By Chris Villani
The Northbridge/Nipmuc ice hockey co-op has been seemingly entrenched in the mid to high 20s in the statewide power rankings, putting the Rams on the playoff bubble to earn a spot in the 32-team field.
Northbridge, like most teams, has been affected by COVID but has been able to battle for some wins along the way and some competitive games against top teams in the league and in the eastern part of the state.
“We have most of our guys back and, as people have started to come back, we have become more competitive,” head coach Ryan Neville said. “The kids are playing really well and starting to gel and put the puck in the net. We’ve got a few games left and we are hoping to make that tournament.”
Under the new format, Northbridge figures to be able to hold on to a tournament spot if it remains competitive in the last couple of games of the year.
“Our strength of schedule will certainly help us out,” Neville said.
Upton senior Luke Lange has continued to lead the blue line unit, as he has for the past four years.
“We have been short on defense at times and running a three-man rotation and Luke just logs a ton of minutes,” Neville said. “He plays a physical brand of hockey.”
Junior Derek Consigli, another Nipmuc student, has shown needed versatility. A forward by trade, he has also moved back to the defensive end when his team has needed some extra help on the blue line.
Nipmuc’s Joe Sullivan and Brett Flanders have provided a stellar one-two punch on offense. Both sophomores, Sullivan leads the team in goals and Flanders started the week with the highest point total on the roster.
“Those are the two guys we look to for offense,” Neville said.
Northbridge is hoping to get a boost on defense before the tournament if Nipmuc junior Patrick Schrafft can return from a shoulder injury, but Neville said his status is “up in the air.”
Northbridge is looking to make some noise in the postseason this year and, with 17 players set to return next winter, figures to be even stronger next season.
“They are all getting valuable experience now and playing a full slate of games,” Neville said. “I think we are set up really well going forward.”