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Holliston - Local Town Pages

Major Improvement A Key Objective for Holliston Six Bedard In His 2nd Season as Panthers Coach

Holliston hockey coach Derek Bedard is optimistic his Panthers will improve this season.

Staff Sports Writer
Holliston High’s ice hockey team finished last year with a 1-17-1 record — difficult numbers to cope with but not surprising for a squad that was playing for its third coach in three years.
Derek Bedard, who previously was an assistant for the Panthers for three years, took the reins and watched his team struggle early in the Tri Valley League Large Division. As the season progressed, however, the Panthers started to show signs of improvement and they began to adjust much faster. And, their work ethic was starting to produce a competitive nature that led to closely-contested games and far less blowout losses.
“We had six losses during the last half of the season that were by two goals or less,’’ Bedard recalled. “And, we were able to get our only victory and a tie in that span. We definitely got better as the season moved along and that improvement occurred because of a relentless work ethic.’’
A sure sign that better results might be on the horizon came in a matchup against Medway, which lost only two games in the regular season last year. The Panthers bowed, 6-5.
At Local Town Pages deadline, Holliston had a 0-2 record, losing to Norton and Medfield. “Losing to Medfield, 4-1, was a big step in the right direction,’’ Bedard said. “It was a gritty effort and was 2-1 with three minutes left. Medfield ended with two empty-net goals. We’re looking to build on the momentum of a solid effort.’’ 
Bedard, who was a captain as a senior when he played for Holliston, listed his goals at the start of pre-season practice and they’re the kind of objectives that make lots of sense for a team that’s in the tender stage of its re-emergence.
“We want to build off what we achieved in the last half of last year,’’ he emphasized. “We also want to improve daily — in games and in practice — and show progress as the season moves along. And, if we stay healthy, we want to improve over last year’s record but that will only occur if we continue to be a hard-working team.’’
As far as tourney thoughts go, Bedard believes that the relatively new tourney format works in Holliston’s favor. “The power rankings take into account close losses,’’ he said, “and that factor could give us a chance at a berth. Our prime focus, however, is to improve our skills and build team chemistry.’’
Bedard’s list of this year’s team strengths suggests better days are ahead. “We’ve got a solid work ethic,’’ he mentioned first. “We’re young but that’s okay because we’re all learning together and that creates a close-knit group. We’re also willing to do the nitty-gritty things, like forecheck, backcheck and play hard-nosed defense. Our technique and our hockey IQs are improved and we’ve got strong goaltending.’’
The Panthers captains — seniors Nick Larche at center and Jonah Feldman at wing — personify many of the strengths listed by their coach. Both lead by example and are good communicators.
“Nick is willing to do whatever is needed,’’ Bedard said. “His work ethic is superb, he’s well-skilled, and smart. Our only TVL all-star last year, we’ll rely on him to score and get assists. Jonah is an excellent skater who’s strong and technically sound. He’s got passion for hockey, works hard and, like Nick, has a hard shot. We’ll also rely on him for offense.’’
Junior James Givens is an assistant captain who leads the defense. “James wins the one-on-one battles, he’s tough in the corners and he’s physical,’’ Bedard noted. “A defensive defenseman, he’s got good instincts and he’s fast and quick.’’
Two key wings are junior Cole Fanara and sophomore Luiz Campos.
“Cole is physical, fast and displays finesse around the net,’’ said Bedard. “Tough in the corners, he’s small in size but strong in stature. Luiz is a fast skater with a high hockey IQ. He’s got a willingness to score, he’s quick and battles hard in the corners.’’
Sophomore Evan Kuharich and junior John Pisselli are quality players who, along with  Givens, bolster the Panthers’ defense. 
“Evan was impressive as a freshman,’’ Bedard said. “A fast skater, he’s a defensive defenseman who has a high hockey IQ and knows how to get good positioning. John is a high character guy. A tall defenseman, he’s always striving to improve. A quick decision-maker, he wins the one-on-one battles at the net.’’
Sophomore Colin Logan was dependable in goal last year as a freshman and, according to Bedard, should be better than last season.
“Colin is why we were in many games last year,’’ Bedard emphasized. “He’s an impressive goalie. He’s instinctive, technically sound and has passion for hockey. He’s always in the right position and he gives the team confidence. Our players are comfortable with him in net.’’
Bedard knows his core group will be counted on heavily but he stresses that “to be successful we’ll need everyone to contribute.’’

Style often matters so Bedard is employing a deliberate style this season that emphasizes positioning. “It’s all about our players getting into position and knowing how to get there quickly,’’ he said. “The key is to be quick decision-makers and to be effective with their passing.’’
Besides Bedard, the Panthers have a trio of varsity assistants who all played in the TVL. They include Mike Donovan, Spencer Wilson, and Chris Johnston. “They all know the ins and outs of the game and they’re all familiar with the teams in our league,’’ Bedard offered.
The 26-year-old Bedard will rely on a coaching philosophy that focuses on improvement. 
“That’s my top priority,’’ he said. “We also want to win but that happens when we improve, reach our potential and enjoy competing. Valuable life lessons I hope our players learn while competing are to develop a strong work ethic, be accountable, deal with challenges and adversity and become quality leaders and teammates.’’
Bedard says he never got discouraged about last year. “Both myself and our players are eager about the new season,’’ he emphasized. “I’m confident in our core group and expect everyone to compete hard and be in every game.’’
The transition to a new coach ended after last year and both Bedard and his players are acutely aware that the competitive learning curve won’t be as steep as last year.