Brunswick ice hockey loaded with talent, experience

Brunswick School junior defender Max Masiulis gets the puck away from his opponent during a game last week at the Hartong Rink. — Dan Burns photo

Brunswick School junior defender Max Masiulis gets the puck away from his opponent during a game last week at the Hartong Rink. — Dan Burns photo

Although the opposition doesn’t get any easier for head coach Ron VanBelle, the Brunswick School ice hockey team still has its usual high hopes for this season.

Last year, after competing against six of the top eight teams in the New England Division I Prep School League, the Bruins finished the season 13-13-3 overall.

A new season brings a new challenge for VanBelle. In the past, the Bruins have had a lot of younger players that the team is trying to develop. Usually VanBelle complains about his squad being young and inexperienced. That’s not the cast this season.

“This year we are older and we are more mature,” VanBelle said. “We have eight seniors, six juniors and both our goaltenders are juniors. That’s 14 upperclassmen out of a roster of 21 guys. That’s a lot of guys that are game-proven already. We should be pretty competitive. A lot of these games are dogfights and what it comes down to is having the older, bigger, stronger and game-experienced guys.

“I have had older teams before, but this is a team of pretty talented kids,” VanBelle added. “We obviously have some work to do this season, but this is one of the stronger teams I can remember having at this point.”

Right from the start, the Bruins have a massive hole to fill. Last season Brunswick graduated Gryphon Richardson, a four-year starter in net. During his tenure with the Bruins, Richardson was dominating, playing 5,558 minutes. In 207 starts, he finished with 63 wins, 16 shutouts, 2,709 career saves and had a save percentage of .918.

“It was one of those positions where I was fortunate enough to have him as a four-year starter and I didn’t think about the goaltending position at all,” VanBelle said. “It’s a key spot, but having two junior goaltenders competing with each other this year is healthy and they are both very talented. We are going to rotate them and give them a lot of chances.”

Returning junior Matteo Esposito bring a lot of hockey knowledge and passion to the Bruins. He’s been a part of the Brunswick ice hockey program for a while now and was with the team last season.

Another junior, Alex Connal came to Brunswick this season. While playing at Westminster School, Connal was behind a standout senior goalie and a sophomore, who was going to be the future of the school.

“Playing goalie is a very visible position and Gryphon was a very visible player for us, so these boys are under some pressure for us,” VanBelle said. “But I know they will respond. They are both talented and both have played at really high levels. They are ready for this. Matteo brings the most experience to the table and also has been preparing for this for a long time. Alex made the change to Brunswick because he knew we were looking for someone to support Matteo. Technically Alex is very good and is a determined goalie.”

This year, VanBelle will be rolling four lines for nearly all of its games. Brunswick’s three most offensive-minded seniors will be Sebastian Foster, Stephen Seeger and Nick Jermain. All three have been with the program for several seasons.

“Nick scored four goals for us against Taft to start the season and Seeger was our leading scorer last year,” VanBelle said. “Sebastian was amazing last year and did whatever was needed to help us be successful. All three will be playing in college somewhere and we have a high expectations for them. They also have high expectations for themselves, so I think it will be a great year for all three.”

Joining the trio at forward will be Brendan May and Liam Ferguson. Both are in their second year with the program.

“Last year was a steep learning curve for them, as they needed to get used to the pace of prep school hockey and we are expecting them to be even bigger leaders for us this year,” VanBelle said.

Rounding out the top six forwards will be junior Tommy Dunleavy.

“I would put those six forwards up against any two lines in the league,” VanBelle said. “They are a phenomenal talent.”

Yet again, Brunswick’s defense will be a huge key to its success and this year’s squad has a bunch of experienced leadership, as well as some talented newcomers to the varsity squad.

Leading the way will be senior Mark Esposito, junior Michael Faulkner, senior Henry Hobbs and senior Alex McDonald. A big presence added to the Bruins this year is junior Max Masiulis, who came to the school from Russia. Masiulis comes in a 6-06 and weighs 245 pounds. The other defenders aren’t far behind, as Mark Esposito is 6-02 and 180-pounds, Faulkner is 5-11 and 180 pounds, Hobbs is 6-05 and 225 pounds.

“We have seven defensemen on the squad this year and that’s a lot of beef out there,” VanBelle said. “We have a lot of big guys out there and the sixth and seventh guys out there are freshmen, so that’s good for our future. We are trying to balance experience with building. As a unit, our defense is good. We are not going to give up a lot defensively.”

In addition to the team’s four lines, Brunswick will roll out two power play units that are both highly-effective and give two different looks. While Jermain, Seeger and Foster will see plenty of time on the power play, Masiulis’ size and strength will be utilized on special teams, as VanBelle will put him in front of the net on one of the power plays. Dunleavy, May, McDonald and freshman defender Philip Kemp will also see key minutes on the power play.

On the penalty kill, sophomore Nick VanBelle will be back in his role as penalty kill specialist. Nick VanBelle will work with Foster as the first penalty kill unit. Hobbs and McDonald will also lead the way.

In addition to the size of the team’s defense and ability for the forwards to light the lamp at any given moment, coach VanBelle said that one of Brunswick’s biggest strengths is in its overall experience.

“The experience that these kids have will go miles,” Ron VanBelle said. “They are poised, they don’t panic and they make the right play most of the time. They recover from mistakes smoothly and are effective leaders, both on and off the ice. When you’re more comfortable with the blue line guys, you’re able to be more aggressive with the guys up front.”

While the team has plenty of strengths, Ron VanBelle knows that there is room for improvement.

“They need to play the whole ice,” Ron VanBelle said. “We need to play a smart game. We are a smart team, but they are still teenage boys. They still are learning and a lot of what I would like to see is their awareness. They all know how to score goals and celebrate goals. They are great skaters and great stick-handlers, but they need to be willing to learn and improve.”

Yet again, the Brunswick ice hockey team will have quite the intimidating schedule. In addition to starting the season with Taft, Westminster and Hotchkiss School, the Bruins will play Kent twice, Salisbury School and Exeter, in addition to competing in the Nichols-Belmont Hill Tournament, St. George’s Tournament and the Empire Cup.

“Strength of schedule is such a big part of our playoff picture, but it’s a little intimidating when you look at it,” Ron VanBelle said. “We better come ready to play on most nights. There aren’t a lot of easy games in our schedule, but we wouldn’t want it any other way.”

So far, the Bruins have had a solid start to the season. Against three of the top teams from around the region, Brunswick has a record of 2-1. They beat Westminster School 4-2 and defeated Hotchkiss School 3-2 nearly 24 hours later, but lost their opening game of the season to Taft School, 5-4.

Brunswick will be back in action on Monday, when they battle Pomfret School at 9:30 a.m. and later in the day faceoff against Nichols at 2 p.m. Both games will be played at Berkshire School.

After competing against Northfied Mount Hermon at Wesleyan on Wednesday, the Bruins will return to the Hartong Rink on Friday  when they host Hoosac at 5 p.m.

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