By Arielle Aronson
As the new guy behind the bench of a team that made it to the Elite 8 championship game last season, first-year Kent hockey coach Dale Reinhardt did not enter the 2013-14 season with any lofty expectations. He simply wanted to see whether his team, which returns eight of its nine leading scorers from last season and four of its top six defensemen, could maintain its high level of play in the fiercely competitive Founders League.
Reinhardt’s players’ expectations were a different matter. Fueled by the bitter taste of a second-place finish, they spent any free time during the fall working out together to bulk up for a new season and creating the intangible team unity all championship squads seem to possess.
So far, their work is paying off; the Lions are off to a 7-1-1 start and started the holiday season on a bright note by winning the Avon Old Farm Christmas Classic championship.
“[The team] certainly has high hopes and they felt like they had some unfinished business,” Reinhardt said. “I had so much to learn about getting to know the kids and who fit where with who that for me, it was like a fresh start. For them it was like picking up from where they left off last year.
“Our guys did a great job of creating that team unity amongst themselves before the season started, making sure that guys were getting in the gym together. I think that had a huge impact on our early start here. We were definitely prepared once the season got going.”
It helps that Kent is one of the deepest teams in prep hockey this season. While some of the top teams have a clear-cut star, like Ryan Donato at Dexter or Ace Cowans at Groton, Kent has four lines that can all hold their own against any of their opponents’ lines. Kent boasts six players with 10 or more points this season, a total that not even Thayer (a team averaging seven goals per game) can match.
In Kent’s first game of the Avon tournament, a 5-2 win over host Avon Old Farms, the line of senior forwards Phil Klitirinos (two goals, two assists in the game), Lewis Zerter-Gossage (four assists) and Dylan McCrory (one goal, one assist) starred. Kent’s next game, a 6-0 win over Berkshire, featured goals from five different players and saw 12 different Kent players make the scoresheet.
“One of the best things about Avon was that every game, it was someone different contributing,” Reinhardt said. “It’s not always the same guy. That’s where I think we wear teams down in a tournament like that. We can play all four lines and be competitive, regardless of who we’re playing against.”
The Lions benefit from a hot goaltender. Senior Stephen Morrissey took over the full time job this season and garnered the Avon Christmas Classic MVP honors after recording two shutouts in one day and boasting a .957 save percentage through the four tournament games.
Morrissey was also key for Kent in its tie against Salisbury earlier this year. The Lions had a 2-1 lead over the Knights entering the third period of the game, but Kent racked up nine minutes of penalties in the final frame. Morrissey and the Kent penalty kill managed to limit Salisbury to one goal in the third to escape with a 2-2 tie, and the game marks the only time this season that Salisbury did not beat its opponent.
Although the Salisbury game goes down as simply a regular season tie on the schedule, the showing was a great test of Kent’s mettle as it attempts to prove it is a championship-caliber squad this year.
“One of the things I really liked about the Salisbury game was I felt like we played with the same passion and energy throughout the whole game,” Reinhardt said. “We played really well from the time the puck dropped to the final horn. That’s something that we definitely need to continue to work on getting better at. I think that because of our early success, it’s important that we don’t get complacent and walk into a game and think that it’s going to be easy because there’s not many easy games on our schedule.”
Kent still has quite a few tests ahead of them. The Lions set three major goals for the season: win the Avon tournament, win the Founder’s League and win New England. The Lions checked off the first item on that list and with their skill and motivation, they are primed to tackle the next two items.
Game of the week
Watkins Tournament, Jan. 1-3 at Cushing Academy
This tournament will feature some of the top teams in the area in Cushing, Dexter, Northfield-Mt. Hermon and Gunnery and will test how they measure up against one of the best teams in the nation in Culver Academy.
Prep Power Rankings
Check out Arielle's ranking of the top 20 prep boys teams at our prep hockey power rankings page.