362 days since the Amesbury hockey team's most recent victory when Indians junior Billy Enaire skated with the puck at his stick during a game against Northeast Regional Thursday evening.

Enaire glided toward the Northeast Regional goal late in the third period having already deposited the game's only goal. A second goal was sure to clinch Amesbury's first victory in 19 attempts with only five minutes remaining.

Enaire fired a shot past the Northeast Regional goalie, but in a cruel twist of fate, the puck flew into the nearside post and deflected away from the net.

So much for the 2-0 lead. And so much for Amesbury's first victory.

Northeast Regional netted the tying goal with 2:30 remaining. Although the Indians (0-18-1) registered their first point of the season in the 1-1 tie, they will enter their regular season finale against Triton this evening still in search of their first victory.

"It's one of those things," Amesbury coach Peter Cignetti said of Enaire's attempt to seal his team's first victory. "It wasn't meant to be. All programs have their down years. We're getting it a little worse than most." 'There's Amesbury pride'

The down year comes on the heels of an offseason that saw Amesbury form a co-op with Whittier Tech due to desperately low participation numbers. Of the 22 members of this year's team, 16 are freshmen and sophomores. Eight are freshmen from Whittier Tech.

It's a far cry from the glory days of Amesbury hockey, which debuted as a varsity sport in 1925 before receiving permanent status in 1949. The Indians will complete their 60th consecutive season this evening. Amesbury's best seasons came under the tutelage of Leo Dupere in the 1970s. The long-time Amesbury educator took over a struggling program in 1964 and posted a 192-106-36 record over 17 seasons. To date, Amesbury teams have made 16 State Tournament appearances and won seven championships in three leagues | Cape Ann League (3), Twin State League (2) and Northeastern Conference (2).

"Every program has lulls," Dupere said yesterday. "I can recall some bad years in my early days of coaching. Amesbury kids are tough, and I'm sure they're dedicated toward turning this around."

With the parity in the Cape Ann League and, more specifically, the River Rival Region, it's true any team is capable of a down spell. Newburyport posted a 4-15-1 record as recently as 2003-04. The Clippers are 12-6-1 this winter. Triton, on the other hand, is 7-10-2 this winter | only two years removed from an 18-1-2 campaign.

"Amesbury has always had a good team at the high school level," Newburyport coach Paul Yameen said. "I think back five years, and I can sympathize with where they are. They can turn it around, and I think they will."

Still, some Amesbury hockey alumni hope the wins come sooner rather than later. Troy McGrath scored 50 points for Amesbury during his senior season (1986-87). He now coaches a Mite Instructional team for 5-, 6- and 7-year-olds in the Amesbury Youth Hockey League.

"I certainly want to see the program achieve its glory in the league," McGrath said. "There's Amesbury pride among the River Rival teams. We don't want to see the team go 0-19."

'The hard times will pass'

Bill Irwin is in his sixth year serving on the Amesbury Youth Hockey League Board of Directors. He is currently the league's vice president and has served two as president.

He said when he joined the board of Amesbury youth league in 2002, participation numbers were at an all-time low.

"There had been a decline," Irwin said. "We've been building ever since. Every year we've seen the program grow."

Irwin estimated that the league currently has 140 to 150 players | right on par with the participation numbers of Newburyport and Triton's youth league programs.

But the current high school team may be suffering the consequences of the decreased participation numbers a half a decade ago. Irwin feels that the Indians also struggle with replacing athletes who leave the area to play on select teams.

"Since the advent of select teams, people are leaving Amesbury much to our disappointment," Irwin said. "A lot of parents think their child is the next Bobby Orr, and if they don't pay $3,000, they'll never see if he's going to be good enough. Now we're finally seeing a core of Amesbury hockey families who are deciding not to make the jump."

Yameen, the Newburyport coach, said all local teams struggle with athletes opting to play junior hockey or at prep schools.

"I don't think it happens at Amesbury more than anywhere else," Yameen said. "Everybody loses guys to other high schools. They have. We have. Everybody does."

But it may only take one or two top-notch players that decide to stay at Amesbury to turn the program around, Dupere said.

"They've got to hope they can develop somebody into a top talent," Dupere said. "It doesn't take many. If you get a handful of kids to build around and they stick with it, the hard times will pass."

'I haven't seen them quit'

There are two ways to look at Amesbury's season. The darker picture adheres to the expression, "Winning breeds winning." The opposite is also sometimes true. To that point, Amesbury would not appear to be an ideal destination for an eighth-grader looking for a place to play next season. Even this year's young team may lose players who choose to pass on another year of rebuilding.

"My son (goalie Matthew Irwin) really struggled with whether or not to play this season," Bill Irwin said. "He made the decision on his own, but he and I both knew it would be a very difficult season."

Not even Cignetti wants to predict that this season will be the low point.

"I'm hoping," Cignetti said. "I don't want to put undue pressure on us. We've got to keep the kids in school. With our record being what it is, we have to sell it as a young upstart program."

Looking at the glass-half-full view, this season would appear to be a turning point for a program that may be only a year or two away from competing with the River Rival teams. Amesbury's 16 freshmen and sophomores nearly equal the participation numbers of schools like Newburyport and Triton.

In addition, Amesbury's youth league has finally returned to its glory days when rivalries with Newburyport and Triton are established at an early age.

And the co-op with Whittier, which attracted eight players this winter, would appear to equalize the stigma that comes with playing for a team that went winless for its first 19 games this season.

"Kids will want to play here," said Amesbury athletic director Elizabeth McAndrews. "I've never seen a place where kids in other sports support their own like Amesbury. I'm not naive enough to think none of the negative teasing goes on with this team. But for the most part, I think everybody is proud of the way our hockey team is playing this season."

One thing can be said about the Amesbury players: they've responded to the support. The Indians have played three of their last five games within a two-goal margin including Tuesday's tie. Coaches and parents throughout the CAL have praised the Indians for giving maximum effort every week.

Although Bill Irwin was not sure his son would return to the team after a 3-16-1 campaign last winter, he is quite confident the starting goalie will return as a junior next winter.

"People watch this team and have no idea that they haven't won a game," Bill Irwin said. "They play like they can win every night. They've gone in and played their hearts out. I haven't seen them quit in one game." One more to go.

1 Story Comments

0         SL09

Good job at Newburyport boys! Check out pictures from this and past games at whittier.mec.edu or highschoolsports.net under whittier tech, the bleachers, varsity boys ice hockey 07-08 <3 L & S

Report! #1 02/22/2008 05:05 PM