WEST ROXBURY, Mass. – Senior defenseman Marc Hetnik may have said it best, stating the first thing a Catholic Memorial hockey player inherits when donning their sweater is a big ole bull’s-eye.
“Because you’re always touted among the top teams in the state,” Hetnik said after Thursday’s practice at the Jim Roche Community Ice Center, “you have the expectations to live up to the history of this program. And you have a coach like Coach [Bill] Hanson that expects a lot out of you.”
When playing in perhaps the state’s toughest conference (the Catholic) and consistently playing perhaps the state’s toughest schedule (which includes top flight out-of-state competition as well), there’s no time for the No. 3 Knights to rebuild.
They simply reload, year after year.
“We’ve had some great success in the past,” goaltender Tommy Knox said, “but we have to be leaders out there and follow the footsteps of the great players who have been through here to continue that CM legacy.”
For CM’s handful of senior players, including Hetnik and Knox, all they’ve known are trips to the Super 8. The Knights were within an eyelash of repeating as Super 8 champions last year until Tim Driscoll and Hingham derailed their bid in a dramatic finals match.
The team CM returns is much different from the one that skated off the Garden ice in March, painfully shy of achieving their goal. For instance, Hetnik is the lone blue-liner who is back.
However, the returning Knights have taken lessons from last year’s bitter experience.
“We know that every goal matters,” said Knox, an Acushnet resident. “One goal and you can be out of a game. It’s important to play every shot as if it’s the shot that will make the difference in the game.’
With all-everything sniper Derek Collucci gone along with stalwarts T.J. O’Brien and Troy Starrett, leadership on the front lines will fall largely to assistant captain Dan O’Hear. Hanson is also counting sophomore Liam Coughlin to have a breakout season. The rangy forward -- who is the son of Southie’s finest, Kevin Coughlin -- skated last season with the Walpole Express junior team and should add punch up front.
But Hanson knows all too well that the Knights will have to light the lamp consistently to make it out of the ever-competitive Catholic Conference this year.
“Anybody can beat anybody,” Hanson said. “Malden Catholic is definitely at the top, there’s no two ways about it, and I think they have been for the last couple of years. I think we just got lucky to beat them.
“It’ll be a dog fight, as it always is.”
Hanson also wants to ensure that his skaters are the best conditioned athletes.
During speed trials at the end of Thursday’s practice, a couple of Knights were bent over, tossing their cookies (and whatever other contents they happened to have in their stomachs) onto the ice.
The extensive skating period isn’t just to prove a point, it has a greater purpose.
“If they can get through that,” Hanson said, “it makes the game seem easy.”
CATHOLIC MEMORIAL AT A GLANCE
2009-10: 17-7-1 (Super 8 finalists)
Head Coach: Bill Hanson, 35th season
Players to watch: G Tommy Knox, D Marc Hetnik, F Liam Coughlin.
The skinny: Unlike last year’s squad which was long in the tooth, this year’s model is largely coming fresh off the production line. “We have talented players,” Hanson said, “but they’re just going to have to learn how to play against the highest level of hockey they’ve ever played against.” The blue line corps is also inexperienced with Hetnik as the lone carryover from last year, but it helps having a top flight netminder like Knox, who had a save percentage over .90 last season and has Boston University and Providence College among his college suitors, to cover up any early season mistakes. “We need to play with a lot of energy and use our team speed, play through checks and playing physical,” Hetnik said. “That’s how we’ll be successful.”