Brunswick School ice hockey has season to remember

With only five seniors and a roster chock-full of unproven youth and relative inexperience, the Brunswick School ice hockey team stepped on the ice in November with many questions surrounding how good it could be.

The Bruins believed they’d be competitive and win their fair share of games. They also believed they would vie for their first New England playoff berth since 2012.

But outsiders, those in and around the New England prep school hockey circle, seemed confident that the Bruins would not be a legitimate contender, leaving them unranked (and unwritten about) in season previews and initial polls.

However after a 33-game season, which saw Brunswick rattle off a school-record 26 wins and climb as high as sixth in the prep rankings, all doubt has now been firmly cast aside.

This year’s Bruins team will go down as one of the best in Brunswick hockey history.

Led by senior co-captains Tommy Dunleavy and Michael Faulkner, with a combined nine varsity letters between them, and fellow classmates Matteo Esposito, Maksim Masiulis and Will Rogers, Brunswick set out to prove the naysayers wrong from the beginning.

Practices were fast-paced, focus was undeniably clear and pre-game preparation was at an optimum. The Bruins would be ready to face off with whoever lined up against them at center ice.

Gritty victories against Founders League mainstays Taft, Hotchkiss and Kent in the early going instilled a confidence within the group that ultimately carried through the lengthy winter. Players were willing to block shots, sacrifice their bodies, and finish checks and they reaped the rewards of that style of hockey.

“All 21 guys bought in right from the start,” Dunleavy said. “We quickly established a winning attitude in the locker room and believed we’d get it done on game day.”

Tournament titles at St. George’s and Belmont Hill–Nichols in Buffalo capped a 12–3 first half; and if there was still any doubt, the Bruins began 2015 by knocking off No.1 ranked Loomis and highly-touted Westminster in front of jam-packed crowds at Hartong Rink.

February losses on the road at Salisbury (the eventual New England champion) and Exeter brought the team back down to earth, but it quickly rebounded, finishing the regular season by winning six in a row and capturing the Empire Cup at Millbrook School.

The Bruins, all told, never lost two consecutive games at any point during the season.

“The team always learned from a loss and continued to play and win with confidence,” Dunleavy said.

Faulkner added, “We were so close on and off the ice that when we faced adversity, we were ready to face it together as a unit.”

Narrowly missing the Elite 8 New England Tournament, Brunswick earned the No.1 seed in the Large School Tournament, its highest ranking since joining Division I in 2010, and matched up against Thayer Academy in the quarterfinals.

The Bruins ultimately fell to the Tigers, 5–4, in a furiously paced contest that went to overtime and could have gone either way.

While a disappointing end to be sure, the loss will not define this team’s lasting legacy for either the Bruin players or their head coach, Ron VanBelle.

“This team had something extra: a sense of unity and selflessness that is rare in sports these days,” VanBelle said. “I’m proud of these boys and grateful to have been a small part of their success. It is arguably the best hockey team, in every sense of the word, in school history.”

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