By Cary Shuman
A hot goaltender can do wondrous things for a hockey team. Just look up Ken Dryden and the 1971 Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens.
Jack Stafford has been the proverbial hot goaltender the entire 2015-16 season for the Lynn Jets high school team. The 6-feet-2-inch junior had six shutouts in net as Lynn built an undefeated streak and came within one goal of winning the conference title. Lynn finished with a 14-4-2 record, the best in the team’s history.
The Northeastern Conference hockey coaches recognized Stafford’s consistency and brilliance by selecting him the conference’s Most Valuable Player.
“It’s an honor, of course – I wish the whole team could get it,” said Stafford before taking the ice for the NEC All-Star Game Saturday at Salem State. “It’s good to win an award.”
Stafford said the season has been an exciting journey for everyone – players, coaches, and fans.
“Coming in to the season, we had a lot of younger players on the roster but we really jelled and have had a very good season,” said Stafford.
He is in his third season as the Jets’ goaltender. He has worked hard to improve his skills and his offseason training in the East Coast Prospects Evaluation showcase has paid dividends.
Stafford began his career as a goalie in the Lynn Youth Hockey program. In middle school, he played for the Lynn Chiefs and Lynn Rockets coached by Mike Roberts, who is now a Jets assistant.
Stafford was quick to credit his defensemen for the Jets having the stingiest goals against average in the conference. “Ryan Clark and Brandon Devin are two starting defensemen, Steven Patrie is a big contributor as a junior, and two freshmen, Ryan Craig and Troy Petkevitch have stepped up and played a pivotal role.”
Stafford said the defensive success extends to the team’s forwards as well. “It’s been everyone working together trying to achieve the same goal, helping each other get better. Coach [Joe] Conlon has been unreal this year. He’s had the heart and the desire to keep pushing and the will to win this year. [Coach] D.J. Pinkham has worked with me a lot on my goaltending.”
Conlon said Stafford was a deserving choice for MVP honors.
“Team wide it was a very successful regular season – we beat some teams we’ve never beaten as a program,” said Conlon. “Jack’s MVP award was well deserved. I’m glad to have him on our side and kids love playing hockey in front of him. Jack did a great job of putting himself in a position to succeed this year.”
Stafford is carrying on a hockey legacy in the family. His father, Jim Stafford, played hockey and was a captain at St. Mary’s High School.
“My dad was an impact player,” proudly stated Jack, who added that he would love to have the honor of being a team captain himself.
His grandfather, James Stafford, was a beloved teacher and hockey coach in the Chelsea school system.
“My grandfather calls me ‘Jack the Cat,’’ related Jack. “He said there was a goalie in the NHL and they used to call him, ‘Dan the Cat.’ “When I was younger I had my first helmet painted and it said, ‘Jack the Cat.’ I had to pay homage to my grandfather. He’s definitely helped me a lot.”
Stafford is a student at Lynn Classical. The team consists of players from English and Tech as well.
“The second you walk through the Lynn Jets locker room, all the Thanksgiving game rivalry and the Lynn English-Lynn Classical rivalry all just drops and we’re one team,” said Stafford.
He is confident the Lynn Jets can make a run in the State Tournament. “I think we have a chance this year. We’re playing as a team this year and we’re swinging in to the tournament with a lot of momentum.”
Stafford said he has been following the exploits of another superb goaltender from Lynn, Katie Burt of the No. 1-ranked Boston College women’s team.
“I know Katie – I used to play baseball with her in the Wyoma Little League. She’s fantastic.”