Last season for Xaverian goes far beyond the box scores and playoff victories during the Super 8. This was one of the more closely knit Hawks teams in recent memory, but when you look back on the numbers it was an impressive run. The 10th seeded Hawks finished one game shy of reaching the TD Garden to play for a title and defeated a number of strong teams in single-elimination games in order to get to that point. They tallied 16 wins on the year and head coach Dave Spinale registered his 200th career victory. We spoke to Coach Spinale recently to ask him about last season and how it sets up for a follow-up campaign in 2019-20.
Here is what he had to say…
MassNZ: Last year was a magical run to being within one game of the Garden for the Super 8 Championship. What made last year’s group of Hawks so special?
Coach Dave Spinale: The two things I’d point to are team chemistry and leadership. You can’t put a value on team chemistry. I’ve been doing this for a long time and you never want to compare teams but the bond between the older guys and the younger guys on and off the ice was special last season. The older guys were great role models and the younger guys bought in fully. They would run through walls for the older guys. They wanted the team success for them, whether it meant chipping a puck out, winning a 50/50 battle, foot races, or blocking a shot. Those are what we define as “the little things” as a team and last season everyone stepped up to do them: I was fortunate to have that. But, if someone made a mistake we had someone there to help pick them up too: the young guys were lucky to have the leaders.
NZ: During the Super 8 Selection Meeting, Xaverian was picked 10th out of 10 teams selected, would you say that the players used that as motivation on their way to taking down many of the higher seeds?
Spinale: I don’t think we read into it that much, honestly. If you look at the end of our regular season, we had a bad loss at Marshfield 4-0 then went to Framingham and lost 6-4 – two Super 8 teams. Our team had great self-awareness, we didn’t think we deserved to be in the Top 6. We played our schedule and then played two powerhouse public schools – we lost those games but felt fortunate to get a play-in game.
I remember the Duxbury game in the regular season: we didn’t like some of the calls in that matchup and lost 2-0. Our kids wanted to see them again in a winner take all game. The kids were excited for that play-in game; I remember we went down 2-0 and then our senior forward Matt Talarico scores a great gritty goal with under a minute to go in the first, that was big for us. In the room, the attitude was ‘OK, here we go boys!”. We came out in the 2nd period, tied it and ended up winning, it was a lot of fun.
NZ: Last year, senior forward and captain Josh Barton was one of our finalists for the Mr. Hockey MassNZ Award: what effect did he have on that team and what made him a unique player?
Spinale: First off, thank you for that recognition of Josh. MassNZ picked the two right guys between Thomas and Josh. I think Thomas is a D1 player: he scored 12 points in 12 games in the AJHL before he got hurt this year, I was so happy for him that he won Mr. Hockey. I feel the same way for Josh: he’s quiet and he led by example off the ice, everything from his lifestyle changes to his eating habits, lifting, everything. Last year he got a lot of college interest, some from D1 schools and lots of D3 schools, but he chose to continue his education at BU and plays club hockey there now.
He did everything that Chris Wagner did during the offseason and that was important for his success. We have a mantra at Xaverian: “What do you do when no one’s watching?” He put the work in and he was rewarded. Josh no only had interest from D1 schools and a bunch of D3 schools (mainly the NESCACs) but the prep schools all wanted him too. His games during the MHL Cup really put him on the map for recruiters. I was asked if he would consider one or two years of juniors. Josh thought about it, but because he is such a good student he decided to continue his education this year at BU and he’s happy with where he’s at. It was a mature decision by him.
Nowadays, MIAA hockey is a stopgap for prep or juniors, and I would argue why not be a senior in HS? You only get one chance to do that, you’re moving on after the season anyway. It’s not like we are screwing up players: they can finish off strong academically and athletically. If you aren’t putting up 40-50 points in the MIAA, then you likely aren’t going to play college hockey. It makes sense to stay in school.
NZ: Onto this season, you graduated a number of important pieces, but you have some veterans coming back – who do you expect to really contribute in 2019-2020?
Spinale: I don’t think it’s any secret that our senior co-captains Matty Ryan and Ryan Pomposelli will be our two-headed monster. They are both 40 point scorers who we can break up for secondary scoring if we need it. They are getting prep and junior interest and D3 looks right now. On paper, they should be two of the top players in the state. Stefano Lanci filled a great role for us as a junior, he actually volunteered to play D because we were so heavy on forwards. This year we will need Stef to go back to forward where we expect him and senior Ty Marche to contribute.
