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New Raiders Coach Rolling Up His Sleeves

  • Head coach Jim Damren, of West Lebanon, N.H., watches the Lebanon High School boys hockey team warm up at the start of an evening practice at Campion Rink in West Lebanon on Nov. 29, 2017. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Head coach Jim Damren, of West Lebanon, N.H., leads the Lebanon High School boys hockey team in an evening practice at Campion Rink in West Lebanon on Nov. 29, 2017. Damren had been one of the team's assistant coaches. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Head coach Jim Damren, of West Lebanon, N.H., draws a drill for the Lebanon High School boys hockey team to run in an evening practice at Campion Rink in West Lebanon on Nov. 29, 2017. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, November 30, 2017

Lebanon — There is work to be done with the Lebanon-Stevens High boys hockey team. First-year Raiders head coach Jim Damren is ready to get started.

Damren, a Lebanon High graduate who played four years of Raiders hockey from 1978-82, took the job in June, after eight-year Lebanon head coach Gary Smith stepped down to take over Dartmouth College’s men’s club hockey team. At the time, Damren saw the job as a dream come true, one he thought he would never see realized.

On Thursday, with three preseason practices under his belt, Damren said it’s all starting to feel real.

“Like I told the kids, my expectation is that we’re going to win,” he said before a scrimmage against Woodstock at Campion Rink. “It’s exciting. I’m excited to get going, for real.

“We have a fair number of kids back,” Damren added. “They’re young. But we’ve got some good hockey players.”

Lebanon is coming off of a 10-11 season last winter, one that ended with a quarterfinal loss to Spaulding in the NHIAA Division II tournament. The Raiders were 64-98-7 under Smith’s tutelage and haven’t won a state title since 2000. They graduated prolific scorers Nate Damren — Jim’s son — and Nate Gariepy, leaving a hole in the forward group. The two Nates combined for 31 goals in 21 games last season.

But Lebanon’s biggest early-season conundrum might be its goaltending situation, which features four netminders for only two roster spots. Andrew Friend, a Claremont native and the only participant in the program’s co-operative arrangement with Stevens High, comes in with the most experience after spending last winter as Lebanon’s primary backup behind starter Jordan Hammond. Junior Jared Audette, sophomore Jackson Kapuscinski and freshman Hunter Robb are all vying for playing time.

“I’ve never had four goalies before in my life,” said Damren, who had been a youth hockey coach before joining the Lebanon varsity squad as an assistant in 2012. “I’ve been coaching for over 30 years. … I’ve had three on the team before, but never four. It’s a bit of a challenge to make sure they’re getting enough reps in practice. After three days, I’m not sure how that situation is going to play out.”

Friend saw limited ice time a year ago, but is a little more comfortable with his surroundings. He admitted he still gets strange looks walking around the Stevens halls with a Lebanon hockey jacket on, but the lanky senior said he doesn’t mind.

“It’s not so much of a competition against each other. It’s more of a friendly competition,” Friend said. “We’re pushing each other, trying to get each motivated, trying to beat each other out in drills. … I come to practice every day trying to do my best, work hard and try to do the best I can.

“It’s a great group of kids,” added the Claremont native. “I love being in the locker room with them, going on bus rides up and down. I felt a part of the team from the first day. Even though I didn’t get too much playing time, I didn’t want the season to end (last year) because of how much fun I had with the guys.”

For Damren, expectations are high in year one. Forward Nate Chickering, defenseman Aaron Damren — another one of Jim’s sons — and forward captain Ian Garland expect to play big minutes on a team with 17 skaters. But high on the agenda is making the Lebanon program more visible, getting a greater sense of the town’s youth program and finding a way to better utilize the Stevens co-op.

“There are kids coming,” Damren said. “In an ideal world, we’d have about six kids coming up every year. … (But) I have no real feel for what hockey players are coming from Stevens.”

Friend said he believes there are Claremont skaters coming up in the next few years, though he admitted hockey is not exactly the cheapest sport for a family to sustain. His father, Bob, works at Stateline Sports in West Lebanon.

“Our numbers right now, we’re not having 40 kids try out, but they’re solid,” Damren said. “We’re not having issues like the girls’ program has had.”

Brad Shaw, Lebanon’s girls hockey coach, said at Campion Rink on Thursday that the co-op with Stevens is a two-year agreement and is set for renewal after this season. The Raiders’ girls squad is again low on numbers with 13 skaters this winter, including two from Stevens.

“I don’t have a lot of control of what happens down there,” Damren said. “But one of my goals is to foster more visibility in the community with our hockey program.

“I see backyard rinks in my neighborhood. I see nets in driveways, so I know there are kids playing. You just hope that eight years down the road they’re still playing, they still love it and that they bring it to the high school.”

Damren and the Raiders open their season on Dec. 13 at home against Windham.

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.