Sometimes in hockey, final scores are not indicative of how the game was played, nor do win-loss records always accurately sum up a teamâ€™s season. The latter is definitely the case with the Stonehill Skyhawks, who currently have a record of 3-7.
In speaking with coach Garry Hebert, he is very quick to point out that things are looking up.
â€œWe dropped six one goal games in the first half, and often in heartbreaking fashion, and now weâ€™ve just won three one goal games in a row, two of them in overtime,â€ Hebert said. â€œHonest to God, Iâ€™ve never seen a season like this. Ever.â€
In all actuality, Stonehill has dropped four one goal games, but Hebert considers the 2-0 loss to University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth as such, for the final goal was an empty netter with 48 seconds remaining. The same thought process applies to the 5-3 loss in the season opener to Plymouth State, in which the Panthers scored an insurance goal with less than a minute to go.
Despite the record, it is evident how very proud Hebert is of this squad.
â€œI must say, unabashedly, that this one of the best teams Iâ€™ve ever coached,â€ he said. â€œThe power of singleness of purpose and brand of unity that this team possesses is palpable. Consequently, most teams would have folded their tents after losing two or three one goal games, let alone six.â€
One of the toughest losses was to Curry, when the game winner was scored late in overtime after Stonehill had been called for a penalty. Another notable loss came at Nichols, in a game that Stonehill led on more than one occasion.
In speaking with Hebert, it is very easy to hear the passion for his team resonate.
â€œWeâ€™re climbing a mountain now, and now weâ€™re clawing up to three and seven, with three one goal wins after six one goal losses. This shows fortitude and resolve. I couldnâ€™t be more happy, I just couldnâ€™t be more proud of a group that shows this degree of resolve.â€
Hebert has a wealth of great memories from hockey. His favorite was scoring the game-winning goal against Boston College in 1978 with one minute left in the game while a freshman at the University of Vermont. Recently, though, the Catamount game winner was bumped down a notch and replaced by a special moment following an overtime win against Assumption.
â€œThe last game before break, we win in overtime, with 46 seconds left. We outshot the team, 65 to 30. We win with 46 left to go 1-7. I come in the locker room, and if you want to see a grown man cry, the team presents me with the game puck. Weâ€™re 1-7 and they give the coach the game puck! Most teams I know that have dropped six one goal games would find fault, and this and that.
“The point to me was that they bought into what I said at the beginning of the season. They knew I never stopped believing in them, and consequently, they never stopped believing in themselves. They believe it when I say that weâ€™ll be in the finals, fighting for the NE-10 championship.â€
With games upcoming this weekend against Suffolk, and then next against Western New England College, Salve Regina, and Assumption, Hebert feels the turn-around is in motion.
â€œWe believe with deep down conviction that we are a much better team than our record,â€ Hebert allowed. â€œItâ€™s as if we have fought the biggest, baddest bullies on the playground. We may lose the fight, at the very end of every fight, but the fact is, we are kicking up a lot of dust, weâ€™re making a lot of noise, weâ€™re earning respect.â€
Is there a â€˜comeback kidsâ€™ story looming in Easton? The coach certainly thinks it is brewing, and states as much with a sense of conviction in his voice.
â€œYou have become like tempered steel in terms of your willpower. Their ability to overcome obstacles and display their willpower is on display right now. Weâ€™re hoping to go 4-7 and then by Monday be 5-7. We know weâ€™re dangerous. We think, we believe, weâ€™re going to be contending for the NE-10 championship at the end of the season. We are the team with the bad sounding record that nobody wants to play right now!â€
Climbing the road up will be a little easier with the return of two players. Junior forward Chris Rogers — described a â€œturbo-boosting, explosive skaterâ€ by his coach — has rejoined the team, coming back from Compartment Syndrome in his foot. Rogers made his presence felt right away, scoring in his first game. Also returning is Timmy Mathews, a freshman who broke his ankle prior to the start of the season.
Leading the team in scoring is senior captain Brendan O’Brien, with two goals, 10 assists, and 12 points. With two goals and four points in his last two games, Hebert is hoping Oâ€™Brien keeps it up.