One player to watch for us will be sophomore forward Max Lockwood. He is a north-south guy with a great attitude: he loves to compete. He is going to step into Top 6 minutes for us. We also expect sophomore Braden O’Hara will contribute as well. The underclassmen will have to step up to help us fill the void left by last year’s seniors. We also have Riley Stanley, a senior defensive-minded forward who plays the right way: he will step into John Joyce and Michael Pitochelli’s roles. We also have a big power forward in Jack Silva coming back as a sophomore who is poised to contribute as well.
On defense we don’t have any seniors returning, we will be young there. Trevor Connelly, Andy Barton, and my son Shane will all be juniors. We will fill out that D-core likely with sophomores Nolan Dion and Aiden Rodriguez, who will see some minutes. As for goalies, AJ Scott and James Herring were both seniors last year who split time in net. This year we will have two sophomores rotating to see who emerges to win the job: Kyle Harvey and Kevin McGrath. They are both looking to see minutes, but we will see what develops during the preseason first: it will likely be game-to-game at the start.
NZ: When we were scouting ECC Labor Day this summer, we noticed a number of big physical players are waiting in the wings to join the varsity team: Max Lockwood, Aiden Rodriguez, Nolan Dion and Brock Casey. Will any of them have a chance to play varsity?
Spinale: A-ROD, Dion and Casey all played on the freshman team last year, we call it a taxi squad. Despite being on the freshman team, they played some junior varsity games and practiced with the varsity. A-ROD is smooth on the back end and he is fielding a lot of prep interest. Dion is smart with the puck and makes a great stretch pass.
Actually, I should make a shameless plug for Shane Relihan, he has a captive audience in our team since he trains players out of Boch Ice Center, down the road from our school. Our players (including my two sons) all go to him, he’s changed their bodies. Shane played college hockey at Mercyhurst and coached at UMass-Dartmouth. He’s worked with NHL Draft picks like Jack Rathbone, John Farinacci, and he generally works with the prep guys at Dexter and Nobles. But he’s made such a difference for our players; he’s done a lot for our program with Athlete Conditioning Training. Josh Barton spent four years with him and you saw that pay off last season. Last year even our goalies went to him: as soon as our season ended in April they were in the gym with him three to four days a week. Training from April to Thanksgiving? That’s dedication. Our two goalies were rooting for each other because they trained together and that made us a tighter program.
NZ: Switching gears to the program’s background: last season you eclipsed the 200-win mark – a major accomplishment in MIAA hockey. What do you attribute your success to? That must have been a pretty special moment.
Spinale: That game was versus Malden Catholic. I was really moved by the staff and players that they recognized it after the game. Over the years I’ve had great coaches to coach with and I have coached many phenomenal players and young men. That was a special night, I enjoyed it with my family after the game and it was also nice that my middle son scored his first goal that night too. Overall though, it was nice to get a league win, that was the most important thing.
NZ: Who are just a few of the moments/players in the program that stick out to you, having reached the 200-win plateau?
Spinale: There have been so many moments and players along the way that I don’t want to leave anybody out! I can think of just a few names that stick out: Craig Pasquantonio, my first captain at Xaverian, who later captained Stonehill and now he’s on our coaching staff. One of the best aspects of coaching is being able to build close relationships with these players.
Erik Kallio is now helping our middle school team, there’s Kevin Aufiero and Tommy Jenkins who were both Stonehill captains. There was Zack Cantin a power forward for us and Mike Manna a goalie who both played at Stonehill as well. Then there’s Boston Bruins forward Chris Wagner who was such a special guy to coach. You could tell right away there was something special about him: he was assistant captain as a sophomore, which is pretty rare and co-captain as a junior. There is Kyle McDonald who played at St. Lawrence, he is one of the only goalies who had a leadership role for us. He’s an Assistant Athletic Director now as well as a friend and a peer. I can’t also forget Timmy Sweeney (the son of Tim Sweeney), Tony Marini, Ryan Walsh and Jake Farrell. Jake was a great hockey captain for us who is now playing baseball in the Yankees organization after going to Northeastern on a baseball scholarship. You create these friendships and it makes what you do a lot of fun.
NZ: What are your goals for this season for Xaverian? One would assume the team is aiming higher to finish what they started last season?
Spinale: Each year we want to compete and win a league title and go to the Super 8. We feel those are attainable and reachable goals. Last year we came in second in our league behind BC High who won the whole thing. We don’t have moral victories here: the captains and I have discussed it. Our league schedule is tough and now Malden Catholic has a new head coach who is very good, we also added Central Catholic to our league too. We will be playing perennial Super 8 contenders this season. Actually, Barnstable has me up at night already: we start with them in our non-league schedule, which will be a challenge too. Marshfield will be tough for us to play, those kids play hard; Danny Connelly does a great job coaching them.