January 8, 2014

Prep Journal: Cushing sets sights on Elite 8 title

By Arielle Aronson

The Penguins captured the Martin/Earl title last spring. (Photo: Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal)

After winning the Martin/Earl Championship last season, Cushing Academy has its sights set on a loftier Elite 8 title this season. Penguin coach Rob Gagnon has a motto for his team to follow to help it qualify for the Stuart/Corkery tournament: “keep the trapdoor shut.”

The team uses the saying as a way to recover from mistakes, whether they are smaller picture issues -- such as failing to clear a puck out from the front of the net --or larger picture problems, such as losing a game. The idea is to shut the trapdoor after that one turnover in the neutral zone or that one Saturday loss and turn the page to a big hit in the defensive zone or a win the next day.

“That was just our little way of explaining that, ‘Hey listen, guys you’re human. Mistakes can happen. The trapdoor is going to open,’” Gagnon said. “It’s how quickly we can shut it that’s really going to make us a good team.”

So far, the Penguins have kept that trapdoor shut. Cushing has yet to lose back-to-back games this season, and their ability to limit mistake streaks helped them to third-place finishes in both the Lawrence-Groton Holiday Tournament and the Watkins Tournament. 

In the Lawrence-Groton Tournament, Cushing suffered a 4-1 loss in the morning but rebounded that night by scoring three goals in the third period to earn an impressive 5-2 win over a tough Dexter squad. Cushing opened the Watkins Tournament with an overtime loss to Northfield-Mt. Hermon before dominating Lawrence by an 11-1 margin that night. 

“It’s a good boost to know that so far, we’ve done well bouncing back,” Gagnon said. “Having that experience and having battled back from a loss I think is going to be in our favor in the future.”

The future looks bright for the Penguins not just in the weeks to come, but in the years to come as well. The team displays quite a bit of offensive depth with 11 players reaching double digits in points through the first 15 games, and its leading scorer, David Cotton, is a sophomore.

Cotton, a 6-foot-3 Texas native, has 30 points on 11 goals and 19 assists this season. He attracted national attention with a strong showing (two goals, four assists in five games) at the USA U16 National Development Camp over the summer, and while he is not eligible for the NHL Draft until 2015, Cotton will likely have his choice of Division I colleges and junior teams to pick from after his career at Cushing ends.

Cotton currently plays on a line with another sophomore, Bailey Conger, and a junior, Jake Simons. Together, the trio registered 70 points through 15 games and rank as three of the team’s top four scorers.

Gagnon isaid the key to the success of his young line is the play of senior captains Matt Hoover and Tommy DeFelice.

“These two guys aren’t even our leading scorers but they’re probably the most important guys on our team,” Gagnon said. “They’re both on separate lines. What it does is it allows me to have three really strong, deep lines. Obviously I think a lot of people in New England are talking about this young line that I have with two sophomores and a junior who are all over a point a game. But that line doesn’t work unless you have two other lines that teams have to worry about, which is why Hoover and DeFelice are so important.”

Cushing has a long road to travel before the Elite 8 – in the next week alone, Cushing will face off against top teams in Deerfield and Thayer Academy – but if it can continue to shut the trapdoor, Cushing has a strong shot at another championship this season.

Game of the Week

Phillips Exeter vs. Phillips Andover, Saturday at 4:30 p.m.

Both sides have had this date circled on their calendars since the 2013-14 schedule came out as Saturday marks the first of two matchups this year between the storied rivals.

Prep Power Rankings

1. Salisbury School (9-0-1) – After remaining undefeated through their first 10 games, the Knights will open the 2014 calendar year with a game against Westminster on Saturday.

2.Kent School (8-1-1) – Kent saw goals from seven different players in a 7-1 romp over Millbrook.

3.Cushing Academy (12-3-0) – The Penguins overtime loss to Northfield-Mt. Hermon was the only blemish in a third-place showing in the Watkins Tournament.

4. Phillips Exeter (10-2-0) -  Post-grad forward Henry Hart (12 goals, 13 assists) is averaging more than two points per game for the Big Red.

5. Kimball Union (12-1-3) – Senior winger AJ Greer (formerly committed to Penn State) announced he will play for Boston University starting in the 2014-15 season.

6. Thayer Academy (8-2-0) –Thayer was bested by Noble & Greenough, 3-2, in overtime last Saturday for its second loss (both in OT) of the season.

7. Noble & Greenough (7-3-1) – Miles Wood, who scored the overtime winner over Thayer, has five points in his last three games.

8. Dexter School (8-4-1) – Dexter struggled when star Ryan Donato was held off the scoresheet in a loss to Cushing in the third-place game of the Watkins Tournament.

9. Williston-Northampton (5-3-1) – The Wildcats are in for a good test on Sunday when they travel to Berkshire.

10. Brooks School (7-2-1) – Brooks starts its 2014 slate of games with a tilt against BB&N at Fenway Park.

11. St. Paul’s (6-3-0) – Saturday afternoon’s matchup against ISL-foe St. Sebastian’s should be a hotly contested affair.

12. Berkshire School (7-3-1) – The Bears have a tough week coming up with games against Northfield – Mt. Hermon and Williston-Northampton.

13. Gunnery (7-5-0) – Gunnery was crowned champions of the Watkins Tournament thanks to wins over Dexter, Culver Academy and Northfield-Mt. Hermon.

14. Northfield-Mt. Hermon – The Hoggers enjoyed an overtime win over Cushing on the first day of the Watkins Tournament before eventually finishing second after a loss to Gunnery.

15. Deerfield (4-3-2) – Seniors Sam Lafferty (seven goals, 17 assists) and Trevor Yates (12 goals, 11 assists) lead the Big Green offense.

16. Proctor (7-6-1) – The Big Green are 4-0 in their last four games against New England opponents.

17. Groton (6-2-1) – Junior forward Ace Cowans is one of the top scorers in New England with 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists) in nine games.

18. Choate (6-4-0) – In his last three games, junior goaltender Andrew Tucci is undefeated with two shutouts.

19. St. Sebastian’s (5-4-1) – The Arrows helped the U.S. Olympic Women’s team tune up for the Sochi Olympics by playing a scrimmage against them last Sunday. Team USA won, 5-2.

20. BB&N (7-2-1) – Senior captain Cam O’Neill closed out 2013 with multi-point outings in all three of BB&N’s Holiday Showcase games.   

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