â€œHeâ€™s back in the saddle,â€ his coach said. â€œHeâ€™s a phenomenal, upper-echelon player.â€
His line-mate, Paul Reissfelder, has been on fire lately, too. The pesky senior is second in the squad in scoring with 4-6-10.
One pleasant surprise for Hebert is freshmen Andrew Diozzi.
“He is a force. He is a prominent player as a freshman, and he is a running back on skates who creates something out of nothing. He’s been causing fits for opposing teams.â€
The native of Belmont, MA has totaled 3-5-8 in six games, mostly centering the second line.
Another freshman who has jumped right into the mix is Billy Harris, they Weymouth, MA native who Hebert calls â€œa very pleasant surprise.â€ Harris is currently tied for the team lead in goals with four.
A leader on the team is junior forward Pete Roundy, who has tallied 3-6-9 in 10 games, including a shorthanded goal.
â€œHe continues to be a dangerous offensive weapon,â€ Hebert said of the Connecticut native. â€œHeâ€™s a threat every time he touches the puck. Heâ€™s an assistant captain, and heâ€™s leading by example.â€
Another junior who is starting to produce is mammoth Zach Cantin, listed at 6â€™4â€, 250 lbs.
â€œHeâ€™s starting to show why he was our pre-season leading goal scorer, as he just notched two key goals in the last two games,â€ Hebert said. â€œHeâ€™s starting to come into his own and blossom.â€
Even with underclassmen starting to put points up, Hebert knows heâ€™s lucky to have solid corps of seniors.
â€œAll the seniors continue to provide unified, mature leadership. Guys like John Somers, James Killeen, and Ryan McInnis, theyâ€™re the future CEOâ€™s of our country. Frank Amato continues to be the Adam Oates of the team, heâ€™s just a set-up specialist. He makes everyone around him better.â€
Defensively, James Florentino leads the way.
â€œFlo continues to be the heart and soul of our team,â€ Hebert said. â€œHe anchors the defense. Heâ€™s been leading the charge with tightening up our team defense. He will do whatever it takes. He will block shots. Some of his hits have been NHL caliber, pancake hits. Dramatic, game changing, momentum hits. Heâ€™s fun to watch.â€
The former Xaverian H.S. captain also brings some offense to his game, as evidenced by his career totals of 20-37-57 in 78 games played.
Another stalwart on defense is senior assistant captain Billy Ninteau.
â€œHeâ€™s a force to be reckoned with,â€ stated Hebert. â€œHeâ€™s a huge factor in every game because heâ€™s improved so many aspects of his game now that heâ€™s become a multi-dimensional player, not just a big defenseman. He knows when to carry and when to pass, and he has an absolute cannon for a shot. Heâ€™s a smooth skating, strong, powerful athlete. He continues to dominate portions of games. The way he has improved to become multi-dimensional is very impressive to me.â€
Hebert feels that the 6â€™3â€, 220 lb. former New Hampshire Player of the Year could even play in a professional league after leaving Easton. Senior defensemen David Schermerhorn has also been consistent, appearing in every game, and even producing some points, with a stat line of 1-3-4.
A strong point for Stonehill has been the goaltending so far.
â€œDerek Chapdelaine has been unbelievable in net,â€ Hebert said. â€œHonestly, heâ€™s been a difference maker. He has been stoning teams that had clean opportunity after opportunity. Absolutely stoning teams with poise. He has a flair for the spectacular, but only when he needs to be, other than that heâ€™s just poised and he makes the saves he should, and heâ€™s making a number of the ones he shouldnâ€™t.â€
Fellow sophomore Mike Manna has also played in five games, and has a respectable .888 save percentage.
Those who know Hebert know he is a man of deep faith, and that includes faith in his own team.
â€œThe turn-around is in motion. Despite all outward appearances, the internal nature of the synergy that exists on this team, because of character, itâ€™s palpable. Itâ€™s unlike anything Iâ€™ve ever seen. It strengthens your soul in moments of doubt, and weakness, and personal struggle. Just watch, weâ€™re going to keep crawling back into this.â€