by Nick Sanzi
The DII State Championship was the goal for the 2015-2016 Avenger Hockey Team last year, led by Max Hagenberg, Johnny Ferguson, Matt Klinkenberg, and Paul Dunwoody. However, today the hockey team—that beat other into submission, put up record scores, and held the most lethal first line in Division II—has faced their toughest obstacle yet. Last year the team graduated most of their scorers. Those players, who were some of the all-time top EG hockey players, are now gone, and it shows every Friday and Saturday night. Seniors Kip Hallagan, Earl Mernick, and Cooper Englehart have worked hard this season to keep the team together, united, and working hard, but with the team stripped down to bare bones, this season has been dubbed a “rebuilding year.”
The 2016-2017 season started off rough with a 7-0 loss to Portsmouth, but later on in the season the EG boys played game at Thayer Arena that ended in a 2-1 loss against the same team. Similarly, near Christmas EG played a Rogers, Middletown, and Rocky Hill co-op, losing 5-0, but just recently played them, losing 6-4, in a tough but honorable loss. The RMR co-op is considered a talented and powerful team, one that rivals EG hockey every year. This pattern of rebuilding has become apparent with EG hockey this season. Just the other day in fact, EG boys were neck and neck with North smithfield, a team that prevented EG from taking the championship last year, and a team that has shared in the pain of graduating many of their strong players. The Avengers came out of the gate looking for a win. After two periods of equal domination, it looked as though EG was bound to find twine. After a locker room talk from the captains between the second and third period, the team was motivated and pumped up. They came out swinging, and for a while, EG was favored to score first. However, after a questionable boarding penalty, the North Smithfield Northmen scored an unlikely goal on the powerplay. It was devastating, and yet EG did what they had done for the entire season, march on. Although they pulled the goalie and had a couple calculated shots and opportunities in the last minutes, it was not enough. They lost 1-0.
There is an unspoken hope in the locker room of the EG hockey team. There is hope—perhaps not for much success this year—but for the future. The year had been dubbed a rebuilding year, and the team has done just that. As seen in the season, there is not much winning, but there is improving. It’s not so much reaching that goal, but taking steps toward it. Coaching staffs have changed over the course of this season, and so has the team’s dynamic. The current freshmen, Nick Sanzi and Conrad Swanson, are capable players that currently play first line, both scoring for the team. This year freshmen have had to take on a larger role, something that will surely repeat in years to follow. As many look ahead, nine hockey players will join the ranks as freshmen next year, and another large number in that vicinity, a year after that. Even sophomores like Jack Fox will prove to be useful in coming years.
It will be sad to see some of Avenger Hockey’s most beloved players go next year. Kip Hallagan, recipient of the Hobey Baker Award, has been a model of leadership and determination for the team this year, and past years. He had only started playing hockey shortly before his freshmen year, but upon becoming an Avenger, he has progressed and worked to be what he is today. His drive, heart, and physical aggressiveness is known to whoever is on the ice with him. Earl Mernick, an Avenger that has played many positions, has shown many people time and time again what a strong physical presence he is. His strong vocal presence in the locker room also drives each Avenger forward to make the best out of all ice time. The third and last senior to be leaving the team this year is Cooper Engleheart. Cooper has shown time and time again that size isn’t always the determining factor when it comes to physicality. Cooper has always been a dominant strength when hitting, and has served vital to the team over the years with his offensive and defensive capabilities.
Each one of these seniors will move on next year. However, their legacy, the years they’ve played for EG, the years that they made runs for championships, will stay with the juniors, freshmen, sophomores, and so on. Even though this season was rough, there is always hope. For the freshmen, for the sophomores, for the juniors and the classes coming up, there is drive, there is thirst. As the rebuilding year of EG hockey ends this week, and things begin to turn around, EG hopes to quench that thirst.
Catch EG’s last game of the season Saturday, February 25, at 6:00 pm as they play Ponaganset at Levy Rink in Burrillville. Come support your Avengers!