The flip of the calendar to 2018 seems to have symbolically ushered in a new era for both Holliston and the Tri-Valley League hockey hierarchy.
The Panthers were moderately successful in December, going 4-1-1 with the lone loss coming to defending Division 3 North champion Lowell. Not bad for a program coming off a seven-win season, and with just 11 victories overall in Dan Geary’s first two seasons as head coach.
Then came the Jan. 3 meeting with rival Hopkinton, one of the preseason favorites to win the TVL title. Despite falling behind early, Holliston surged back and grabbed an eye-opening 3-1 victory. Three nights later the Panthers served notice even more with a 3-2 victory against powerful Medfield.
“Last week was a huge week for our program,” Geary said. “I thought we’d compete. Did I know we could win? I didn’t.”
Tack on another victory Wednesday night against Norton, and suddenly Holliston (7-1-1) already has matched last year’s win total and was sitting atop the TVL standings entering last night’s game against Dover-Sherborn.
“We knew it would be tough to beat teams like Medfield and Hopkinton, but we knew we could do it,” senior defenseman Jake Kober said.
Asked if he’s been surprised by the results so far, Geary — who took over just days before the start of the 2015-16 season — admitted to not having the most patience when it comes to building a program. “I’m surprised that we didn’t perform better the last two years,” he said.
At the same time, Geary understood that growing pains and learning how to win were a necessary part of the process. Give a big assist to the self-motivation of this year’s senior class after the team fell one point short of the tournament last season, finishing 7-8-5.
“It was tough,” senior forward James Franco said. “We knew we had to put in a lot of work over the offseason. We had a lot of workouts, a lot of street hockey, stuff like that just to get ready for the season.”
Said Geary: “They have an internal drive they haven’t had before. A lot of it is my senior defensemen and the seniors are really pushing the kids. (Last season) hurt. That hurt, and we’ve got no one to blame but ourselves. That left a mark, and the kids said they’re not letting that happen again.”
Franco is part of an all-senior top line along with Jack Larche and Cam DeCristofaro. Kober transferred from St. Mark’s to shore up a defense that also features seniors Jack Wilkie, Tim…