METHUEN — It was just over three years and more than 70 goals ago, but for Methuen’s Matt Bauchman, nothing quite compares to the first time he lit the lamp at the varsity level.
“It was my first game and it was at my home rink,” he said with a smile. “I split the defense, and put it top corner right over the goalie. I could never forget my first goal.”
That tremendous effort was the first of many highlight-reel moments for the Ranger senior, who in Methuen’s most recent contest scored goal No. 72 of his prolific career on Ranger Road.
With another standout campaign this season, Bauchman will make history — becoming the first four-time Eagle-Tribune hockey All-Star since Andover’s Chris Cullen in 1993-96.
“Matt has played fantastic hockey for us,” said Rangers coach Denny Egan. “You could see early on that he had the kinds of instincts that most players don’t have, and could do things most can’t do. Whether it’s even strength, the power play or short-handed, Matt is our go-to guy.”
That all while proudly spurning the junior or prep hockey route so many high school standouts take to remain with his hometown school through good and bad.
“I’ve been approached more than a few times,” he said. “I have considered it, but not playing at Methuen High, at the rink I grew up playing at, just didn’t feel right. I wanted to stay with my buddies and worry about the next step once I finish here.”
Finding the back of the net was second-nature for Bauchman — who has led Methuen in scoring in each of his high school seasons — from the moment he stepped onto the ice at age 5.
“Believe it or not, I think I have been my team’s leader in goals every year I have played hockey,” he said. “One Pee Wee season I had 72 goals in about 45 games.”
But when he joined the varsity team as a freshman, he did not arrive as a hotly-anticipated prospect.
“We really didn’t know we were getting this kind of player,” said Egan. “But when he got out there you could see he had something special. His instincts were more finely-tuned than other guys’.”
Bauchman wasted no time showing he belonged at the varsity level, scoring a goal in his first high school game. Then in his second game he added another goal, and it was off from there.
He finished his rookie season with a team-high 18 goals, making him the first freshman to be named to the Eagle-Tribune All-Star hockey team since Salem’s Pat “The Hammer” Halligan in 2003 and helping the Rangers to their first tourney berth since 1999-00.
“I wasn’t expecting those kinds of stats,” he said. “I was about 5-foot-7, 130 pounds … maybe ... that year. I was just hoping to help out the team if I could, and I think I helped out pretty well.”
As a sophomore, he finished second in the area in goals with 20.
Bauchman was once again No. 2 in the region in goals a season ago, jumping to 31 scores — five behind Player of the Year Zach Sanford of state title-winner Pinkerton. He was third in points (53) behind only Sanford and fellow Astro, Boston College-bound J.D. Dudek.
“Scoring a goal is so satisfying,” he said with a smile. “It feels right. I just try to put the puck on net, crash the net and don’t worry about everyone around me. It really never gets old. I know where the net is, and I put my body and experience into it. If I’m not scoring, I’m not doing my job.”
Facing heavy focus from defenses, usually double-teamed at all times, the 6-foot, 170-pound Bauchman has scored three goals in seven games this season.
“It is very tough with the defenses all over him,” said Egan. “And he has hit the post about seven times. His numbers may not look as good, but his game sure does. Matt is the kind of guy that can erupt at any time.”
Now a senior, Bauchman says he has matured a great deal on and off the ice.
“I’m staying out of the penalty box much more than I used to,” he said. “Last year I led the team in penalty minutes, and this year I am at the bottom of the list. I used to feel like I had to be the tough guy and retaliate. Now I keep my cool and keep the team on track.”
While the losing is tough on Bauchman — the Rangers are 0-4-3 this season — he has no regrets about remaining in a Rangers uniform.
“The losing is tough on the whole team, but we are still working hard,” said Bauchman, who is hoping to do a prep year next season. “My neighbor is actually a junior coach so I heard it a lot. They would ask me to play and I was tempted. But my team wanted me here and my friends wanted me here. I wanted to finish what I started at Methuen, and I will take on the next level when it arrives.”
Central climbing the ranks
Central Catholic, at 5-2-1, has been one of the top teams in the state so far this season, but not everyone is taking notice.
The Raiders are ranked No. 3 in Eastern Mass., all the way up from No. 13 a week ago. That is one spot ahead of St. John’s Prep, which defeated two-time defending Super 8 champ Malden Catholic over the weekend. Central, of course, dealt the Prep its only loss of the season.
The Raiders, however, are not receiving as much love from the Boston Herald’s well respected Jim Clark, who has them No. 6 in his Super 8 rankings, the last seed to earn an automatic bye. Clark’s poll holds major weight in who is selected to the elite tourney.
They are also ranked No. 9 in the state by ESPNboston.com, five spots below the Prep team that they defeated and four behind the MC team that St. John’s beat.
Kesselring heads north
This past Christmas was a special one for Pinkerton coach Casey Kesselring. The reigning Eagle-Tribune hockey Coach of the Year spent the holiday in Ontario with his immediate and extended families.
He said he has rarely had the chance to return to Canada since he arrived in the Merrimack Valley as a star for Merrimack College (1994-98). Kesselring and his wife Shawndra (Applegate), herself a former Warrior hoopster who grew up in Manchester, N.H., have lived in the region ever since.
Wildcats catching fire
The Amesbury-Whittier co-op hockey team has been on a roll this season, at 6-3. Whittier’s Anthony Licciardello is playing a huge role with a pair of hat tricks. He is also a baseball standout, hitting .377 for the Wildcats a season ago as starting catcher.
See his story
For a video interview with Methuen’s Matt Bauchman, visit eagletribune.com/sports
Central Catholic 5-2-1
Honorable mention: Pentucket-Georgetown (4-3-1), Windham-Pelham (4-3-1)