Prior to Wednesday’s game between the Brunswick School and Millbrook School ice hockey teams, members from both squads lined up on the ice, observed a moment of silence and held their sticks in their air in honor of Teddy Balkind, the St. Luke’s School student who suffered injuries during a junior varsity game he played in at Brunswick’s Hartong Rink on Jan. 6 and died of those injuries shortly after.
Wednesday’s matchup marked the first game at Hartong Rink since the tragedy that stunned the hockey world took place. The Bruins also took the ice wearing Balkind’s No. 5 on their helmets to honor his memory. Balkind was a sophomore defenseman for the St. Luke’s squad.
“Obviously, it’s been a tough week and we want to offer any support we could,” Brunswick coach Mike Kennedy said. “The boys did their best to honor Teddy today with his No. 5 on their helmets and then a moment of silence before the game. We’re all devastated for what happened and for their family’s tragic, unfathomable loss.”
The Bruins’ varsity team held their first practice since the tragedy on Monday and hit the ice again Tuesday, before facing familiar NEPSAC foe Millbrook Wednesday.
“We thought it was best to play hockey today in his honor and to keep playing the game that he loved,” Kennedy said. “We started on Monday and we just dropped the puck and had some fun. The kids have been processing it in their own way, so we wanted to make sure that Monday was getting back to the game we love and yesterday we got a little more focused and ready to compete. We knew Millbrook was going to come in and be a tough opponent.”
Scoring three times in the first period and getting goals from four players, Brunswick skated to a 5-0 victory over Millbrook, improving its record to 7-3-1.
“Even though the emotions were riding high, once that puck dropped we played hockey for a few hours,” Kennedy said. “Obviously, it was a well-contested game and we’re happy to come out on top.”
The varsity team and the entire Brunswick hockey program has focused on supporting the junior varsity squad, which witnessed the tragedy that occurred when they played St. Luke’s last Thursday evening at Hartong Rink.
“Many of our guys weren’t there, we didn’t practice that day,” Kennedy said of his varsity team. “We are doing anything we can for the JV team, we’re sticking together as a hockey program. We had a group meeting with our team, the JV team, the JV coaches, some alumni, to offer support.”
From professional hockey, to collegiate hockey to the high school level, teams, organizations and players have reached out and sent their condolences to the Balkind family and the St. Luke’s and Brunswick communities during this tragic time.
“The hockey family is a far-reaching, tight-knit community, where everyone looks out for each other and leans on each other, so everyone who is struggling in our community, we are here to support them,” Kennedy said. “The hockey world shows up during times like this, I know from my own personal experience. This is something as horrific as you ever know, so that’s a reason for such outpouring from the NHL on down. It shows what good people are part of this game and we think about others before we think of ourselves. We are thinking about Teddy’s family and all those closest to him who are hurting the most now.”
Hank Cleaves, one of the Bruins’ senior captains, said Brunswick’s hockey program has rallied around each other.
“Personally, it’s been tough on me and I know a bunch of the other guys, it’s been tough on them and obviously, the JV team,” Cleaves said. “We’ve been repeating to each other that we’re all here for each other and it’s okay not to be okay sometimes and that’s what we have to do. We’re opening up to our team and that’s why we’re so close together.”
“There’s so many people reaching out,” Cleaves continued. “We set up a Zoom call, NHLers and pro guys were reaching out – it’s unbelievable the support we got.”
In Wednesday’s matchup, the Bruins took a 1-0 lead on the Mustangs 3:13 into the first period. Receiving a pass from junior Lucas St. Louis, junior forward James Shannon skated past a defenseman, found himself 1-on-1 with Millbrook’s goalie and finished from close in, giving the Bruins a one-goal advantage.
Just 30 seconds later, Brunswick padded its lead. Winning the ensuing faceoff, Brunswick took possession, quickly moved the puck in Millbrook’s zone and extended its advantage with junior Casey Quinson scoring off a feed from junior forward Collin Eschricht with 14:17 left in the first period. Daniel Hu was also credited with an assist on the goal.
Brunswick’s third goal of the first period came at the 9:57 mark, courtesy of sophomore Brendan Giles, who scored a shorthanded goal off a breakaway, making it 3-0. Meanwhile, Bruins junior goalie Brendan Holahan was stellar in net, turning away several Millbrook shots.
“Millbrook and Brunswick have had some real good games over the last decade or so and we had as good a first period as we can play,” Kennedy said. “We had a lot of energy, a lot of emotion, but we channeled it the right way. It sprung us to a three-goal lead. We were out to the races right from the beginning.”
Cleaves tallied on a tip-in off a shot from just below the blue line from his brother, defenseman Cooper Cleaves, a sophomore, with 3:24 remaining in the second period, putting the Bruins on top, 4-0.
Giles’ second goal of the game came with 14:25 to go in the third period, giving the Bruins a 5-0 advantage. The Mustangs made it an interesting late in the final period, scoring three straight goals over a seven-minute span to close to within 5-3, but the Bruins closed out the game for their seventh win of the season.
“They put a little push there in the third, which we can learn from, we maybe, lost our focus a bit in the later stages of the third period,” Kennedy said. “But we’re really happy to be out there playing and to get a win and hopefully, we can keep playing league games and games at home.”
The game was Brunswick’s home-opener, first NEPSAC contest since the 2020 season and first time it played in front of spectators since 2020.
“First one home ice in two years, it’s awesome to get the feet wet and see the support from so many people,” Hank Cleaves said.
Brunswick visits The Hill School on Friday, then hosts Hill on Saturday.