Brunswick ice hockey ready to battle the best

When the Brunswick School ice hockey team made the jump to a Division I schedule three years ago, head coach Ron VanBelle was hoping his team could compete with the best throughout the Northeast.

Ever since the Division I jump, VanBelle has been pushing his team by setting more challenging schedules, and his team has responded, making the postseason the past two years.

This year, the Bruins have their most intense schedule to date, playing the top competition throughout the season. However, the Brunswick head coach also knows that this year’s squad is more than up for the challenge.

“We’ve been working for three years to get our schedule really competitive, but now we look at the schedule and we really got a tough schedule,” VanBelle said. “Our strength of schedule is two-thirds of the playoff formula. Right now we can’t have a great season and not make the playoffs. In the past, we’ve had winning seasons and not made the playoffs because our strength of schedule wasn’t strong. Now, if we don’t make the playoffs, it’s on us. We have to play a certain level of hockey.”

Last year, Brunswick entered the Division I Prep Large School ice hockey tournament as the No. 7 seed and played its quarterfinal game against No. 2 seeded St. Sebastian’s School, losing in overtime. With the loss, the Bruins ended their season with a 20-10 record.

As the Brunswick hockey team becomes more familiar with its Division I schedule, it has been making it more challenging every season. This year is certainly no exception.

Scattered throughout the schedule are familiar top-level foes, such as Kent, Westminster School, Choate Rosemary Hall, Loomis Chaffee School, Salisbury School, and Albany Academy. This year, Brunswick added several more top schools to its schedule. In addition to the team’s 3-0 victory against Northfield Mount Hermon School, the Bruins will battle Hotchkiss (Dec. 8), Belmont Hill (Dec. 29) and Northwood (Jan. 25).

“This year we would like to win some of the games we’re not supposed to, win all the games we are supposed to and then steal a couple,” VanBelle said. “I want more of a consistent effort. There is no reason this group shouldn’t have a playoff game if we stay healthy.”

For the Bruins to be successful, they will once again rely on their goalie to pace the team. Senior Gryphon Richardson will be returning for his senior year and is excited to see what this season will bring.

“He’s unbelievable and you start to take him for granted,” VanBelle said. “We got outshot [against Northfield Mount Hermon] 39-25 and won 3-0. I know that I am spoiled right now. A good goalie could make a coach look really good and Gryphon has made me look good for a couple of years. We have one more year with him.”

Skating in front of Richardson will be a top-notch defensive unit, led by seniors Andre Masse and co-captain Peter Khoury. The duo will be the team’s first-line defense.

“We have to keep things simple and come to practice with the mentality that we are a good team and that we are going to compete with some of the best teams in New England,” Khoury said. “We have a right to be very confident this season. We’re going to have to work on scoring and find some guys that can step up more and be those go-to guys in those pressure situations.”

Adding to the defense will be seniors Charlie Better, Henry Hobbs and Mark Esposito, sophomore Michael Faulkner and, newcomer to the team, junior Alex McDonald.

“Experienced guys know what they are doing and it makes my job easier,” Richardson said. “It makes the whole team better. Although we haven’t played as a team that much yet, everybody’s been playing in the fall, so we have our wheels under us. It’s nothing but fun to be here.”

For VanBelle, having a plethora of talented defenders is something the Bruins haven’t seen in quite a while.

“We have seven defenders on the roster and six are juniors and seniors,” VanBelle said. “On the defensive side, we have a lot of experience. We’ve got seven defensemen that are all going to play and that’s a big benefit. Having some depth on the blue line will be something we haven’t had.”

When it comes to the forwards, Brunswick will be rolling three solid, experienced lines. On the first line, senior Harry Clifford and junior Stephen Seeger will be returning for another season and will be joined be junior center Liam Ferguson, a transfer from Fairfield Prep.

“Liam is just going to get better every single day,” VanBelle said. “Every game he’s getting used to the pace and he’s very skilled. Seeger and Clifford are veterans and bring a lot of experience and skill. Andre and Pete are the same way. It’s nice being a little mature. They are five guys that I can throw out there in any situation and they will do a good job. It’s nice having that experience.”

Brunswick will not be losing too much when its second line hits the ice. Junior Sebastian Foster will be centering sophomores Nick Jermain and Tommy Dunleavy. The way the trio have been clicking since the start of the season has been so impressive that VanBelle could see that trio on the same line for quite a long time.

“They’ve created more offensive opportunities than they should be for their age, frankly,” VanBelle said. “All three are very talented and all know how to play the game. They play smart and play well together. To be able to back up my first unit with those three guys is nice. It’s nice having a little more depth up front than I used to have in previous years.”

’Wick’s third line will include center Nick Viceconte, a senior, and he will be feeding junior Brendan May and senior Travis Buck.

“They know how to play the game and are solid kids,” VanBelle said. “I can roll three lines comfortably and not worry about things, which is nice to have. When you get into these games that last 18 minutes against Choate and Kent, you need to be able to roll three lines.”

One of the main contributors to the team’s success has been the dedication to the sport of ice hockey. While most of the athletes on the team contribute to numerous sports throughout the season, hockey is their primary sport.

“In the past, we’ve had a lot of good athletes that played hockey, but not a lot of hockey players. This is their main sport. The majority of these kids, this is what they do. This is their sport.”

And Brunswick athletes are being noticed in the hockey universe. Kevin Duane, who graduated from Brunswick last year, is going to attend Boston University, while fellow graduate Luke Esposito just committed to Harvard University.

“The majority of these guys played with those guys and know what it takes to play college hockey,” VanBelle said. “The amount of work they put into every practice is great. We don’t have to remind them to pick it up. These guys come and work every single day. It makes our job as coaches so easy.”

With the amount of talent on the roster, VanBelle is looking for more consistency from his squad. In order to get into the postseason last year, the Bruins, who started the season with a 6-2 record, had to win 10 of their final 11 games to qualify. Nine of those games were played on the road. Brunswick also lost four overtime games last year and could have moved up in the playoff ranking if it had won half of those.

This year, VanBelle wants his team to play strong the entire season and not have the added pressure of going on a streak at the end of the season to advance into the postseason.

“It’s within our control,” VanBelle said. “If you look at last year’s schedule and what we accomplished, we had to finish really strong to make that No. 7 seed. Last year we really didn’t win any big games. We won all the ones we were supposed to, won a couple of those games that were 50-50 and didn’t win when we were underdogs. The year before I think we stole a couple (Westminster, Kent), and that set us up. Last year we had to do this big push at the end to make the playoffs.”

Although the schedule is going to be tough and there are several young players on the roster, the Brunswick hockey team still keeps its high expectations and plans on competing in the postseason.

Getting off on the right foot was a good start for the Bruins, who started the season last week traveling up to Northfield, Mass., and blanking Northfield Mount Hermon, 3-0.

The Bruins scored all three goals on special teams, courtesy of Seeger. After a scoreless first period, Seeger found the back of the net when he scored 2:12 into the second period shorthanded. Two minutes later, Brunswick was on the power play and Seeger netted the goal. Jermain and Foster assisted on the goal.

With 14:48 gone by in the period, Seeger netted the hat trick. Ferguson and Masse assisted on the play.

In goal, Richardson stopped all 39 shots that came his way.

“I think we have a young team, but that we were able to get a huge 3-0 victory over Northfield Mount Hermon speaks volumes about the team’s character and how hard we worked in practice to mesh as a unit,” Khoury said.

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