After a one-season hiatus, the Brunswick School ice hockey team is primed and poised to renew its numerous rivalries against its NEPSAC opponents and once again, contend for an appearance in the postseason.
The Bruins had a season in 2020, but it was shortened and modified due to COVID-19 guidelines and they did not play an official NEPSAC game, while competing against only a handful of teams. Therefore, the 2021-2022 campaign, couldn’t start any sooner for the Bruins, who are eagerly anticipating the new season.
“It’s exciting to be back, especially with the fans being able to come, even if it’s limited numbers,” Brunswick senior co-captain/forward James Shannon said. “Just to have people there watching should be great. We haven’t played a prep school since we played Loomis two years ago, so it will be great to start the season off against them.”
Two seasons ago, the Bruins posted a record of 21-8-2 and qualified for the NEPSIHA Martin/Earl Large School Tournament, where they dropped a 5-2 decision to Loomis Chaffee in the semifinal-round at Hartong Rink. Only several players from this season’s squad competed on the Bruins’ successful 2019-2020 team, but coach Mike Kennedy knows his roster includes is deep and highly skilled.
“We have depth at every position,” Kennedy said. “With two capable goalies, six strong defensemen and talented forwards, we can keep throwing guys out there.”
Shannon centers the Bruins’ first line, which is also powered by junior co-captain forward Hank Cleaves (6-foot-4, 180) and sophomore Sean Gibbons.
“My co-captain, Hank Cleaves, is sort of my main support guy, we have been playing together for three years now, so we know each other in the offensive and defensive zone,” Shannon said.
Cleaves and Shannon were each members of Brunswick’s playoff 2019-20 squad. Cleaves is excited about his role as co-captain.
“It’s a really big honor and a very big responsibility as well,” said Cleaves, who skates at left wing. “This is my third year on the team and I’ve learned a lot from the past captains and other leaders, so I think I’m ready.”
“We’re skilled and talented up front,” Kennedy said. “There are a lot of new faces that will have to grow up fast. We have a lot of speed, skill and hockey IQ.”
A trio of first-year varsity players comprise the Bruins’ second line. Junior Yale University commit Eli Friedman, sophomore Brendan Giles and sophomore Drew DellaSalla are slated to skate on the squad’s second line,
Sophomore Luke Drury centers the third line, which also features juniors Hunter Spiess and Daniel Hu.
“We are one of the fastest teams in prep school hockey,” Shannon said. “We’re not as physical as some of the other teams, but we believe we can beat them with our speed. During practices, we have been working on our systems – breakouts and forechecks – and getting those dialed in. We have the skill, it’s just about all these skill players coming together as a group.”
Brunswick, which opens its season with a road game against Loomis Chaffee on Thursday, played in jamborees at Avon Old Farms School and Belmont Hill, winning three of its four scrimmages.
“In the few scrimmages we’ve already created a lot of chemistry that will help us throughout the season,” Cleaves said. “The potential is through the ceiling. Before the season it was unknown, but after these four scrimmages we feel we’re going to be right in the mix to be one of the top teams in New England.”
Said Shannon: “I thought the scrimmages were good learning experiences. We beat a good Avon team, which was good. We faced some adversity – we lost to Belmont Hill, which I think we needed to face some adversity in the preseason and get ready for the season.”
Senior alternate captains John Burdett, who stands 6-foot-7 and Maxime Sauve (6-1) bolster the Bruins’ blue line.
“On ‘D’, we have the two seniors who will give us the experience and physicality back there,” Kennedy said.
Junior Lucas St. Louis, who has committed to play at Harvard, Sloan Farmer (junior), Niko Cadaret (junior) and Colin Eschricht (junior) are also defensemen the team will rely upon.
“I feel good, we’re young, we have a lot of room to grow,” Burdett said. “Since we’re young, we’re not as physical as we were in past years. But that’s something we’re going to work on more in practice and I think there’s a lot of upside for us this year. I think this team has a ton of room to grow and become physical.”
Said Kennedy: “We have two seniors and four juniors on the back end, so we’re comfortable rolling out six defensemen.”
Sauve joined the Brunswick program last year, so he’s looking forward to testing his skills against the team’s NEPSAC foes.
“I haven’t played any of them, it is still new to me,” Sauve said. “I heard a lot of things about them and I’m looking forward to playing in front of all the people at our rink.”
The Bruins’ defensemen, of course, are aiming to continue the program’s trademark of being stingy at the blue line.
“We don’t’ have to our opponents too many chances,” Sauve said. “The less chances the better. When they are in our defensive zone, we have to contain them and give them the least amount of shots as we can.”
Juniors Brendan Holahan (6-3) and Will Baker (6-0) are the team’s goalies.
“I have seen them both in the net and we are comfortable with both of them giving us a chance to win on the ice, so it will be a friendly competition,” Kennedy said of Holahan and Baker. “They’re good buddies and support each other.”
Following road games against Kent and Wesminster and an appearance at the Exeter Invitational, Brunswick’s home-opener is against Portledge School on Dec. 15. There are two NEPSAC postseason tournaments for the Bruins to try to qualify for – the NEPSAC Large School Tournament and the Elite 8 Tournament. Brunswick last competed in the Elite 8 Tournament in 2016 and won the NEPSAC Large School Tournament title in 2018.
“We’re hoping to make the postseason, the Elite 8 Tournament,” Burdett said. “Brunswick has made it once before. Also, we just want to grow as a team, build chemistry and become closer.”
“Every day in practice we look up at the banners and see the teams of the past success, so we want to continue that progression,” Kennedy said. “We want to get better each day and build for the playoffs.”
Categories: Brunswick School, Winter sports
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