SALEM — It took Kyle Nagri one period — and one huge hit — to truly feel like a Salem Blue Devil.
“I was so nervous going into the first game,” said Nagri. “But near the end of the first period my first hit changed everything. It happened right in front of the Salem crowd. Everyone went crazy. That was my moment. That was went I really felt like I was part of the team.”
After playing two seasons of JV hockey at powerhouse Central Catholic, Nagri made the difficult decision to transfer to his hometown Salem High this school year as a junior. And the results have been nothing short of tremendous on the ice for the high-scoring winger and red-hot Blue Devils.
Nagri has already scoring a team-high eight goals, leading Salem High to a 9-0 start to the season and a tie for first place in New Hampshire Division 1 along with fellow unbeaten Nashua North.
“He is a physical, high energy aggressive player,” said Blue Devils coach Mark McGinn. “He reads plays very well, he is great on power plays and brings a hard-nosed style to our up-tempo team. He is a great addition and already a leader for our team.”
Growing up, Nagri always assumed his high school years would be spent at Central Catholic, a tradition in the Nagri household.
His father Bob attended Central (class of 1985), played football for the Raiders and continued to be involved in the school. Kyle’s sister Alex also enrolled at Central and is currently in her third season as a starting guard for the Raider basketball team, playing a key role in last season’s Division 1 state title victory, while his mother attending now-defunct St. Mary’s of Lawrence.
“I was always going to go to Central,” said Kyle. “That was definitely always the plan when I was younger.”
After splitting his time between hockey and basketball growing up, Nagri set his focus on his first love of hockey when he arrived at Central, spending the first two seasons of his high school career on the Raiders’ “JV A” team. He was in the stands to watch his teammates make a their run to the Super 8 last season, falling to St. John’s Prep in the best-of-3 first round series.
“It was really exciting,” said Nagri, who saw some practice time with the varsity team.
“They had a great run and it was a lot of fun being in the stands with my friends. I liked Central. But by the end of baseball season I felt like I needed a change.”
That desire for a switch also became clear to his father.
“Every year my wife and I ask the kids if they are happy at Central,” said Bob.
“Alex went to Central and really gobbled it up. She loved it. I think it was tough for Kyle to part ways with his Salem friends and, nothing against Central, but I think he really just wasn’t clicking and wanted a change.”
Friends and former teammates started to pick up the idea a change may be looming when they spotted Nagri on a visit to Salem High at the end of last school year. But nothing became official until the summer, which was also when McGinn was informed of the addition to his team a player his family had a long relationship with.
“I have actually known Kyle’s parents since he was little,” said McGinn, who works in real estate. “I sold them their house when Kyle was about 3-years-old. I knew his dad was involved with Central, so I assumed Kyle would go there. But during the summer my athletic director (Dave Rozumek) told me that Kyle was coming here, and whatever led him back he has been doing great.”
Once he enrolled at Salem in the fall, Nagri couldn’t wait to hit the ice for the Blue Devils.
“I really felt like I could have success at Salem,” he said.
“I may not be the most skilled player out there, but I will keep working until the job is done. I work, that is what I do. And the team brought me in like I had been there since my freshman year.”
It may have been in the hit in Game 1 that began to ease his nerves, but his first career varsity goal in a Game 2 victory over Bishop Guertin sealed the deal.
“That was so exciting,” he said. “It was a rebound off a shot from a defenseman. Scoring my first goal at the varsity level really brought me a lot of joy and excitement.”
Since that score he has been lighting the lamp with regularity. That BG score kicking off a run of five straight games in which he scored at least one goal, including a two-score game against in a victory over Londonderry, when Salem fell behind 2-0 and Nagri led the rally by scoring the first goal then the game-winner in the third.
“That was probably my favorite game so far,” he said.
“We were losing that game to a good team, and we rallied back to win. That was great.”
Skating as a winger on the Blue Devils’ top line, he has developed an excellent bond with linemates Chris Lemay and Brian Frazier, making up for the loss of Eagle-Tribune All-Star Jake Pappalardo (15 goals), who transferred to Proctor Academy.
“It’s been great,” said Nagri. “Brian is a very skilled player and Chris is such a hard-working kid who loves to battle. I love playing with them, and the whole team. We have great chemistry.”
Now 9-0 as a team (5-0 in New Hampshire Division 1), Nagri knows there is a long way to go in the season.
But he is dreaming of possibly leading the Blue Devils on a run to their first state title since the 2003-04 season.
“A run at a state title would be amazing,” said Nagri, who will also play baseball at Salem. “It would be an honor to play for and with another state title for the school. And we have a really good team that I believe can do it.”
Fight in the dog
Salem star Kyle Nagri admits he isn’t the most physically imposing player on the ice at just 5-foot-7 and 155 pounds. But that actually makes him the tallest of the Nagri family.
Father Bob is 5-foot-5, sister Alex is listed at 5-foot-2 on the Central Catholic basketball program but her dad said she is really 5-foot, and mother Colleen is 5-foot-4.
That also doesn’t stop Kyle from playing a physical brand of hockey.
“I’m a banger,” he said. “I love to play aggressive, physical hockey. I usually go into the boards to get the puck and do anything I can. I go in at full speed, take the body and try to create chances for myself or a teammate.”
Red hot Hillies
Led by multi-sport star Tommy Maguire, Haverhill hockey is off to one of its best starts in recent memory.
The Hillies have won 3 of their last 4 games and stand at 3-3-1 for the season. That gives them more victories than they had in 2011-12 (2-18) and one off last year’s mark (4-14-2). But last year’s squad started just 1-6.
At the center of the turnaround is Maguire, an Eagle-Tribune All-Star in football, who has scored a team-high seven goals and has appeared on the score sheet for all three of Haverhill’s wins.
Speaking of hot starts, Methuen has surged to four straight wins and a 4-2-2 record so far in 2013-14.
The Rangers need just one more win to match last season total, a year that saw them start 0-7-4 before rallying late in the year to finish 5-10-4.
Mark Piccirillo has played a key role for the squad with five goals, while Christian Mazone has been in net for all four victories.
Wolfpack going wild
Behind the efforts of 2012 Eagle-Tribune All-Star Dustin Lubinger, the Windham-Pelham Wolfpack co-op hockey team is 4-1 in Division 2 and 5-1-2 overall to start the year.
Lubinger has been red hot with 12 goals already this season, including a hat trick against Timberlane to follow three straight two-goal contests.
That is more than he scored all of last season (10 goals), and on the way to the 25 he tallied in his All-Star campaign two years ago.