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WOONSOCKET â€” It seems like a very long time ago, but itâ€™s been only a decade since Woonsocket High was considered one of the competitive teams in the Met B-North ranks, racking up double digits in victories and making solid runs in the playoffs year after year.
Unfortunately for the Villa Novans, a lot has changed since their last winning season as a Met B (now Division II) team eight years ago. Only twice have they posted a winning record -- in Division III -- and last season, they hit rock bottom with a 1-15 mark that saw them get outscored 161-18.
With just eight players coming back from a team that struggled to finish the year with just 13, the future of the program looked bleak, and there were whispers around the division that the plug was going to be pulled on the team.
But that was then and this is now, and on Thursday afternoon at Adelard Arena, the program took a breath of fresh air when 19 players, the majority of them sophomores, laced up their skates for the Villa Novansâ€™ hour-long, season-opening practice.
This excellent turnout certainly made the Novansâ€™ first-year head coach, Nathan Arruda, more than happy. The two-time Met B-North First-Team all-star defenseman and 2002 Woonsocket High graduate took over the team when longtime coach Tony Ciresi retired after last season and was all smiles after his first teamâ€™s workout.
â€śIâ€™m very pleased,â€ť said Arruda, who currently has 20 players on his roster. â€śDefinitely the numbers are there that we can harness a team, which will be great, but I really want to see the program built back. I want to see it back to where it was in my day, or at least to be competitive again.â€ť
Arruda, who is assisted by another former Novan standout, 2005 graduate Andrew Lizotte, hasnâ€™t set any lofty goals or expectations for his young team, which has just three seniors and two juniors, but he does know what he expects from his players.
â€śI just want to see steady improvement,â€ť he added. â€śI really want to see us work hard and really strive for something, have a goal set in mind that (our players) want to accomplishment. And I want them to have fun too. Itâ€™s tough losing, but I just want everyone to have fun and have a good experience.â€ť
While Arruda is still trying to connect the names with the faces on his team, he did recognize his upperclassmen, starting with his seniors, forward-turned-defenseman Mike Plasse, Brittany Simard, and Mike Dufault, and his two juniors, goalie Ian Provencal and first-year player Vanessa Carey.
The sophomore class features the Novansâ€™ third and fourth-leading scorers from a season ago, Devin Fortier and Jonathan Flynn, Chance Boucher, and a first-year sophomore, Jason Garfield, who will be counted on to play defense.
â€śI think weâ€™re going to have to build our team around defense,â€ť added Amaral. â€śDefense is definitely going to help us out, and I have a few players in mind who are going to play there.â€ť
The division promises to be a difficult one this year, with defending champion Johnston/North Providence, state finalist Mount Hope, and Tolman bringing back the core of their team and expecting to again vie for the championship, but nevertheless, Amaral hopes to see his team enjoy some success as it continually improves over the course of the season.
â€śI think we can definitely win a few games and be a little better than last year,â€ť he said. â€śAs long as we improve during the year, weâ€™ll see what happens.â€ť