The presence of seniors can make a big difference for any high school sports team and an especially big difference for a hockey team. In a world where the best players often take their talents to prep schools or junior hockey before they get to their senior seasons, having veterans is a rare luxury.
The Bishop Hendricken hockey team has that luxury – and the Hawks plan to make the most of it.
Hendricken has nine seniors back from a team that went 15-2-1 last season before an upset loss in the D-I semifinals. That’s the highest number of seniors the program has had in the last five years, and their experience is the foundation for high expectations.
“We’ve got quite a few returning players, nine seniors, and for us that’s big,” said head coach Jim Creamer. “I haven’t had a group of seniors that size in a long time.”
The Hawks did lose their top two scorers from a year ago. Ed Markowski graduated and Matt Creamer, Jim’s son, headed to the prep school ranks. But nearly everyone else is back in the fold. There are talented sophomores, a good group of juniors – and of course, the seniors.
“In high school hockey, I really think it’s a huge advantage,” Jim Creamer said. “I think seniors go through a whole process where they recognize it’s their last year. You tend to get better performances out of seniors than you normally would. I think it’s huge.”
Hendricken had six seniors the last time it won the state title, in the 2011-12 season. This group will be looking to get the Hawks back to the promised land. They were part of a largely inexperienced team last year that still delivered the best record in the state before the upset loss in the playoffs. Mount St. Charles went on to the championship, its fifth in six years.
“We’ve talked about [the state championship] as a goal but we recognize it’s not an easy process,” Creamer said. “Even though we’re in a small league, it’s just not easy. Everything comes down to the playoffs and we learned a lesson with La Salle last year. We have enough returners that we understand that.”
The Hawks are led by captains Andrew Fera, Liam Watkinson and Jonathan Finelli. Fera is the team’s leading returning scorer, having tallied 14 goals and 14 assists while playing on the top line with Markowski and Matt Creamer last year. He was a second-team All-State pick. Watkinson and Finelli are also forwards and will be looking to take on bigger roles this season.
Among the other seniors, Tucker Alberigo was a first-team All-State defenseman last year, but he’ll move to forward this season. The Hawks also have senior forward Joshua Olson and senior defensemen Matt Kim, Sam Boulanger, Garret Quillen and Chris Shalvey.
Younger players will also have their say. Sophomores Jaime Armstrong and Reilly Miller had an immediate impact last year as freshmen and were among the team’s top seven scorers. Other forwards include juniors Kiel Fuller, Eric Edwards and Alexander Leite, sophomores Brandon Mitchell and Brandon Waterman and freshmen Patrick Creamer, Ryan King, Andrew Hopgood and Samuel Milnes.
“You’d like to think that we’ll score some goals,” Creamer said. “We’re capable so we should.”
The four senior defensemen – Kim, Boulanger, Quillen and Shalvey – will be joined by juniors Steven Dumond, Jason Comeau, Patrick Flanagan and Tim Poulin and freshman Bryce Dolan.
“We’re really deep in all areas,” Jim Creamer said. “We’re fortunate. I really think we can play four lines that are all really competitive, and play six defensemen. I really don’t see a drop-off.”
In goal, the Hawks will have to replace a first-team All-Stater for the second year in a row, following the graduation of Mitch Proulx, who took over for Billy Palmer. Juniors Matthew Kenneally and Christian Maselli are vying for the job and may end up splitting time for much of the season.
“They’re real similar in a lot of respects,” Creamer said. “It wouldn’t surprise me to see them split time. They’re both excellent goaltenders who are capable of doing the job.”
The Hawks are still sorting out lines and rotations but they’ve already passed one test with a 7-4 victory La Salle in a preseason Injury Fund game. When the regular season begins this weekend, they’ll dive right into the fire with a Friday game at Mount St. Charles at 9 p.m. On Saturday, they’ll take on Cranston West at 7:40 p.m. at the Cranston Ice Rink.
As was the last case last year, the league schedule includes two games against out-of-state teams – Notre Dame and Hamden, both from Connecticut. The Hawks will also play in the Mount St. Charles holiday tournament and will take on Boston College High School as part of a Jan. 11 double-header at Brown University, with Brown playing Boston College in the nightcap.
The Hawks can’t wait to get started.
“It’s a great group of kids to coach,” Creamer said. “We’re looking forward to it.”