A tough crowd doesn’t stop Brunswick hockey from .500 season

Brunswick School senior goalie Gryphon Richardson looks to make a diving save on the puck during a recent game at the Hartong Rink. — John Ferris Robben

Brunswick School senior goalie Gryphon Richardson looks to make a diving save on the puck during a recent game at the Hartong Rink. — John Ferris Robben

Despite the Brunswick School ice hockey team’s solid performance throughout the year against the best competition around, they were unable to crack the New England Large Division I postseason tournament.

While head coach Ron VanBelle is disappointed that the team didn’t return to the playoffs this time around, he still has very little to complain about when talking about his Bruins.

“We had a very solid season,” VanBelle said. “We had a tough schedule and a couple of guys went down to injury, but they did a nice job for me. I am very proud of the overall performance. We ended at .500 and we defended the Empire Cup at the end of the season by beating Trinity Pawling and Albany and that was really nice for the seniors to end their careers here. Overall this is a young team, so the future is bright here. This season could have been better with a little bit of luck, but I think we still had a great season.”

The start of the season looked promising for Brunswick, as they were posed for the possibility of great things. They blasted then No. 1 ranked Belmont Hill 4-0 and netted a 2-2 tie to standout school Westminster School, a 3-0 victory over No. 9 ranked Choate Rosemary Hall, a 4-4 tie to Trinity Pawling and a 4-0 beating of Upper Canada College.

“We came into the season going to the playoffs the past two years so we thought that making the playoffs again would be a viable goal,” VanBelle said. “We started off relatively strong and I think we had the team in place early in the season to make a playoff run, but I think the strength of schedule got the better of us.”

The start of the new year also was when the team’s playoff chances took a serious hit. Nick Jermain, one of the team’s top scorers, went down with mono. Michael Faulkner, the team’s best defender, broke his arm and was finished since the start of the new year.

Because the Bruins needed to be .500 or better in league play to make the postseason, VanBelle’s team basically needed to run the table in February just to gain the playoff bid, as they were quite shy of that mark.

“We were looking at two of our better players not being able to play due to injury,” VanBelle said. “Last year when we made our playoff push in February and succeeded, we were rather healthy. Last year our biggest strength down the stretch was our health, while I couldn’t say that this year. Losing those players I think that really put a cloud on the team and that our defense was thinking that they really need to step up their game. It’s really hard to play this game tight and I think we tightened up a little bit.”

Brunswick finished the regular season 13-13-3 overall. In fact, the Bruins competed against six of the top eight teams league play.

“We’ve been building the schedule for years now and I think that was one of the highlights of the season,” VanBelle said. “Ironically it ended up being the reason we didn’t make the playoffs. We gave up a two-goal lead to Kent early on, we lost to Hotchkiss in overtime and we lost a total of eight one-goal games this year in league play. We lost two games in overtime. These are all games where a couple of bounces could have made a difference.”

While the tough schedule was what did the Bruins in, VanBelle has worked too hard to get the Bruins to this level, so there’s no turning back.

“It’s something I would schedule over and over again,” the head coach said. “It’s something that we worked too hard to get. Right now we have a schedule that any prep school would be envious of. The reason that it’s a good thing is because strength of schedule is two-thirds of the playoff picture and at the end of the day, a lot of my players have goals to play college hockey. The way you have a chance to play college hockey is to be seen and that happens when you play all these tough teams. So, I wouldn’t change a thing about our schedule. It’s a great schedule.”

One of the reasons for not getting into the postseason was the team’s offensive output, as the Bruins only averaged a little over two goals a game.

Brunswick School’s Peter Khoury works the puck around his opponent during a recent game at the Hartong Rink. — John Ferris Robbenj

Brunswick School’s Peter Khoury works the puck around his opponent during a recent game at the Hartong Rink. — John Ferris Robben

“We gave up the two goal lead and lost 4-2 with the empty net goal,” VanBelle said. “Hotchkiss we were up 2-0, but lost 3-2 in overtime. We averaged a little over two goals a game and that’s not going to get it done. The fact that we ended up at .500 and averaged only two goals a game is a great testament to our defense this year.”

Going into next year, Stephan Seegar and Jermain, two of the team’s leading scorers, are going to be back. Joining them will be Sebastain Foster and Liam Ferguson, two guys that VanBelle is hoping that will make more of an impact next season and more responsibility will be on their shoulders.

Rising junior Tommy Dunleavey had a very strong second half of the year this season, and although he wasn’t getting as many goals as other Brunswick forwards, he was creating a bunch of opportunities.

Leaving the team this year to graduation will be offensive standouts Harry Clifford, Travis Buck and Nick Viceconte.

Brunswick’s defense was definitely a highlight this season. In addition to senior captains Peter Khoury and goalie Gryphon Richardson, the Bruins were led by fellow seniors Charlie Massi and Charlie Better.

Brunswick’s defense should be strong next season, as Mark Esposito, Henry Hobbs and Alex McDonald are going to be seniors, while Michael Faulkner will be a junior.

“Those four guys have a nice rapport with each other and I am hoping that a few younger guys will step up and fill the back end of the defense,” VanBelle said. “We definitely got some good, veteran defense coming back next year and that’s going to be a huge plus for us.”

Although Brunswick will have a plethora of experience back from this season, they will be without one of its most talented athletes ever. In goal, Richardson has been a rock for the Bruins. However, with the team’s final game, Richardson ended his career with the Bruins and will graduate in May.

As a four-year starter for the Bruins, Richardson played 5,558 minutes and in 107 starts he finished with 63 wins, 16 via the shutout. He tallied 2,709 career saves and had a save percentage of .918.

“Losing Gryphon to graduation is huge for us,” VanBelle said. “He’s irreplaceable. I’ve gotten pretty lazy worrying about goaltending. He’s been a four-year starter and his numbers with the team are very impressive. Junior Mateo Esposito was Gryphon’s backup this year and is going to be ready to fill a lot of that role and we are still on the lookout for another goalie. Gryphon is going to be a big hole to fill.”

With the defense looking to be solid next season, VanBelle will be looking to improve on the team’s offensive output.

“We get bigger, faster and stronger,” VanBelle said. “We are not really bringing anybody in. We graduated a handful of guys and picked up some younger guys that are going to step up and fill those roles. We need to figure out how to score some goals.”

Although VanBelle said the team’s defense was definitely a strength, the team’s biggest strength was its mental approach.

“They always battled hard and were a very hard-working squad,” VanBelle said. “I could only think of a couple of games where I thought we got outworked. There were only a few losses where we were outworked in the corners and in our own zone. It’s easy to coach a team that likes to put the time and effort in. They had a great work ethic. The team is also a very close-knit group and I’m sure that will continue into next year. They work out together in the offseason and get along great.”

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