Prep Journal: Defense-first mentality boosts Belmont Hill
Goalie Ryan McConnell and Belmont Hill are heating up at the right time. (Photo by Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal)
One of the points of emphasis Belmont Hill coach Jeremiah McCarthy drills into his team is that in prep hockey, if a team can keep its goals-against average at two or below, the team will be in a position to find great success.
Belmont Hill fulfilled that mantra in 11 of its last 12 games, earning an 8-1-2 record in those 11 games to put the team (which now boasts an 11-6-4 record) in a position to make a late-season tournament-qualifying push.
That result is a stark difference from Belmont Hill’s play earlier this season, when it went 3-4-2 in its first nine games and wrapped up that stretch by failing to score in three consecutive games.
“It took us longer this year to get our chemistry and play the way we want to play,” McCarthy said. “Now we’re trying to bring teams back to us that are ahead of us.”
Playing the way Belmont Hill wants to play means playing a more defense-oriented style of hockey. The Hillies have a few players with a scoring touch on the team – senior forwards Will Golonka (11 goals, 12 assists) and Matt Melanson (eight goals, 12 assists) are evidence of that – but as whole lack the explosive offense other league opponents such as Thayer or Noble & Greenough possess.
McCarthy said the team did not put together a full three periods of that defensive-minded effort until earlier this month, when Belmont Hill topped St. Sebastian’s, 2-1, at Fenway Park.
“That [game] I think was a boost to the spirit, just such a special experience for both teams,” McCarthy said. “It’s such a memory for the boys. We were in the visitors’ locker room at Fenway Park. You walk down, you come out to the dugout. ... To get a win there really boosted us and we’ve been carrying that positive energy moving forward.”
Since Fenway, McCarthy said the team suffered just one real setback, a 6-5 loss to Thayer on Jan. 10. While the Hillies dropped a Jan. 25 contest against Cushing, 2-1, in their only other loss since Fenway, McCarthy said he liked his team’s effort in the game; Belmont Hill simply didn’t get the lucky bounces a team often requires to win a tight game.
Now that Belmont Hill is putting forth consistent efforts and mostly holding teams to two goals or fewer per game, the Hillies will have to play a bit of catch-up in an attempt to capture a tournament spot.
Belmont Hill currently sits in third place in the Keller division of the ISL with Nobles and Thayer leading the way and Milton hovering just behind the Hillies. McCarthy’s squad will play all three of those teams within the next 10 days, and every game is a must-win.
McCarthy said he will rely on his senior class to steer the team through this stretch.
“Ultimately we talk a lot about what is their legacy and what do we want to accomplish as a team,” McCarthy said. “Part of that is our preparation and our effort and these final games that we have the opportunity to play. But the goal as a coach is to start getting out of the way now and have your senior leadership and your senior class kick in.”
Game of the Week
Salisbury at Cushing, 1 p.m. on Sunday
The Knights have started to get back into a winning after a winless four-game span in the middle of January, but Cushing will be a true test for Salisbury as the Penguins are the toughest opponent the Knights will face since losing to Kent on Jan. 18.
Prep Power Rankings
Check out Arielle's ranking of the top 20 prep boys teams at our prep hockey power rankings page.