TEWKSBURY, Mass. -- Tim Bennedetto sat in an otherwise empty locker room at the Super Skills hockey complex after practice with his Austin Prep teammates.
The Cougars’ senior captain realizes they are going to look much different than they did last year, when they were Super 8 semifinalists. Gone from that team are the flash of forward Brendan Silk, who was welcomed into the U.S. National Team Development Program last year, and goaltender Brendan Leahy.
Coupled with a handful of other prep/private defections since last March, Austin Prep will take the ice a new look in 2010-11.
That doesn’t mean you should count out the No. 5 Cougars though.
“I feel confident going into battle with these guys,” said Bennedetto, a resident of Peabody. “I feel we have a good squad here regardless of who stays or leaves. We have a good group of guys.”
After going 18-3-3 last year, the Cougars claimed their sixth Catholic Central League championship in eight years. Austin Prep also has participated in the Super 8 tournament seven times in the last 10 years.
Cougars head coach Louis Finocchiaro is no stranger to deep postseason runs, but for now his team is focused on playing their own brand of hockey.
“Even with the turnover that we’ve had, we still have a good nucleus of guys who’ve been in our program for a while,” Finocchiaro said. “I think once we get to midseason we’ll be very competitive team.”
To remain among the best in the state, the Austin Prep is going to need players to step up. The offseason departures have left Finocchiaro with a team that’s inexperienced in terms of game action. It’s up to players like Bennedetto to fill the roles that have been left open.
“We’re not going to be the finesse team that we were last year,” Bennedetto said. “We’re not going to get a lot of pretty goals this year, we’re going to have to dump the puck in, work, cycle it, forecheck and get all the goals we can get.
“What it all stems back to is defense. We have to play good defense because a good defense translates into good offense.”
The Cougars strength lies on the blue line, where mainstays Riley MacEachern, Shane Hurley and Robby Hardy return. Catholic Central All-Star junior Ryan Quinn will be counted on to lead the attack up front.
“Of course we’d like to get back to the Super 8,” Bennedetto said, “but you really just have to come out and play one game at a time, one period at a time, one shift, and just keep short-term goals in mind and not look down the calendar into tournament time.”
With a crowded house at the top of the Catholic Central, there are a host of clubs clamoring to assume Austin Prep’s perch at the top. Returning Division 1 state champion Arlington Catholic, Archbishop Williams and St. Mary’s of Lynn are among the group likely to have a say in who claims the league crown this year.
“It’s anybody’s ball game,” Bennedetto said, “anybody could come out on top.”
AUSTIN PREP AT A GLANCE
2009-10: 18-3-3 (Super 8 semifinalists)
Head Coach: Louis Finocchiaro (98-41-25)
Players to watch: F Ryan Quinn, Jr.; F Steve Caruso, Sr.; D Riley MacEachern, Jr.
Outlook: Finocchiaro is looking for the Cougars to build as the season progresses. “I think we’re going to feel our lumps during the first half of the season, but I have lot of confidence in the guys that are here and I think that as the year goes on, we’ll get better.” He has a healthy core of players who are familiar with the Austin Prep system but who are green in game experience, so what the Cougars achieve in 2010-11 is largely left up to their seniors up front – like the line of Caruso, Bennedetto and Scott Corcoran – being able to score consistently.