With rumors abounding that the Warwick Vets hockey program might fold due to a shortage of players this off-season, the school rallied together and came up with enough bodies to keep the team in tact.
Now, with regular season games scheduled to begin this weekend, the ’Canes are prepared to play rather than to sit at home. Even though it figures to be a struggle once again – they went 2-14 last season in Division III – having a team is enough to make some of the upcoming challenges seem a little less daunting by comparison.
“As far as the program goes, I’m just thrilled that there’s a program there,” Vets head coach Howie Rosenblatt said. “That was on shaky ground.”
The ’Canes have 13 players on the roster currently, and have received some interest from a few of the football players, whose season just ended on Thanksgiving, about joining the team.
But no matter how the actual make-up of the team shakes out, Vets knows it’s going to face an uphill battle every time it takes the ice.
The team has six returning players, but two of them are goalies. That leaves only four skaters with any real experience off last year’s team. Nearly everybody else is new to the game of hockey, and they’ll have to be brought along and developed before they can make actual contributions on the ice.
“They’re on the team and they’ll practice and they’ll continue to work on their skills,” Rosenblatt said. “Depending on how the games go, we’ll see if I’m able to put them in the lineup or not. I don’t want to put anybody out there if it’s going to jeopardize them to injury.”
Because of that, the players Rosenblatt does send out to skate will have to spend a lot of time on the ice, including potentially playing the entire game.
Luckily for Vets, it has a few quality players willing to do just that.
The team will focus on defense with its lack of bodies, and that starts with returning senior Dan Pickering and Hendricken transfer Dakota Hersey.
They will essentially play the entire game in the back, while another newcomer, freshman Eric Edwards, may be on the ice for nearly the entire game at a forward spot.
“There will probably be two or three guys that play the whole game,” Rosenblatt said. “We’ll try to get them a break here and there. We’ll depend a lot on them.”
Joining Edwards up front will be returning juniors Bill Burr and Anthony Machado, as well as Stephen Martinelli.
They’ll be counted on to put the puck in the net when they can, but that won’t be easy – Vets averaged fewer than two goals per game last season.
However, Rosenblatt knows that it’s still possible, and he’s working toward creating a gameplan that can maximize his team’s performance even with the situation they’re in.
“Just like we did last year for the second half of the season, once we recognize what we have, we’ll have to get a little creative,” Rosenblatt said. “Myself and my assistant coach, Dave Curtis, we’re just sitting down and trying to be creative and reinvent the game so it’s going to benefit us.”
There is also some hope for a few of the inexperienced players to make an impact at some point this season.
Vets has been in this position before, and it made it work. When Martinelli joined the team as a freshman, he had little experience and struggled to even skate. Now, he’s a key part of the team.
“When he first came to the program, he wasn’t a very strong skater, didn’t really understand the game,” Rosenblatt said. “He was fairly new. He was persistent on coming every day and working hard, and as long as the other players follow the same system that he did, then I think we’ll be fine.”
One of Vets’ biggest bright spots should come in net, where it returns two goalies – juniors John McNally and Alec Silvestri – with significant experience from a season ago.
“Right now the starting job is open,” Rosenblatt said. “They’ve been around for a couple of years and they’re both competing for that starting job. Right now, I can’t say there is one goaltender that stood out more than the other at this point.”
Vets got its early season off to a strong start with a 6-4 victory over Woonsocket in Saturday’s Injury Fund game, but it doesn’t want to read too much into that game.
There will be more difficult opponents, and the ’Canes will need to bring their best effort every night to compete.
“I don’t really care who we’re playing,” Rosenblatt said. “I’m more concerned about how our players come to play the game and how they act, discipline-wise, and go out as hard as they can every shift.”
Vets will open the regular season on Saturday with a game against the West Warwick/Exeter-West Greenwich co-op team at the West Warwick Civic Center at 9 p.m.