IN SPORTS, coaches and players can control most aspects of the game, such as what happens on offense and defense.
One aspect they have little control over, however, is injuries, something that can make or break a season depending upon how serious they are.
Last week the Manchester Memorial hockey team was ravaged by the injury bug. In a game on Thursday against Manchester Central, the Crusaders lost captain Colin Williamson to a dislocated shoulder. And in a game on Saturday against Hanover, they lost junior forward Brendan Sullivan, also with a slight separation to his shoulder. Another forward, Andrew Putney, has also missed time because of a concussion.
Williamson is the team's top defenseman and Sullivan is the team's leading scorer with 12 points, ranking him eighth in Division I. Putney has four points on the season.
The Crusaders have now rattled off four wins in a row after suffering their only loss of the season in overtime to Londonderry on Dec. 22, and they are now in first place in Div. I at 7-1.
Fortunately for Memorial, it has a favorable schedule over the next couple of weeks that could help it get healthy in time for a big matchup on Jan. 26 against Salem.
The Crusaders have two games this week against teams that are a combined 6-9, Bishop Guertin of Nashua (4-4) on Wednesday and Exeter (2-5) on Saturday. Then they are off until the game against the Blue Devils, who are undefeated over their last seven games and have a record of 6-1-1.
Williamson could be back for that game and Putney could be back as early as this week. Sullivan was seeing a doctor on Monday to determine how serious his injury is.
NOT ONLY has Salem propelled itself to one of the top contenders in Div. I since dropping its season opener to the Cardinals, but it has done so against some of the toughest competition in the league.
The Blue Devils are 6-0-1 over their last seven games. They have strung together that stretch against teams with a combined record of 26-20-7 and only one of which has a record under .500.
The streak started off with a convincing 7-2 win over Londonderry, the Lancers' only loss of the season, and has included 7-2 and 6-1 wins over St. Thomas Aquinas of Dover and Exeter over the past two games.
One big reason for the success is goalie Nick Phair, who leads the league with a 1.16 goals-against average in 233 minutes played. He has one shutout and a .949 save percentage.
The team's leading scorers are Cody Soucy with nine points and Jake Pappalardo with seven.
THERE IS a big showdown in Div. II on Wednesday when undefeated Merrimack (8-0) hosts Dover (6-1-1) at West Side Arena in Manchester.
The Tomahawks have played only one team with a winning record, Goffstown, in the season opener. Their opponents have a combined record of 22-34-7. Merrimack has dominated its competition by outscoring it, 47-5.
"I think it's going to be a good test to see where we stand right now," Merrimack coach Kurt Mithoefer said.
The Green Wave is coming off its first loss of the year, a 4-0 decision against the Grizzlies on Saturday. They will look to rebound with the toughest test of their season to date. The game is at 4 p.m.
LATER in the week there could be a showdown between two of the state's undefeated teams in Div. III when Berlin hosts John Stark/Hopkinton on Saturday. They were both 8-0 on Monday.
The game is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Notre Dame Arena in Berlin and features two of the best forwards in the league, Connor Jewett of Berlin, who has 37 points in eight games, and international exchange student Simon Becka of John Stark/Hopkinton.Mark Quirk cover high school hockey for he New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.