Drop the puck, the MIAA boys' and girls' hockey tournaments are set to begin for eight area teams.
The Hockomock League will be represented by Mansfield in Division 1 South, North Attleboro in Division 2 South and Attleboro High in Division 3 South.
The Norton High Lancers, skating as a varsity team in just their second season, qualified for the first time, while the combined forces of Dighton-Rehoboth and Seekonk resume postseason play after a year's absence.
Two area teams that may be overlooked, but which could have extended runs in the postseason, are Bishop Feehan High, which enters the tournament on an 8-0-1 surge while the Tri-County Cougars have amassed 14 wins.
In addition, the unbeaten Northeastern Conference champion King Philip High Warriors of the Southeastern Mass. Girls League will also be in action.
Following is a look at the boys' local squads as they embark on the postseason ice.
COACH: Rick Anastos
LAST YEAR: Lost in first round Division 1 South Tournament, 4-3, to Norwood
The Hornets have been a perplexing team for coach Rick Anastos. They strike fear into opponents with a wealth of top-notch players, including two of the premier defensemen in the Hockomock League in four-year seniors and captains Evan Kershaw and Will Kelleher.
Scoring goals, however, has been an issue and making mistakes in the defensive zone have turned a handful of potential wins into losses. A lack of practice time due to the snowstorms has also challenged consistency.
"It all depends," said Anastos of which one of his Hornet teams shows up at the rink. "I truly believe that we can skate with anybody, we can play with anybody."
The Hornets also use senior Sean Farragher, junior Mike Arnold and senior Charlie Losiewicz on defense in front of junior goalie Anthony Visconti.
The Hornets' most dynamic line has sophomore Matt Farragher centering sophomore left wing Pat Sunderland and senior four-year starter and captain Jared Collins on the right side.
A second line has junior Max Hoffman centering junior left wing Shane Doherty and junior right wing Billy Grant, while junior Conner Hall centers a third line with Chad Piotti, Shane Doherty and Tanner Haggis.
"We've played some great games, like against Canton and Bridgewater-Raynham," said Anastos.
The Hornets have lost a one-goal game to North Attleboro, surrendered three first-period goals to Medfield and skated for three periods twice with Winthrop among outcomes which left the Hornets with a .500 record.
"I think not having practiced has made a huge difference for us," said Anastos, whose Hornets have played eight games in 12 days. "You lose that repetition."
North Attleboro Rocketeers
COACH: Steve Snizek
LAST YEAR: Lost first round Division 2 South Tournament, 2-1, to Medway
"I'm confident, we have three solid lines, we skate four lines, have a solid defensive corps and a great goalkeeper (senior Brady Grunewald)," said Big Red coach Steve Snizek, who also has the Rockeeers' all-time leading scorer in senior wing Sean Young (23 goals).
In the eight seasons that Snizek has been behind the North bench, the Rocketeers have now made four straight MIAA Tournament berths.
Young (23 goals, 18 assists) skates on a line with junior Andrew Casson (14 goals, 15 assists) and senior captain Mark Ventola (four goals, 14 assists). Snizek has used Hockomock League Rookie of the Year candidate, freshman Jason McNealy (14 goals, nine assists), at center between sophomore right wing Erik Clements (eight goals, 13 assists) and sophomore Zach McGowan.
A third line has freshman Andrew Wissler between junior Brian Poillucci and sophomore Paul Yeomans while Snizek has a fourth unit consisting of sophomore Connor Ford centering junior Jack Coakley and sophomore Colin Young.
"Goal-scoring has never been an issue," said Snizek, who has legitimate snipers in Young, Casson, Clements and McNeany.
"This year, our defensive corps really played well, I'm proud of them," added Snizek of a cast led by senior Ryan Ma, who is often paired with senior Jake Crear or senior Aaron Poillucci. There are also sophomores Vince Zammiello and Paul Baker, along with the 6-foot-2 Grunewald (2.52 goals against average, 92 percent save percentage with four shutouts), who emerged as a bonafide puck-stopper in his first varsity season.
"We have a goalkeeper (Grunewald), who has really played well all year long, who could steal a game for us," said Snizek. "We have good speed and we have to use it to our advantage."
Bishop Feehan Shamrocks
COACH: Phil Hulbig
LAST YEAR: Lost first round Division 2 South Tournament, 3-2, to North Quincy
At one point in the season, Shamrocks coach Phil Hulbig and his assistant, Kevin Dunn, were wondering if the team would actually score a few goals in a game and win. With a 4-6-1 slate at one time, an MIAA Tournament berth almost seemed to be a mirage.
"We started to get it going," said Hulbig, even though the Shamrocks' scoring rate has gone only slightly up from 1.6 per game to 2.4. The wins have been generated by careful play in the defensive zone in front of junior goalie and two-year starter Mike Capprini.
The defensive cast of seniors Brett Piotti and Josh Fortier, along with a trio of sophomores in Chris Lavalley, Sean Dunphy and Josh Nelson have steadily improved.
Senior Jack Hanson (12 goals, 13 assists) centers one line with senior set-up specialist Matt Jesser (15 assists) on the left and junior Mike Geraghty (10 goals, 11 assists) on the right. The second line has junior Brenden Barrera centering senior left wing Cam Wilkens and sophomore right wing Kyle Browne (eight goals, 11 assists).
