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Expectations Sky High for Defending Champion Boys Hockey

Wilmington beefed up its non-league schedule in hopes of earning an invitation to the Super 8 this year.

Last season was a great season for the Wilmington boys hockey team. But head coach Steve Scanlon and his charges hope to make this season super.

Coming off the first state championship in program history, the Wildcats have beefed up their non-league schedule in hopes to taking the team to the next level with an appearance in the Super 8 tournament.

Expectations are high for Wilmington this year, ranked No. 9 in the state by ESPNBoston.com. With an ideal balance of young players and returning veterans, Scanlon said the team wants to see what it’s made of.

“We know there are high expectations, so we’ve challenged ourselves with a tougher schedule of non-league games to see if we can do even better things,” said Scanlon. “We’re on some of the Super 8 watch lists to begin the year. You never know if you don’t try, so we’re shooting a little higher.”

Among the teams added to the schedule this year are defending Super 8 champion Malden Catholic and Acton-Boxboro, which lost to Burlington in the North Division 1 semifinal. Malden Catholic is ESPNBoston’s preseason No. 1 selection.

The team drops the puck on the regular season Wednesday night, traveling to face Woburn at 8 p.m. Even before the regular season opens, the team is already facing a speed bump.

Cam Owens, the team captain who is an electrifying offensive threat, suffered a shoulder injury at the beginning of December and will be off the ice for about two to three weeks. Owens scored 16 goals and notched 20 assists last season and his hat trick jolted the Wildcats to their state championship win at TD Garden.

Sophomore wing Steve DeFuria, who made the jump from JV this year, broke his wrist before Thanksgiving. He is expected back to the team soon.

“Having kids out early can be a good thing,” said Scanlon. “You have no choice but to gel quick, and guys have to step up, new guys have to show what they can do. We’re hoping that will work.”

Scanlon said he believes Jake Rogers is capable of having a big year, coming off a season with 11 goals and 9 assists. Brendan McDonough managed four goals and five assists last year, but Scanlon said he came into the preseason bigger and stronger, which could translate into a big season.

Defensively, the sure handed and steady senior Brian Pickett will anchor the Wildcats. He put home 4 goals and notched 16 assists in 2011-12, and his coach calls him a smooth skater who handles the puck with ease.

Goalie Drew Foley returns for his junior year, coming off an outstanding season with a 1.74 goals against average, a 92 percent save percentage and six shutouts.

“Where Cam can be a game changer on offense, Drew can be a game saver,” said Scanlon.

Also returning from last year’s squad are juniors Cody McGowan and Luke Foley, who combined for 32 points during the championship season, along with Dylan DiNatale. Foley and McGowan have played since their freshman year, and Scanlon said Foley has a knack for scoring the “grimy” goal.

While the Wildcats lost some key players from last year’s team, they returned the majority of their championship team. In addition, they also expect to benefit from a pair of transfers.

Defenseman Sean Moon joins the team from Central Catholic while senior Nick DiRienzo transferred from Austin Prep. Young players Bill Falter, a freshman, and John Galasso, a sophomore who played JV last year, also should have an impact.

Wilmington will, when healthy, skate four strong lines every night. Scanlon said his lineup essentially consists of two No. 1 lines and two No. 3 lines, making the Wildcats tough to handle.

Scanlon said he’s seen a bit of overconfidence in practices coming off last year’s historic season, but it’s something he believes the team can overcome.

“They know what it takes to do it now. It’s just a matter of doing it,” said Scanlon. “We’re trying to keep our regular outlook that we’ll be a hardworking team, a humble team, and not look ahead.”

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