By Dale Dunbar
The Winthrop Vikings boys varsity hockey team gathered at JW’s Restaurant June 12 for its year-ending banquet. What a difference a year makes as last season’s rather unceremonious gathering was in the rear parking lot of the high school, with everyone wearing masks while social distancing.
The disappointment then for our seniors, their parents and our entire program was indescribable. COVID-19 had devastated so many lives and on so many levels. As a high school senior the banquet culminates the journey and cements the memories of all the great times had on and off the ice. For many it’s their last team experience and a huge piece of their lives they can’t rewind.
Fortunately, this spring we were able to celebrate our great season as a team. Our Booster Club once again created such a great atmosphere with pictures, awards, gifts and food. This incredible group of parents who dedicate their time and efforts behind the scenes deserve a lot of credit. In a small town like Winthrop it’s extremely difficult to ask businesses for donations especially during a pandemic yet these wonderful business owners reached out and supported our program and we are very thankful.
This year was simply a season of adjustments. In the past, parents would graciously open their homes to 25 boys for team dinners which are great team-bonding experiences, but not this year. Our locker room, which is a sacred place and steeped in tradition, was reduced to 25 folding chairs in the rear of the frigid Larsen rink.
Players waited in the cold everyday as part of a COVID-19 protocol before entering the rink. They reverted back to their youth hockey days transporting their equipment every day. The pre-game and post-game speeches, along with the post-celebratory music after a win, were not the same; our sacred room that created so many memories and life lessons over the years was gone.
But through it all our kids never lost their focus or passion and I attribute that to our senior leadership. Our captains, Ryan Hovermale, Stephen Holgersen and Chris Ferrara, were exceptional. Their exemplary leadership was instrumental in our success this season and they were always in the forefront in difficult situations.
Each season our goal is simple: Win the NEC Championship! Although we accomplished our goal, it’s extremely unfortunate and unfair that we cannot officially claim it in the record book or on a banner in the rink. The Vikings beat powerhouse Masconomet, 2-0, in one of the best-played games in my tenure and later in the season tied despite a two goal deficit in the third period. So Winthrop and Masconomet technically are NEC co-champions with 18 points. We realize that tough decisions had to be made during these unprecedented times and we will have to accept the fact that the powers-to- be had a different perspective.
Our staff feels the 2020-2021 Vikings would have been a very dangerous team in the state tournament. Through all the adversity this resilient group gained confidence with each game and proved they could play with anyone. Seniors Charlie Lane, Conor Hurley, Matt Hurley, Evan Smotrich and Conlan Petersen all contributed significantly, and our staff is so thankful to have such outstanding young men as mentors to our younger players.
Coach Mike Norris deserves an enormous amount of credit for all his hard work and dedication. Mike is a great coach and a better person and continues to amaze me with his passion. Our players have benefited immensely over the years from his knowledge of the game but more importantly life. I would like to thank Athletic Director Matt Serino for all his work and dedication during these difficult times and fighting for us to play last season.
Ironically this was one of the most rewarding seasons I’ve had coaching Winthrop without being rewarded. Our game plan was constantly being adjusted but everyone adapted and created new visions. Rather than making excuses, our kids forged forward and developed new habits that allowed them to grow as individuals and more importantly as a team. Congratulations to our entire program for a great job this season.
(Dale Dunbar is the head coach of the Winthrop High boys varsity hockey team).