After struggling just to be competitive in recent years, Immaculate Heart Centrals hockey team has continued to make strides this season.
But now reunited with players from their days in youth hockey, the Cavaliers have forged the best campaign in the recent history of the program.
IHC is off to a 7-5 start the best mark in head coach Randy Pounds seven years of coaching hockey at the school.
Last year was the first year we made sectionals, so that helped out a lot, IHC senior captain Jared Pignone said after the teams practice on the Watertown Municipal Arena ice on Tuesday. It was a building year for us and now were taking the next step this year.
This success comes after the Cavaliers won only three games skating in Section 3 in their 2012-13 season.
Absolutely its exciting, especially for the kids, said Pound, whose team fared 3-15-1 last season.
Its nice to be able to get some wins and be able to compete, Pound added. And even in the games that we havent won, theyve all been competitive.
Along with a core group of returners, the Cavaliers were strengthened this year with the arrival of four players who attend General Brown.
Theyve made a big difference for us, said Pound, whose team is also comprised of eight players from IHC and eight more from Watertown High School. Theyve given us the ability to run more lines competitively.
Many of these students played together back in youth hockey in the Watertown Hockey Association, but in past years, General Brown students skated with players from Alexandria and Thousand Islands who comprise the combined Islanders team.
Its exciting because were a lot better than weve ever been, said senior co-captain Jake Renzi, who attends Watertown. We have a more skill and I grew up with them playing youth hockey.
The arrival of these players, including goalie James Cole and defensemen Trevor Hughes and Sean Shepard, heading into this season have provided a notable boost for IHC.
The General Brown kids helped out a lot, Pignone said. Ive played with a number of them on my club team (Jefferson Jaguars), so we know each other pretty well and weve meshed together well. So to have that extra skill and talent come to IHC has been huge for us.
Pignone, who moved to forward this season after spending time on defense since eighth grade, leads the team in scoring with 13 goals and 10 assists.
He can play anywhere on the ice, Pound said of Pignone. He can carry the puck out of the zone as a defenseman and take it out of the zone as a forward as well. Hes got very good hands, so his transition to forward has been relatively easy.
Pignone skates on the top line, centered by IHC junior co-captain Jordan Trudeau (11 goals-5 assists-16 points) with Renzi (5-11-16) on the other wing.
Weve got a lot more depth than in previous years, weve got three solid lines, Pignone said. Weve got a great defense and now we have great goaltending.
Cole, a senior, has fared 5-4-0 this season, including a shutout, to lead the Cavaliers in goal, and sports a 2.18 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage.
It really makes a difference having two goalies, especially during practices, Pound said. Cole has played well for us.
Also from Watertown High, sophomore forward Chandler Burgenstock (6-8-14) and freshman defenseman Trevor Christopher have each contributed to the teams success.
We have vastly improved since last year, Trudeau said. We have quite a few returning kids, so the chemistry is still there, but the new kids have helped out as well.
Overall, the Cavaliers have won four of their past five games, including two victories earlier in the month to take the Malone Tournament played at Franklin Academy.
With nine games remaining in its regular season and with a strong finish, IHC has a chance to earn a favorable seeding for the Section 3 playoffs, which begin in late February.
Scores dont necessarily dictate how the game was played, Pound concluded. And we feel like were hitting a stride right now and were peaking at the right time going into sectionals.
We still have a lot of league games left, we have nine games before Feb. 6 and seven of them are in the league, Pound added. So these will be huge as to how we will be seeded in the playoffs.
Sportswriter Chris Fitz Gerald covers high school hockey for the Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org