By David Willis
---- — LAWRENCE — The Central Catholic hockey team heard the critics.
After losing three Eagle-Tribune All-Stars, including their starting goalie (Kyle Williams) and top scorer (Ryan Daigle), from the team that advanced to the Super 8 semifinals a season ago, could this be a down season for the Raiders hockey team?
“Every year we lose the guys considered our top players,” said co-captain Nick Gorski. “Then people always start saying we’ll be a little down that season. But we just get back to work.”
If yesterday was any indication, Central — the No. 3 team in Eastern Mass. — isn’t going anywhere.
The Raiders exploded for three goals in just 88 seconds to start the second period, and at one point led by seven goals, on the way to blasting MVC rival Chelmsford 8-4. The Lions entered the game 6-1-1, while Central improved to 6-2-1 with the win.
“We wanted to make a statement,” said Central co-captain Mike Kelleher. “This is a very good team, so this win means a lot to us. We wanted it big-time.”
Whether it’s graduation, junior hockey or prep school, the Raiders have lost their fair share of All-Stars but have still made the Super 8 or the play-in game five of the last six years.
But each season, the Raiders have found a way to reload without rebuilding.
They responded to losing 2011 Eagle-Tribune MVP Tommy Evangelista to the Northwood School in Lake Placid by making the best run in area history a year ago.
“We lost 12 players from last year’s team,” said assistant captain Derek Vaillancourt. “I know we have a much younger team than we did a year ago. But we believe. Our coaches tell us we can do anything, and want another Super 8 trip this year.”
Kelleher showed again yesterday why he is possibly the area’s most feared goal-scorer with a natural hat trick. He scored his first goal with 1:32 to go in the first, potted his second goal just five seconds into the second period, and 1:32 after that scored again and the rout was on.
“Kelleher is just unbelievable,” said Gorski, who assisted on three goals. “I have no doubt in my mind he has the skills to play college hockey. But we have plenty of guys that can make big plays when it matters.”
The Raiders supported Gorski’s point as five players scored single goals, and four other players had at least one assist.
“Maybe we aren’t as talented on paper as we have been in recent years,” said Kelleher. “But what it takes is work and determination. What’s great about our team is we believe we can do it. You have to keep moving forward. We look at every team like it’s do-or-die.”
This wasn’t the first game the Raiders have dominated this season. Four of their wins have come by four goals or more, and their only nail-biter was against St. John’s Prep, which recently knocked off defending Super 8 champ Malden Catholic.
“Sometimes, when things aren’t going good, you get down on yourself,” said Gorski. “You are losing and you remember you don’t have those key players from past years. But they you find a way, like we did today, and you are right back on top. You start to think, ‘Maybe we could be even better than last year.’”
If the competition thinks something like losing a star goalie (Williams) and a team MVP (Daigle, team-high 26 points last year) is going to make the Raiders doubt themselves, they clearly have not followed Central hockey.
Doubting Central hockey, they have proven, is foolish.
“Chelmsford is the team we are really competing with for the (MVC Division 1) title,” said Central coach Mike Jankowski. “They have one of the best lines in the state, and we did a terrific job. We have been very consistent over the years, and that is a tribute to the program and the guys. They believe they can do it.”
Central Catholic 8, Chelmsford 4
Chelmsford (6-2-1): 0 2 2 — 4
Central Catholic (6-2-1): 3 5 0 — 8
Goals: CC — Mike Kelleher 3, Kevin Regan, Lloyd Hayes, Corey Webber, Christian Thompson, Alex Lester; Chelms — Tommy Bishop 2, Jessie Lyle, Danny Farr
Assists: CC — Lester, Nick Gorski 3, Thompson, Zach Cote 3, Webber 2, Kelleher, Regan, Conrad Jepson, Cam Smith; Chelms — Matt Calnan 2, Danny Farr, Andrew Knightly
Saves: CC — Colin Soucy 15, Dan MacDonald 4; Chelms — Derek Noble 22