By Jeff Hamrick
---- — LAWRENCE — Forced to replace 10 graduated players from the program’s most successful season, Mike Jankowski was a bit apprehensive heading into this year’s opener.
If the first 45 minutes of the new campaign are an indicator of what’s to come, however, the Central Catholic hockey coach won’t have many sleepless nights the next three months.
The Raiders burst into the season, scoring twice in the first 3:20 before cruising to a 5-0 victory over Westford Academy in a Merrimack Valley/Dual County 1 match.
“I couldn’t have imagined a better start,” said Jankowski, whose squad finished 15-5-1 last year, which ended with a Super 8 semifinal defeat to two-time defending champion Malden Catholic. “We knew we had a good corps of kids returning and we knew we had some depth. But I think having success last year really fueled that fire and put these kids into a different mindset.”
The effort put into the offseason quickly was evident as senior Mike Kelleher provided the early lead off an assist from junior Corey Webber with 3:10 gone. Ten seconds later, senior defenseman Nick Gorski gave the Raiders a 2-0 advantage on an unassisted goal.
“It was a great way to get started,” said Kelleher who assisted on Central’s third goal of the opening period and added a second goal midway through the second period. “It was a fantastic win.”
That would prove more than enough offense for junior goalie Colin Soucy, making his first varsity start after playing junior hockey a year ago.
“We didn’t even know if he was going to come back,” Jankowski said. “He has some friends on the team, but to see him show up the Monday after Thanksgiving was a blessing and I couldn’t ask for more than that.”
Soucy, in the unenviable task of replacing three-year starter Kyle Williams, was flawless on each of the 18 shots he faced.
“I wasn’t too nervous,” Soucy said. “I don’t feel much pressure. I looked up to Kyle and he played great here, but I can’t be thinking of breaking his records or things like that. The defense made sure I just had to stop the easy shots.”
Conrad Jepson and Lloyd Hayes also added goals for the Raiders while Webber had a pair of assists.
Central Catholic 5, Westford 0
Westford Academy (0-1): 0 0 0 — 0
Central Catholic (1-0): 3 2 0 — 5
Goals: Mike Kelleher 2, Nick Gorski, Conrad Jepson, Lloyd Hayes
Assists: Corey Webber 2, Kelleher, Jepson, Kevin Regan
Saves: WA — Bill McLaughlin 32, CC — Colin Soucy 18