It's been 17 years since the Newton South boys' hockey team found its name in a playoff bracket -- but this year may be different.
The Lions need just one point to make it to the state tournament, meaning that they need either a win or a tie against top-seeded Lowell this Friday, Feb. 22.
"It's exciting," says Head Coach Chris Ryberg. "The kids are excited to face a team that is in our league -- that will make [the game] all the more sweet."
Friday's game against No. 2 Lowell will be held at 4 p.m. in the Tsongas Arena in Lowell. Fans are encouraged to attend and to cheer on the Newton South team.
The young varsity squad is currently 4-4-1 in the Dual County/Merrimack Valley League and 8-8-1 overall, which amounts to a total of 19 points on the season. The team needs 20 points to qualify for the playoffs, and that last point would be earned with a tie or win on Friday, Ryberg says.
Ryberg, who has been head coach for six years, says a combination of growing numbers, young talent and strong leadership has brought the team close to a playoff bid this year.
"When I first started [coaching], we only had 14 [players] on the team -- 24 tried out this year," Ryberg says. "The strength in numbers has been huge and we have much more of a commitment this year."
A good portion of the team is also made of talented freshmen and sophomore players, Ryberg says, including regular season point leader forward Griffin Connolly, a sophomore. The team's goalkeepers are also underclassmen, including Chris Olsson, a sophomore, and freshman Matthew Aviles.
With the young team, Ryberg says the leadership of senior Captain Peter Block has also been crucial to this season's success.
"We've had real strong leadership, and that helps with a team with a lot of freshmen and sophomores on it," Ryberg says.
Although the Lions lost to Lowell 3-1 early on in the season, they are coming off of two big wins against league rival Bedford and St. Joseph's Prep.
As for the players, Ryberg says the team doesn't seem to feel much pressure going into Friday's big match, a relaxed and focused quality that has carried them throughout the season.
"They're a pretty loose group," Ryberg says. "Not much affects them."