BBA seniors finish careers as they started - together
MANCHESTER — Nine Burr and Burton seniors played their final regular season hockey game Wednesday night at Riley Rink.
The Bulldogs beat U-32, but the story of the night was less about one game, and more about celebrating a group of players and their dedication to the sport, their teammates, and their supporters.
For these seniors, the end of this season will mark the end of hockey as they've known it. Although the rules of hockey and the game itself will be familiar no matter where they play next, they will undoubtedly be missing the spirit of this hockey community that truly makes it what many call a "hockey family."
Senior captain Johnny Miceli has been skating for as long as he can remember.
"I was on skates as soon as I could be, like two and a half years old," Miceli said.
Of his fellow seniors, goalie captain Ethan Simonds and defenseman Phoenix Heleba have been his teammates for the longest time, and a core group of BBA players, including many sophomores and juniors, began playing together at five years old or even younger as Atoms and Mites in the area's youth program, the Northshire Hockey Association.
Most of the kids played different sports in the spring and fall — soccer, lacrosse — but hockey was the one constant.
"We always played hockey together," Miceli said.
Miceli recounted one of his most special hockey memories: winning the 10U Squirt B Championship in 2013 when he shared the ice with his brother, Nicky, as a teammate, and his father, Dave, as an assistant coach.
The head coach of that team was Rick Russo, a long-time coach in the youth program in Manchester.
"Rick was really instrumental in letting us learn to love the game of hockey and love to be part of a team," Miceli said. "He's made an impact on all of our lives in hockey and otherwise."
Russo also played a big part in inspiring and developing Simonds as a goalie and all that work has paid off in spades, as Simonds has been one of the top goalies in Vermont for the past two years.
In January, Russo was presented with the BBA Hockey Coach Appreciation Award, which was voted on by the players. Giving him the award were the three captains, and Russo's son, Giancarlo, a junior this year with the Bulldogs.
Senior forward Aubrey Goodband became a Bulldog last season after growing up playing hockey in a neighboring town's youth program. As a home-schooled student, he was unable to play on his area's high school team, but thanks to Burr and Burton's participation in the Vermont Principals' Association's member-to-member program, he joined the team as a junior.
While his time as a Bulldog is shorter, his experience carries the theme of togetherness.
It didn't take long for Goodband to feel like part of the team. He had never met any of his teammates prior to his first practice, but after the first bus ride he felt like he had bonded with them, likening the experience to "coming into another family."
"It was the first time I had really felt like that," said Goodband about how easily the team included him.
Togetherness definitely describes the unique aspect of varsity hockey teams in Vermont. According to Miceli, who also plays soccer and lacrosse, he spends more time with teammates during a hockey season than he does with other sports teams.
"It's [can be up to an] hour sometimes in the locker room before and after games and practices six days a week" Miceli said. "You just don't have [as much time together] in most other sports. And it's special because it's just us on the bus and in the locker room, in our space."
Hockey, like many team sports, is fundamentally selfless. A well-executed pass moves the puck faster than any one player can skate with it alone.
Senior forward Andrew Toussaint, who began playing hockey as a sophomore, scored his first goal as a Bulldog in the team's finale against U-32.
His opportunity to score came via assist from Matt Grabher and Nicky Miceli, who lobbied BBA coach Mark Slade to put them together for the shift.
Moments like this tell more about the growth of players as teammates and coaches as leaders than statistics will ever prove on a score sheet.
Slade became Burr and Burton's head coach four years ago, when the nine seniors were freshmen. In many ways, his growth as a coach parallels their development as student-athletes.
"I've learned more from them than they've probably learned from me. Mainly how to lead, how to work through problems on a real personal level. And when in doubt, to have fun," Slade said. When asked about seeing "his first group" moving on, he added, "I'm most proud of them growing as good human beings."
Before the game against U-32, as both teams stood for the singing of the National Anthem, over two dozen supporters accompanied senior players on the ice and even more surrounded the rink and filled the bleachers. Whether their time spent playing hockey at Riley Rink spanned 12 months or 12 years, the Northshire hockey community proudly celebrated the end of a chapter for nine Bulldogs and their families.
Seniors recognized before Wednesday's game were: Captains Joey McCoy, Ethan Simonds, and Johnny Miceli, defensemen Quinn Murnaghan and Phoenix Heleba, and forwards Ben Swinarton, Eddie Knowles, Andrew Toussaint, and Aubrey Goodband.
Simonds, McCoy, Miceli, and Murnaghan will represent BBA in the Vermont Rotary All-Star Classic on March 21 in Essex where they'll be coached by Slade for one final time.
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