The Shamrocks regained a key missing ingredient in senior captain Jake D'Ercole (broken wrist) over the past two weeks, centering a line with sophomore Jack Callahan and freshman Joe Costano. "Getting Jake back and having that third line ready to go, depth is what counts," said Hulbig.
"At least now we're not relying on our goalkeeper and defense to keep us in games," he added. "You've got to credit the kids for sticking with it and working hard, they were focused on getting into the tournament."
COACH: Kyle Heagney
LAST YEAR: Did not qualify
These are uncharted ice chippings for the Lancers, but their coach, Kyle Heagney, is not concerned.
"These kids bring a lot of energy to the rink, they're excited to play and our grittiness surprises a lot of teams," Heagney said.
The Lancers skate three lines with Brendan Heayden centering Bobby Trudeau (16 goals) to his right and senior captain Troy Parker (seven goals, a converted defenseman) to his left.
Sophomore Jack Lorange centers classmates Jake Palin and Chris Tuane, while a third line consists of Justin Goldstein, Jon Levy and Matt DosReis, who also is a goalie.
, Heagney can start anyone of four netminders, including Cassandra Goyette. Tony Cerce has had several outstanding starts too. In front of the goalies on defense are Matt Loranger, Cam Trudeau, John Giguere and Clint Gallagher (another goalie).
"We don't have a huge offensive threat," said Heagney of finding goals, but the Lancers do create enough shots and scoring chances.
"We're stingy in our defensive end," said Heagney of the Lancers' style for paying attention to puck control and clears. "With our five-man system down low, we push down in the corners to limit (scoring) opportunities. I feel very comfortable going into the tournament for the first time with our defensive end play."
LAST YEAR: Did not qualify
The skaters from Dighton-Rehoboth High and Seekonk High are loaded both in front and at the back end in that they possess one of the most dynamic scorers in the state in senior Nick Soares (25 goals, 36 assists) and senior goalkeeper Jake Robitaille, who has a 2.05 goals against mark with a .925 save percentage.
"The key is if we pick up (defensively) and make plays behind the net," said coach Ryan Cordeiro of his defense in front of Robitaille, including having his forwards back-check.
Soares centers a line with junior Anderson LaPierre and sophomore Matt McDonald (17 goals, 19 assists), while the second line consists of freshman Kyle Frias centering sophomore right wing Justin Silva and freshman left wing Andrew Lancellotti.
D-R/Seekonk is coming off of a hectic five-game-in-five-day schedule with minimal practice time over the past three weeks. Senior Ethan Lanciaux and sophomore Chris Fernandes have been the best defensive pairing.
"We have to pick people up and make good decision breaking the puck out of our zone," said Cordeiro of some costly mistakes. Contributing to the disrupted flow of play was the loss of senior wing Brandyn Botelho to a separated shoulder.
"We were beating teams in the third period because we skated three lines, but not having Botelho has made a huge difference," said Cordeiro.
COACH: Mike Cripps
LAST YEAR: Lost preliminary round Division 3 South Tournament, 6-2, to Abington
The Bombardiers graduated 10 players from last season's tournament team, the lone skaters with appreciable varsity experience being the Chomyszak brothers - Ben and Luke, senior Dom Bartnikowski, junior Keagin Larkin and sophomore Seth Lombardy.
"Even playing a Hockomock League schedule as we do, having some playoff experience helps," said AHS coach Mike Cripps. "The key is that we need to generate some offense. All three lines have played well in the defensive zone. We're blocking shots like crazy."
Larkin (22 points) has been centering junior Ryan Girouard and Bartnikowski (25 points). Sophomore sparkplug P.J. Elliott centers Lombardy on the left side and Luke Chomyszak on the right while a third pairing has junior Mitch Caruso centering junior right wing Nick Miniati and either eighth grader Cam Littig or freshman Jake Parker at left wing.
To strengthen his defense at times, Cripps has dropped Larkin to the blue line with Ben Chomyszak, sophomore Dylan Wallace along with juniors Wil McKenzie and Jack Flynn in front of junior goalie Tim Gile.
"We don't have that true goal-scorer, so we have to play good defense, keep it close for two periods and then see what happens," said Cripps. "We need two strong puck-moving lines, which is why we often move Keagain (Larkin) up from the defense."
COACH: Mark Spillane
LAST YEAR: Lost first round Division 3 South Tournament, 1-0, to Diman Voke
If the Cougars have any energy left in their legs after playing six games in five days, including a doubleheader on Friday, they could win a round or two or more.
"I think that we'll be fine," said Cougars coach Mark Spillane, who has a bevy of experience from last year's tournament team with just three newcomers to the roster.
The Cougars' top line of senior Jake Ducharme centering senior right wing Conor Harrington (32 points) and junior left wing is quick and creates plenty of scoring chances.
Second-line sophomore center Justin Most has found his scoring touch the past few weeks, working between senior left wing Conor Flanagan and junior right wing Kyle Bazegian.
The Cougars flourished in the Mayflower League, defeating Diman Voke twice with two sophomores, Joe Brown and Chris Mooney, sharing the goaltending duties. On the backline, the top tandem is senior Dan McLaughlin with senior Mike Goss while Mike Burdett and Conor Capobianco are the other pairing.
"We skate three lines, our top two lines are very good," said Spillane. "Having the experience back from last year definitely helps.