Last year was special for the Bishop Hendricken hockey team, as the Hawks had one of their most memorable seasons in program history.
They led Division I-Cimini from start to finish during the regular season, then finished the job in the playoffs with a dramatic 2-1 series victory over Mount St. Charles in the state finals for their third-ever D-I crown. After losing in the finals three of the previous four seasons to the Mounties, going through them to win the championship was especially gratifying. But if the Hawks are going to defend their place at the top of the heap – ahead of the Mounties and an always-competitive La Salle squad – it’s going to happen with a brand new script.
Last year is over. One look at the roster will prove that.
“The good part is that it’s a new group and they’re excited,” Hendricken head coach Jim Creamer said. “Everything is new to them. Collectively, we’ve got some kids with a lot of experience, but it’s really a new group.”
While there are some holdovers, most of the core pieces from last year’s championship team are no longer on the roster. Seniors Nick Bodziony and Dan Nolte were mainstays on the defense, and senior forwards Justin Finan, Ryan Amalfitano and Robbie Buehrer were all threats up front.
Graduation losses are standard, but the Hawks also lost a few key players to prep schools and junior hockey as well. Forwards Paul filippone and David Mitchell – both of whom were impact forwards the past two seasons – are gone, as is goaltender Billy Palmer.
Palmer played in net nearly every game in the second half of last year, and he did play every game in the postseason. He was named the MVP of the state championship series.
Replacing players of that caliber won’t be easy. Buehrer was the fifth-leading scorer in the division, and only two of Hendricken’s top-seven scorers are returning.
But, as usual, the Hawks have players ready to step right in, and Creamer doesn’t anticipate much drop-off, if any at all.
“We really don’t think it’s going to hurt us,” Creamer said. “I just think we had guys sort of sitting and waiting who were good players. I think we’ll be in pretty good shape.”
Even with the loss of Palmer, who played as well as any goaltender in the state, Hendricken’s strength may lie between the pipes this season.
The Hawks have two goaltenders, seniors Mitch Proulx and Craig Colson. Before Palmer got the job last season, he was alternating in net with Proulx, and Colson played a few games as well.
They’re comparable to Palmer and plenty capable of handling the job.
“I think that will be the strength of our team,” Creamer said. “Billy played ahead of them last year, but it was really sort of a flip of a coin. Billy got hot, but they’re both very, very good goaltenders. I think our strength will come from them, out.”
Defensively, Hendricken has six players it plans on using regularly at this point. Junior Sam Boulanger played quite a bit last year, and he’ll be joined by juniors Liam Watkinson, Garrett Quillen, Chris Shalvey and Matt Kim, a transfer from Chicago. Sophomore Steven Dumond will also be in the back.
“They’re pretty similar,” Creamer said. “Not great offensive kids, but they’ll be good defensive defensemen.”
Up front, the Hawks are led by sophomore Matt Creamer. A first-team All-State selection a year ago as a freshman, Creamer was D-I’s third-leading scorer with 32 points. He’ll be joined by a slew of others that could make up as many as four usable lines.
Senior Ed Markowski was a big part of last year’s squad, and he’s back along with junior Andrew Fera, who also saw significant ice time. Others include junior Tucker Alberigo, senior Dakota Hersey – a Warwick Vets transfer who had originally gone to Hendricken – and freshman Riley Miller.
While that group may not proven elite scorers, it has a number of players who can put the puck in the net with some regularity. Balance is the key.
“I think we’ve got about nine or 10 forwards that can score for us on a regular basis,” Jim Creamer said. “I predict that we’ll have some real good balance there.”
The roster isn’t the only difference for Hendricken this year. The schedule has also changed, as Hendricken is in its own division with Mount and La Salle, while five other teams are playing in a separate sub-division of D-I. The top team from the second division will move up to the playoffs to compete in the semifinals with the three parochial schools.
Hendricken will play La Salle and Mount three times each, and then play the other five teams twice. For its other two games, the Hawks – along with Mount and La Salle – have scheduled games with out-of-state opponents that will count toward their league standings.
“There’s a little bit of commonality,” Creamer said. “We agreed on who we’re going to play. They’re all about the same level.”
Almost no matter what, because of how it’s set up, Hendricken will find itself in the D-I semifinals. After that, it’s a matter of trying to get back to Schneider Arena to defend its state title.
The first time the Hawks’ program won a championship, it was in 2005-06. The following year, they won again.
That’s the plan once more.
“I think this team is capable of winning a championship,” Creamer said. “I do think that. As we start the year, that’s obviously a goal, but as we look at it I think we’ll be in the running. I think at the end of the year, if we’re not there, we’ll be disappointed.”
The Hawks’ first game is Friday, Dec. 7 against Burrillville at Levy Rink.