Patriots coach Bill Belichick, a Phillips Andover graduate, is notorious for his intensely-focused and team-centric approach to coaching, so much so that he sometimes frustrates fans and reporters with his insistence that his team never looks ahead and is only thinking about its next game or next practice.
It’s fitting, then, that his alma mater’s hockey team found success by adopting the same mentality.
The Big Blue emphasize focusing only on the immediate future and making sure to do the little things -- such as getting in shooting lanes, blocking shots – right. Under that philosophy, Andover is enjoying its first above-.500 season since 2009-10 and owns a 14-6-3 record with two games remaining in the regular season.
Like Belichick would probably do, Andover coach Dean Boylan insisted that his team still needs to work on getting better this late in the year.
“We’re a different team than we started out, but we still have another week-plus, hopefully more, of trying to get better and I think that’s really what our team is all about,” Boylan said. “We’ve improved ourselves in all three zones and hopefully we’re going to continue to get better in all three zones.”
Andover’s results throughout the season certainly reflect an improving team. The Big Blue did not get off to a terrible start, going 8-5 through their first 13 games, but they struggled against top teams such as Thayer, Nobles and rival Exeter.
But in mid-January, the team’s focus on doing all of the little things right and letting the rest take care of itself started to pay off. On Jan. 18, Andover beat Nobles, 8-4, in a come-from-behind win that featured five unanswered Andover tallies.
One week later, Andover earned a series of three ties, but those games left the Big Blue with a sour taste in their mouths. Andover washed it away by earning an overtime win over a tough Dexter squad in its next game.
“Two of those ties we felt as a team that we let it slip away,” Boylan said. “The Dexter game was one that we tied it late in the game and were able to win it in overtime. I think that was a pretty good building foundation to get us going. It was a confidence builder as well.”
Since the Dexter win, the Big Blue have gone 4-1 with wins over top teams in Cushing and Brooks.
And while Boylan and his team insist that no one is bigger than the team and everyone must do their job in order for the team to succeed, the squad still has its share of impact players. Senior defensemen Michael Kim and David Pelluche (Andover, Mass.) helped create a dynamic offense by showing an ability to step up in the offensive zone. Kim ranks third on the team in scoring with 21 points (seven goals, 14 assists) in 23 games, and Belluche is not far behind with 16 points (eight goals, eight assists) in 23 games.
The team also features a few playmakers up front, such as post-grad forward Robert Devaney (Reading, Mass.) and senior forward Michael Lata, who rank first and second on the team in scoring with 32 points in 23 games and 29 points in 23 games, respectively.
Thanks to their efforts, the Big Blue are on the verge of qualifying for the Martin/Earl tournament for the first time in four years. But in the same way a reporter would earn a blank stare from Belichick by asking in Week 14 what a playoff win would mean to the Patriots, Boylan refused to reflect yet on his team’s turnaround this season and possibly playoff opportunities.
“[A tournament spot] would be a great honor for all of us, but we’re not talking about that yet,” Boylan said. “We’re just talking about the next game. We’ll let the tournament take care of itself, and as I tell them, if we do all the right things and get the details right, then everything down the road works itself out.
“All we can control is what lies ahead of us immediately and that’s what we think about.”
Game of the Week
Berkshire at Gunnery, Saturday, Feb. 22 at 4 p.m.
Both sides will be gunning for an Elite 8 tournament spot as well as the NEPSIHA Independent league crown, as they are currently knotted at the top of the standing with 19 points each.
Prep Power Rankings
Salisbury School (18-1-4) – This week was full of offense for the Knights, who outscored opponents, 21-3, through their last two games.
Kent School (18-3-1) – The Lions have two losses in their last five games, and after enjoying a 14-game unbeaten streak earlier in the year, the Lions have to hope their best hockey is not behind them.
Phillips Exeter (21-4-2) – After dropping a 7-3 contest to Northfield-Mt. Hermon, the Big Red responded with a pair of victories over Brunswick and Deerfield.
Thayer Academy (19-4-0) – It was a restful week for the Tigers as they played just one game, a 3-2 win over Tabor, and earned some late season rest before the tournament.
Gunnery (16-6-1) – Junior forward Alec Mehr put up four points (two goals, two assists) in a 10-0 win over Albany Academy.
Noble & Greenough (18-6-1) – Junior forward Miles Wood de-committed from Brown University last week while collecting five points in two games for Nobles.
Dexter School (19-5-1) – Dexter earned two wins last week and saw plenty of scoring from players not named Donato, which they will need to be successful come tournament time.
Berkshire School (17-5-3) – The Bears pulled off an upset win over Kent on Monday and should be able to use the game as a confidence-builder for the postseason.
Kimball Union (21-6-5) – JD Dudek is finally back in the lineup following a shoulder injury, and he earned assists on the game-winning goals in both of the Wildcats’ wins last week.
Cushing Academy (20-9-0) – The Penguins lost four of their last five, but what’s even more concerning is that three of those four losses came against ranked teams in Salisbury, Andover and Kimball Union.
Choate (16-5-3) – The Wild Boars extended their win streak to eight games with victories over Taft and Northfield-Mt. Hermon last week.
Northfield-Mt. Hermon (18-8-2) – Senior forward Kevin Dazkevich recorded a hat trick in the Hoggers’ 7-3 win over Exeter last Wednesday.
Groton (13-6-3) – The Zebras struggled to find the back of the net in a 2-1 loss to Brooks, but they solved those woes when six different players scored goals in a 7-2 win over St. George’s.
Belmont Hill (15-8-4) – The Keller Division standings remain tight after Belmont Hill beat league-leading Nobles but lost to third-place St. Sebastian’s.
Andover (14-6-3) – The Big Blue are making a late push for a tournament spot, but their final two games will be challenging matchups against Northfield-Mt. Hermon and Exeter.
Brooks School (16-9-1) – Like many schools, Brooks took a step in the right direction before suffering a setback last week, as they beat Groton in a tight, 2-1 game, but lost to Andover, 3-2, three days later.
Rivers (13-9-1) – The Red Wings are on a five-game heater, which they extended this week with wins over St. Mark’s and Middlesex.
St. Paul’s (16-7-0) – Junior goaltender Nathan Colannino and the St. Paul’s defense has been excellent lately, allowing more than two goals against just once during their current six-game win streak.
St. Mark’s (14-8-4) – It was a rough week for the Lions, who recorded losses to Rivers and Lawrence Academy last week.
Proctor (16-11-1) – The Hornets snapped out of a three-game losing streak with wins over Holderness and New Hampton.