Three wins in one hockey season is usually not something to celebrate. But for the Amesbury-Whittier team, it is a sign of progress and how far the team has come in the last year. The Amesbury-Whittier team has already surpassed its win total of a season ago, when the co-op team went 2-14-4.
The team, which is split about 50-50 between players from Whittier Tech and Amesbury High, is under the guidance of experienced coach Chris Kuchar, who is in his second year as head coach. When Kuchar took over the program last season, he knew that the team had a lot of work to do after going just 6-67-6 in the four years prior to his joining the staff.
"Last year I found out that there was a lot of change needed," said Kuchar. "Discipline, commitment, effort, structure, focus and team play were not there. It was a bunch of kids from different schools who weren't playing together. They were playing as individuals."
This year, Amesbury-Whittier scored the elusive third win in just the sixth game of the season. The team is now 3-4-0 and trying to make the playoffs for the first time since 2006. Although the wins are nice, Kuchar said, he expects there to be bumps in the road because of the talent disparity between his squad and some of rival teams.
"We can't really measure ourselves with wins and losses," said Kuchar. "At this stage of our program, we measure it by if kids are buying into our program. Once everyone buys in and collectively agrees on a direction. The wins and losses will come with that."
Kuchar has a long history in local hockey. He was born and raised in Haverhill and was the captain of the 1989 Haverhill hockey team, which was one of the most successful in school history, winning 17 games.
Because of his own experience, he knows what his Amesbury-Whittier team is going through.
"My freshman and sophomore year we would get beat up pretty good by the powers of the Merrimack Valley Conference," said Kuchar. "We were losing games 16-0 in those first couple of years. We didn't have any leadership at first, but by the time we were upperclassmen we progressed and were successful."
After his career at Haverhill High, Kuchar went on to play at Salem State and became a hockey scout in the East Coast Hockey League. He covered Hockey East for The Eagle-Tribune for eight years. In 2000, he got a job at Haverhill High, serving as assistant coach for eight years, and was an assistant at North Andover for one year before landing his first head coaching gig.
One of Kuchar's challenges with the Amesbury-Whittier team is blending the talent that he has at his disposal. The team is a youthful one. The leading scorer is freshman Tabor Smith, who has three goals and three assists and is averaging a point a game.
The inclusion of Whittier is critical for the hockey program's survival. As of now, there are not enough bodies for the two schools to have two separate teams.
Some players on the team were not even aware of the co-op program when they enrolled at Whittier High.
"I had always loved hockey," said Connor Stevens. "But, I didn't even know about the co-op program until I got to Whittier."
While many young players grow up competing with and against each other in town leagues before playing at the high school level, many of the players on this team had never played with each other before. Players from Haverhill, Amesbury, Salisbury, Rowley and Merrimac had to develop team chemistry quickly before the season began.
The challenges don't bother Kuchar.
"I like what we have right now," said Kuchar. "I was pleasantly surprised with the number of Whittier kids that tried out for our program. We're a youthful team and the future is looking up for us."