Over the last several years, the sport of hockey has had a renaissance in New England.
Energized by the Boston Bruins' run to the Stanley Cup last spring as well as recent success by the region's college hockey teams, the sport has been flourishing.
The growth has trickled down to Haverhill High School, as 40 players tried out for the hockey team this year, the most in the five years that coach Spike Sprague has been at the helm here.
"Hockey is everywhere now," said senior captain Jack Franklin. "Even people who never liked hockey before are getting into hockey now."
Leading the squad this year are senior captains Franklin and Jeff Roberts. Roberts made the Merrimack Valley Conference-Dual County League All-Star team with five goals last year and Franklin has been a steady starter on defense over the last four years for the Hillies.
For a team that won only six games a season ago and hasn't made the state tournament since 2007, another rebuilding year could be in store, but the players enter the season with high hopes.
"We're going to take it one game at a time," Roberts said. "We don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves. I don't want to say states (the state tournament) are out of the question especially this season, but moreso instead of looking at points, we're just looking at the next game."
The team will likely turn to sophomore Zach Grundy to handle the majority of the goaltending. Grundy played in several games toward the end of last season as a freshman. Gray Marchese also returns for the Hillies. He recorded two shutouts last season.
Also returning to the team is sophomore forward Tom McGuire. He led the team with 11 goals as a freshman and made The Eagle-Tribune All-Star Team. The Hillies also have nine other sophomores who are expected to contribute to the team.
"We have a lot more depth this year," Franklin said. "We have third- or fourth-line players who are capable of playing on the second line or better."
The team doesn't have one superstar player who will rack up a lot of goals, but the Hillies are hoping to use a recent successful formula to motivate them.
"If you look at the Bruins, they didn't have a lot of all-star players on their team," Franklin said. "But everyone on their team chipped in, worked hard and did their part. That's what we want to do."
Haverhill opened the season on Saturday against Boston Latin. Highlighting the schedule for the Hillies, who play in Division 2, will be Division 1 foes Andover and Chelmsford.