For David Letarte, there was no learning curve or time for growing pains when he took over as the starting goaltender for St. John’s Prep in 2008.
A freshman on the junior varsity team at the time, Letarte (Salem, Mass.) quickly drew the attention of St. John’s Prep head coach Kristian Hanson, who elevated him to the varsity squad and placed him between the pipes, where he has been firmly entrenched ever since.
Following two Division 1 playoff appearances in his first two
years at St. John’s Prep, Letarte and the Eagles advanced to
the Super 8 championship game last season, falling to Malden
Catholic in overtime.
Now a senior with three years as a starter behind him, Letarte is hoping to lead the Eagles back to the upper echelon of Massachusetts boys hockey in the 2011-12 season.
“I saw him as a freshman with the JV team and saw he had the skills to help. The third game of the year (we moved him to varsity) and he’s started almost every game since,” Hanson said. “We expect him to have a great senior year.”
Letarte was a key factor in the Eagles’ Super 8 run a year
ago, which led to TD Garden and that tough overtime loss against
In the title game, St. John’s held 1-0 and 3-1 leads, but Malden Catholic prevailed as Brendan Collier lifted a backhand shot over Letarte’s right shoulder for the game-winner in front of nearly 10,000 fans at TD Garden.
“I thought David played a great game,” Hanson said of Letarte’s efforts in the championship game. “It was a really talented Malden Catholic team.”
As for the game-winning goal, Letarte admitted there wasn’t much he could do to stop it.
“(Collier) got by three guys and got that shot off; it was an incredible goal,” Letarte told the Salem News following the Super 8 title game. “To put it in that exact spot … you’ve got to give him credit.”
Just to reach the Super 8 was an achievement for St. John’s Prep, which was languishing at 5-4-1 after 10 games before going 13-2 the rest of the way.
Letarte’s improved performance played a major role in St. John’s success during the Eagles’ late-season run.
“Last year, my coaches told me I had to pick up my game and I did,” Letarte said. “It’s mostly mental focus, and you have to forget about (giving up a goal). If you let in a goal, you have to forget about it.”
“He had a great year last year,” Hanson said.
“He played his best in the second half of the season and the
playoffs, under pressure.”
Letarte credited a focus on his mental approach to the game for helping with his improved play.
Letarte said he fell into somewhat of a sophomore slump that carried over into his junior year. To provide a boost, his coaches urged him to work on mental preparation for games.
“It starts the night before, when I go to bed,” Letarte said. “It’s visualizing and breathing (patterns) and getting a good night’s sleep. I play the game over and over in my head.”
On game day, Letarte works on his mental focus and hand-eye coordination with goaltender coach Scott Hentosh.
“He never takes a day off,” Hanson said.
“He’s a very hard worker.”
Letarte carries that work ethic and mental approach with him to the ice on game day.
“I feel like I would compare myself to goalies like Carey Price (Montreal) or Marc-Andre Fleury (Pittsburgh),” Letarte said. “I sit back and critique and evaluate and then try to make my form perfect.”
Still, like any New England kid who finds himself between the pipes these days, there is a definite influence from a certain Boston goaltender.
“Sometimes I’m like Tim Thomas,” Letarte said of the sometimes unorthodox Bruins netminder.
Letarte’s performance on and off the ice hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates, who have voted him a captain for the 2011-12 season.
“He’s a great kid, well-liked by all his teammates,” Hanson said. “David is a great leader and comes from a great family. His brother was a captain at St. John’s.”
Letarte takes his role as captain seriously.
“It feels great to be a captain,” he said. “My brother (Andrew) was a captain at the Prep. I always wanted to be a captain, and it was always a dream. I feel like I can be a good leader. I’ve seen what other leaders have done, both good and bad.”
Letarte’s success helped him land a spot on a team of Eastern Massachusetts all-stars that competed in the Bauer Invitational Tournament last month in Minnesota.
“It was a good experience against a lot of good teams,” Letarte said of the tournament, which included teams from Minnesota, Michigan and Norway. “There were lots of college and pro scouts. It’s a different atmosphere.”
As for his future plans, Letarte is hoping to continue his hockey career at the collegiate level.
“Where he ends up will depend on what he does this year,” Hanson said.
For now though, Letarte’s focus is on the Eagles’ 2011-12 season and building on the success St. John’s Prep enjoyed a year ago.
Letarte’s training and focus revolve around forgetting the last goal scored against him, which would be Collier’s overtime game-winner last season.
Letarte said he and his fellow St. John’s Prep captains are looking ahead and not dwelling on last year.
“Hopefully, the young kids will step up and I believe they will,” he said. “I definitely want to at least get back to the Garden.”
Hanson has no doubts that Letarte has left last season behind to focus on the present.
“I think every goalie needs to be able to react after giving up a goal and be able to react positively,” Hanson said. “He does a really good job coming back (after surrendering a goal). David does a good job staying mentally focused.
“The bigger the situation, the bigger he plays.”
This article originally appeared in the December 2011 issue of New England Hockey Journal. Ed Flaherty can be reached at email@example.com.