MANCHESTER, NH — A season that began with lofty expectations has suddenly become a fight for survival for the Manchester co-op boys hockey team.
The Kings scored 20 goals in their first three games and were on their way to establishing themselves as a legitimate state title contender in Division I.
Three weeks, and a multitude of injuries later, Manchester sits at 2-4-0 and has been shut out in its last three games. The most recent setback came Saturday night at the JFK Coliseum, 4-0, at the hands of Windham High.
“We’ve lost five or six guys to injuries, guys on the top two lines. We have a lot of guys playing up, higher (on the depth chart) than they normally would,” said Manchester Coach Jeremy Baker. “But we’re not making excuses. That’s what I was just saying to (the players) in the locker room, we’re not making excuses. We still have to play. Everybody has to step up.”
Baker is hoping to have some of his injured players back within the next couple of weeks. However, junior Lukas Tafe, one of the Kings’ best all-around players, is expected to be out considerably longer.
“I’ve told the guys that if we can stay around .500, then get some of these injured players back and we can get into the tournament, who knows? It’s still early,” said Baker.
While Manchester is looking to keep its head above water, Windham has quietly become one of the hottest teams in the state. The Jaguars have now won four straight games to move to 4-3-0. Perhaps more telling, is that two of Windham’s early season losses were by identical 2-1 scores to Concord (8-0-0) and Bishop Guertin (6-1-0), currently ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in Division I.
Manchester was able to keep things close against Windham for much of the game, thanks in large part to the play of senior goalie Landon Wilson (40 saves). The Jaguars led just 1-0 with three minutes to play in the second period. But the Jaguars were able to pull away thanks, in part to the Kings’ fatigue and some ill-timed penalties.
Windham drew first blood with 1:30 remaining in the first period, with Carl Hatfield scoring off a feed from Casey Kramer (2 assists).
Manchester had plenty of opportunities to tie the game. The Kings enjoyed five power plays in the second period, including a 5-on-3 advantage for 42 seconds. But with so many injuries, the Kings lacked any type of continuity in their power play and quality scoring bids were few and far between.
The Kings’ best scoring chance of the second came on the power play midway through the period. Freshman Andrue McLaughlin was able to get a stick on a nifty centering pass from Joe Velez but Windham goalie Vito Mancini (24 saves) made the stop to preserve the 1-0 lead.
Later in the period, Windham freshman defenseman Greyson Quaglietta scored on a blast from the point to give the Jags a 2-0 lead heading into the third period.
Mancini turned in the save of the game, two minutes into the third period. Manchester freshman Josh LeBlanc was wide open when Velez connected with him on a pass from the left circle. For one split-second, LeBlanc was staring at an open half of the net. But when LeBlanc went to push the puck home, Mancini came sliding across the crease to make a brilliant pad save.
After that, Manchester looked to be skating with heavy legs and Windham was able to take complete control. The Jaguars peppered Wilson with 21 shots in the period and tacked on insurance goals from Joey Gilbert and Aiden Quaglietta.
Manchester has a big week coming and will need to bank some points if it hopes to stay in the playoff chase. The Kings will travel to Nashua on Wednesday to take on Nashua North/Souhegan at Conway Arena at 6:10 p.m.