A scorching start with stellar play on both ends of the ice has the boys hockey team excited about their prospects for the season heading into this weekend’s Flood-Marr tournament.
Not only do the Bearcats enter the weekend with a winning record, they do so undefeated, including a 7-1 thumping of rival Salisbury for one of their four wins.
Spirits are high. “It’s honestly the best feeling – not only are we are winning but we’re winning by playing as a group so we each feel the pride that comes along with it,” said senior forward Mason von Jess ’19.
Head coach Mike Traggio said that the players’ teamwork and unselfishness has been one of the main keys to the team’s early success. “It’s five guys committed toward a common goal,” he said. “They’re starting to figure out that that collectively we’re much better than we are as individuals.”
And he credited the eight seniors on the team – von Jess, Gino Antonacci ’19, Quinn Carlisle ’19, Jordan Ehrensperger ’19, Alex Mozian ’19, Walker Reiersgaard ’19, Greg Ross ’19, and Jake Thomas ’19 – for creating that culture of camaraderie this year.
“Their willingness to work together and get along together provides a model for the younger kids,” said Traggio. “No one voice is more important than the other.”
Both players and coaches noted that the success has built on itself. Early wins have imbued the team with confidence, leading to crisper play on the ice, which is resulting in higher-quality offensive and defensive play.
“Moving the puck, sharing the puck, making and receiving passes, the skill level seems a little higher. You get buy in when there’s success,” said Traggio.
He added that the early wins have given the players the confidence to make extra passes and create better scoring opportunities, with the players trusting in the team’s ability to overcome adversity and find collective success out on the ice.
Goals have come in bunches thus far – in just four games, the Bearcats have already tallied 17 goals, a total that last year’s Bearcats needed 13 games to reach. The early scoring has helped relieve some of the pressure, said Antonacci.
“Last year we would lose games by one goal; this year, we’re beating teams by a few or more so no one can get lucky,” he said.
Even in the team’s closest call, a 1-0 squeaker against Canterbury on Dec. 1, the team played with confidence in front of standout goalie Henry Wilder ’20, who has allowed just one goal thus far in three games of work.
“Henry has been phenomenal. He is the best goalie in prep hockey so we are really lucky to have him,” said Thomas. “He can steal games for us even when we aren’t playing our best.”
Wilder’s highlight reel this season includes 37 saves against Salisbury, including a miraculous block in the third period. With the Knights having scored to cut the margin to 3-1, Wilder deflected a hard shot from the left circle, and then lunged to his right to cut off the net with his pads and stop a certain goal on the rebound. Minutes later, Gavin Puskar ’20 scored to push the lead back out to 4-1 and end the comeback bid.
The team also gave kudos to the defensive unit as a whole, crediting the lines with shutting down opponents’ chances and simplifying the stops for Wilder.
“He’s been excellent but our group in front of him has also been excellent,” said Traggio. “Guys are willing to do the little things in front of him that maybe they weren’t willing to do before.”
Traggio said he knew this team could be special in its opening game at Gunnery, a close game that erupted into a 4-0 Hotchkiss win. “On the bench, it felt great, it hadn’t felt that way in a while. We played the way they normally play against us,” he said.
But both players and coaches are quick to say that they are taking nothing for granted. “I don’t think we have many expectations coming off a season like last year. We’re taking it one step at a time, one game at a time,” said Ehrensperger.
Hopes are high, though. “We believe in what we can achieve, we know it’s not a fluke,” he added. “If we keep bringing our A+ effort, attitude, and execution, no one will stop us.”