By Bob York
It was a young team to begin with, and then – unexpectedly – got even younger. The remnants of the Deerfield Academy boys hockey team roster should have been plentiful, as it regularly skated three freshmen, five sophomores and six juniors just one winter ago.
“Then we lost five kids who we thought would be returning,” said coach Brendan Creagh. And that really put a crimp in what the Big Green mentor was hoping might be a run for the roses this season. “But the kids who did return really worked hard and helped this team move forward.”
Among the dearly departed were last year’s top two scorers, Kevin Roy and Ty Kelleher. Roy, who led the Big Green points chart with 35 on 19 goals and 16 assists, signed on with the Unites States Hockey League, where he has proven to be one of the league’s premier scorers this season. Kelleher, meanwhile, moved to the United States Developmental Team, following a campaign here that saw him produce 11 goals and 15 assists for 26 points.
Despite losing its top two point producers and the 30 goals and 61 points they potted, the Big Green still flirted with a .500 season from start to finish before going 0-3-1 down the home stretch to finish at 11-14-1.
“We just kept moving forward,” said Creagh of his club’s reaction to the unexpected holes in the roster. “Many of the kids got a lot more skating time than they were originally planning on and they made the most of it. They used it to improve their game and in turn built their confidence on those improvements.”
There’s probably no one who could appreciate the loss of Roy and Kelleher any more than Alex Gonye. (13) “I skated on Kevin’s (Roy) line as a freshman and on Ty’s (Kelleher) line as a sophomore and they both outstanding hockey players … they were outstanding skaters and outstanding scorers, too.
“We knew they were going to be tough to replace,” added Gonye, who did his part by leading the Big Green in scoring this season with 33 points on 18 goals and 15 assists, and scored the game-winning goal in Deerfield’s biggest victory of the season, a 4-3 decision over Avon. “But as it turned out, a lot of guys stepped up and picked up the slack and we ended up doing all right for ourselves. We didn’t make the tournament, but we still finished with more wins than we had the year before.”
Jordan Jancze (13) was second on the scoring charts with 28 points on nine goals and 19 assists, while Trevor Yates contributed nine goals and 16 assists for 25 points. Sam Lafferty (14), who posted 16 points on eight goals and eight assists, and Camil Blanchet (14), who collected 11 goals and four helpers for 15 points, keep Creagh’s top five point producers in tack for next year.
One slot Creagh will have to fill next year belongs to defenseman Ben Masella (12), who also served as team captain.
“Ben’s going to be a tough guy to lose,” said the Big Green skipper of his 6-1, 210-pound blue liner, who chipped in 17 points on five goals and a dozen assists and would later be named recipient of his year’s Deerfield Hockey Cup, which is presented to the team’s Most valuable Player. “He was a excellent captain and leader. We ended up having a lot of new kids on the team this year, and like every great leader, he took them under his wing and helped show them the way. He ended up playing a very crucial role for us in helping to get the newcomers adjusted early on.”
“I think by the time we had finished the Flood-Marr Holiday Tournament, everyone was on the same page about moving forward and forgetting about the fact that there were some players we were expecting to be on this year’s team that weren’t here anymore,” said Masella.
“I think by the time we had played through the Flood-Marr tourney, the new kids saw they had the ability to hold their own against some of the best prep school hockey team around,” added the Deerfield captain, “and they were ready to move on.”
Although the Big Green welcomes back its top five scorers, putting the puck in the net won’t be its only strong point next winter. It should be able to keep opponents from putting pucks in its net as well. And that’s because Creagh has two outstanding junior goaltenders returning to the fold.
Adam Ellison (13) and Jake Thoubboron (15) literally split time protecting the Big Green goal this winter, as Ellison logged 668 minutes of playing time, while Thoubboron had 648 minutes. Ellison allowed 35 goals during that span on 351 shots for a save percentage of .909. Thoubboron, meanwhile, gave up 40 goals on 352 attempts for an .897 save percentage. Sunho Park (14), meanwhile, will head up the list of returning defensemen.
Jay D’Amour (13) won this year’s Seventh Player Award, while Jancze was named team captain next year, with both goalies, Ellison and Thoubboron, serving as assistant captains.
“What started out as a young team got a little younger,” said Creagh, “but the kids showed a great deal of improvement throughout the season and that’s certainly something we plan to build on.
“We had some big games against some tough teams this winter and we held our own,” added the Big Green skipper. “Beating Avon (4-3) up here was really nice after losing to them down there early in the season, 8-2. We also beat Hotchkiss and Westminster in overtime, tied Kent and lost to Salisbury in overtime.”
Deerfield is scheduled to graduate just two players from a roster that boasts of 13 juniors, six sophomores and a pair of freshmen. So if that rings true, then the Big Green might do a little more than just hold its own against some of prep school hockey’s elite come next winter.