February 20, 2011

From NEHJ: Middlebury's Drolet pulls double duty

by Chris Carlson

After wrapping up his soccer season, Middlebury junior Martin Drolet rejoined the hockey team, which he was leading in scoring last month. (photo: Will Costello)

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the February 2011 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Martin Drolet has no problem with hostile crowds, but the Middlebury junior had an unusual group of fans rooting against him last fall — his own teammates.

Drolet, the leading scorer for the Panthers, is a two-sport athlete, suiting up on the soccer pitch as well as the ice, and excelling in both arenas. As Middlebury’s soccer team made a postseason run, reaching the NCAA sectional final, Drolet missed the Panthers’ first two hockey games.

Another soccer victory would have cost him another weekend away from the hockey team and two more appearances.

“Some of my teammates probably wish I would just play hockey,” Drolet said. “I’m sure there were some people rooting against our soccer team, but it was all in good fun.’

In reality, it’s likely that Drolet’s hockey teammates had mixed feelings. But Drolet said he’s never felt mixed support for his decision.

Recruited as a hockey player after growing up in Montreal, Drolet quickly discussed the possibility of playing both sports with Middlebury hockey coach Bill Beaney, who encouraged his pursuit, and then approached the rest of the team about the possibility.

“He wanted to make sure we knew he was dedicated to hockey,” senior Bryan Curran said. “I’ve never felt he wasn’t dedicated to us 100 percent.”

His hockey teammates have enjoyed his success as well. While they kidded him about hoping his postseason would come to a quick close, the Panthers also attended weekend home games, fitting in well with soccer’s sing-song culture.

“We’d love to get a ‘Dro-let’ chant going,” Curran said.

Along with the old-school chants, Drolet is a throw-back athlete. As more youngsters are pressed to specialize sooner and become miniature professionals early on, Drolet chose prep school over junior hockey, then NESCAC hockey over a Division 1 roster spot. His younger brother, who also grew up playing soccer, elected to play Div. 1.

“Unfortunately, you don’t see it nearly as much as you used to,” Middlebury soccer coach David Saward said. “I used to have loads. As youth sports have become more demanding, kids aren’t allowed to pursue other sports. The seasons go on forever. Hockey never ends, and soccer is no less guilty.”

“We have a lot of two-sport athletes here,” Curran said. “But most are good in one and are overshadowed in the other.”

In late January, Drolet, a two-time all-NESCAC performer, led the Panthers (6-5-3) with seven goals and 13 points. His soccer numbers were more modest (three goals and an assist) but not bad considering he spent his freshman season on the school’s JV team.

“Technique-wise, he might not be the strongest player,” Saward said. “But in practice, when we play competitive games, nine out of 10 times, he’s on the winning team. That’s not by accident.”

Drolet credits Lawrenceville Academy for allowing him to pursue both sports. He began playing soccer at age 6, competitive hockey four years later and loves both. He credits soccer for allowing him to jump onto the ice excited to play every year and keeping the game fresh.

“Every year, I look forward to hockey,” Drolet said. “I’m just trying to enjoy my college experience the most that I can.”

This season, Drolet’s return to hockey was more challenging than expected.

The Panthers progressed deep into the soccer postseason, and Drolet’s first hockey game came against defending champion Norwich.

While soccer training allows for a good endurance base, it doesn’t train hockey players for sprint-heavy hockey shifts. It took Drolet four games back in the lineup to score.

“It was an interesting way to come back,” Drolet said. “In the third period, my legs were dead. The big thing, though, is the reaction time and the fast pace. In soccer, you might touch the ball once every 10 minutes.”

While there are differences, it’s the similarities in the sports that serve Drolet well.

In both games, he specializes in holding the puck/ball, calming the pace of play, drawing defenders and never losing composure. Saward said Drolet’s ability to lower his center of gravity to fight off defenders on the ice allows him to do the same on the pitch.

Drolet’s approach carries over as well.

Saward said Drolet, while not his most talented player, was one of his most consistent, grinding out good practices and performances like solid shifts in a hockey game.

“I’ve coached 27 years and 23 All-Americans,” Saward said. “In terms of an athletic mentality, he has to be in the top five. If he’s not feeling well, you never know. If he’s hurt, you never hear about it.”

On the ice, Drolet displays the same traits.

Drolet finished second on the Panthers in scoring as a freshman and led the team in scoring as a sophomore.

Aleady with 82 points for his career, Drolet knew he’d be viewed as one of the hockey team’s leaders, and he was conscientious about creating team chemistry.

Any free time he had during soccer season, he spent with the hockey team. When the hockey team held workouts, he attended even if he wasn’t able to lift.

“I think that is probably the hardest part,” Drolet said. “Making sure you’re a part of both teams, particularly when you’re not in that season.”

Over the summer, Drolet worked a job, worked out daily and found ice time between three and five times a week.

After scuffling in his first four games, Drolet had two points in four of the next six games. In order to get his hockey legs back, Drolet worked out on the ice twice a day over his holiday break, calling friends and organizing games.

Said Curran: “A rusty day from Martin is pretty much the best day a lot of us could hope to have. Some people you might say, ‘Let’s see how this is going to work.’ But with him, there’s no question.”

Chris Carlson can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com