One year ago, head coach Andy Heinze and his staff watched his young corps of players grow and flourish during the challenging junior hockey season. The tireless hours of teaching and practice resulted in an impressive quarterfinal appearance in the Eastern Junior Hockey League (EJHL) playoffs.
Fast forward to the 2011-2012 season and Heinze is happy to welcome back a strong group of returning players whom he hopes will lead the Warriors to the top of league standings. With only a handful of league games under his belt, Heinze is excited about the season that will unfold over the next seven months.
“I would expect a great deal of improvement overall with our forwards and the experience that we have coming back,” said Heinze, a two-time EJHL Coach of the Year. “That experience that we have coming back is a group of players who bring us not only goal scoring but solid two-way play.”
Playing both ends of the ice has been a cornerstone of Heinze’s coaching style and it has allowed the program to develop more than 100 top Division I, II and III players over the past 10 years. Mark Roebothan (UMass-Lowell), David Strathman (Northeastern University), Mark Pandolfo (UMass Lowell) and Joe Cucci (Merrimack College) are just a sample of the outstanding talent that has come from the program.
Heinze sees no reason why this newest corps of Warriors won’t follow in line with their predecessors.
“I know that they are all excited to get going and excited about the talent coming back and the talent coming in,” said Heinze. “They had an opportunity to come together this summer at the Showcases and I can see that the commitment is there.”
Here is an inside look at the 2011-2011 VJW Junior A squad.
FORWARDS Last season, the Warriors depended on a more experienced defensive group to anchor its young forwards. This year, the situation has flipped as Heinze welcomes back a handful of top producers.
“I would expect a great deal of improvement overall with our forwards and the experience that we have coming back,” said Heinze. “Our returning scorers were consistent with their play and point production, and I think that we are going to be real solid there.”
Returning for the new season are Josh Woody(Sunderland, MD), Trevor Braun(Windham, ME), JohnJackson (Bixby, OK), John Rogeri(Katy, TX), Connor McStravick(Philadelphia, PA) and Max Lorenzen(Leesburg, VA).
Woody was the team’s leading scorer last year with 19 goals and 22 assists in 35 games. He also notched a team-high four game-winning goals. Jackson, McStravich and Braun were all 20+ point producers, while Rogeri was a key special teams player as he - along with Woody - led the team with four power-play goals. Lorenzren played in 39 games and finished with 13 points
“All of these kids are physically more developed,” said Heinze, who along with Braun represented the Warriors at last season's EJHL All-Star game. “As a whole, we will still be fairly young from an age perspective, but I would say we are more physically developed which will make us faster and more consistent through our lines and better able to match up against the teams we will be competing against.”
Complementing the returners will be some new blood which Heinze hopes will inject some energy into the lineup. Two such players have been most recently developing their skills under the tutelage of former RPI standout Eric Cavosie at Albany Academy.
Nick Pichette(Messena, NY), a southpaw, has quickness and natural athleticism as he was a multi-sport athlete while at Albany Academy.
“He will probably play left wing for us and has good speed and quickness and a knack around the net,” said Heinze. “His speed is going to be an important factor as we watch how he adjusts to the quicker pace of play at the junior level.”
While Pichette stands at 5’8”, his teammate at Albany Academy and now with the Warriors - Albee Daley(Albany, NY) - brings his towering 6’1” frame to Haverhill this season.
“He is a bigger kid, but he uses his linemates pretty well,” said Heinze. “He is a good skater who gets around the ice well. I would say he will be more of a set-up guy because he finds guys well and sees the ice well.”
Another private-school product who will be looking to take on a key role offensively will be Tabor Academy product, Mark Meads(Middleton, MA), who has already signed on to play for Bentley College next spring.
“He is a kid who adds to our ability up front,” said Heinze. “He plays a good, solid two-way game. That is why Bentley took him. They appreciate what he does in the offensive end and the value he brings in the defensive end.”
Also looking to contribute this season will be Devin Smith(North Grafton, MA) and Connor Cunningham(Ashurn, VA).
“We have seen the kids through the spring and summer showcases, but obviously it’s different when you get into the regular season,” said Heinze. “
DEFENSE A key question mark for Heinze and his staff revolves around a defensive unit that is brimming with potential but lacking in experience at the junior level. This will be a new challenge given that the Warriors were one of the strongest defensive teams last season. The VJW squad returns only two of eight defensemen from last season.
“We will be very competitive in the league, but how high we end up is going to depend on how our defense comes along during the early part of the season,” said Heinze. “Up front we are pretty confident, but we will need our defense to step up in order for us to be successful.”
One player who will need to take a lead role along the blue line will be Marcus Moles(Lake Placid, NY), who returns for his second EJHL season. The 6'2", 198-pound defenseman played in 35 games during the 2010-2011 season and will be looked upon for his leadership.
“Last year was a development year for him and maybe a transition year where he started to understand what junior hockey is all about,” said Heinze. “By the end of the season, you could see that he was getting used to the pace and speed and playing more consistently. He has worked hard during the off season to get into better shape and to develop more speed and quickness. He also has some skill offensively which will help our transition game.”
Another formidable figure on the blue line will be Brett Mason(Rowley, MA), who played in 43 games last year and was the second highest point producer among defensemen. The lefty finished with 18 points, including three power-play tallies.
“He is in his third year and has lots of experience,” said Heinze. “Offensively he has good skills and has worked our power play for about a year now. He can find the net from the defensive position and distributes the puck well. He is a good, solid skater offensively and defensively and he decided to do one more year of junior hockey which was a nice development for us to get a guy like that back.”
Another Albany Academy - Conor Riley(Massena, NY) will hopefully jump right into the lineup.
“He has a good overall game and does a good job on both ends of the ice,” said Heinze. “He has the skating ability to jump into the play and sees the ice well. He is a real solid talent that could have a great year this season.”
As with any young crew, Heinze will also look to some “unknowns” to help. Two top talents from Sweden were brought aboard after the coaching staff studied them on tape. One such player is defenseman WikingWestlund(Sweden).
“We understand that he is a very solid defenseman who will have some Division I and II interest,” said Heinze.
Filling out the defensive corps and vying for playing time will be Ben Balsama(NJ), Kevin Brennan(Warren, NJ), Paul Wrenn(Charlestown, MA) and Christian Kader (North Reading, MA)... the younger brother of former VJW star Tom Kader who went on to play at Colby College.
GOALTENDING Battling for the top spot in net will be another product from Sweden - Fabian Sivnert(Sweden) - and up-and-comer Noah Klagg(Bryn Mawr, PA).
“Fabian has played internationally at a high level and we feel that he will transition well into our league,” said Heinze.
While Sivnert has a bit more playing experience, Klagg brings energy and youth as he will be one of the youngest netminders in the league this season. He led his Comcast U-18 team to the Midget Nationals, so Heinze feels confident that he will be able to raise the level of his play as the season wears on.
“Overall he could be a good prospect,” said Heinze. “We will see how quickly he adjusts to junior play, but we think that he will push Fabian for that number one spot.”