By John Orrell, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury — Not always do numbers paint an accurate picture of a high school sports team’s success, but for the Shrewsbury High School (SHS) boys’ varsity ice hockey team they do.
An astonishing overall record of 93-25-4 covering the past six seasons makes a good start. A State championship three years ago and District finals two seasons ago and District semifinals in 2016 stand out. This 2016-2017 squad lists three of the top seven scorers in the Quinn Conference (Matt Ward, Anthony Quinlivan, Liam Quinlivan). There is goaltender Patrick Shaughnessy, who has played the bulk of the season between the pipes with a goals-against-average of a meager 1.43 and save-percentage of 0.902. The team is riding a streak of four consecutive Quinn Conference titles and five Christmas tournament championships.
Perhaps most remarkable is an unblemished record for the current campaign with the team engineering a perfect season to date of 12-0 making them ranked 13th across the state. Sometimes numbers can create false illusion but not for this Colonial bunch that appears unstoppable at this late stage of the 2016-2017 campaign, although no one is taking anything for granted. So what’s behind the remarkable success of this highly touted high school program?
“Success starts with good talent and us teaching them the discipline of the game,” answers sixth-year head coach Steve Turnblom, who is assisted by Rich Grant, Nate Lavner and Steve Tepper.
“We have a great feeder system coming from the younger kids. We move the puck better than any team around. The puck moves faster than the players and we really emphasize that.
“These kids are very unselfish. It’s not ‘oh, it’s my turn to score’ or ‘I haven’t scored yet’. I see that with a lot of other teams. Some of them are out just for themselves but not these kids. We’ve brought a lot of them up that way since freshman year with that attitude. They play for one another.”
This 2016-2017 team is led by senior captain Matt Ward, a feisty 5’8”, 180 lb. left wing who carries the team on and off the ice. Ward is currently second in Quinn Conference scoring with 25 points.
“Matt’s leadership is unbelievable,” said Turnblom. “He’s on the kids and makes sure they’re responsible on the ice and off the ice. He’s one of the best captains I’ve ever had. He’s a warrior and a tremendous athlete. He really brings it.”
Assistant captains James Abbott and Joe Walton are rock-solid blue liners who routinely make life miserable for oncoming opponents seeking to penetrate the Colonials defensive zone. Both, like Ward, are dependable night in and night out and provide leadership to both veteran and younger skaters.
Offensively, the team has ample spark with first-liners Ward and brothers Anthony and Liam Quinlivan. Anthony (16 points) and Liam (24 points) are scrappy forwards always looking to create scoring opportunities. The second line consists of another brother tandem of James Tepper and Jack Tepper, with Peter Belbin while the Colonial third line is varied on any given night with Tyler Borys, Thomas Abbott, Jordan Nemes, Cole Russo, Dan Holloway and Samuel O’Conner seeing ice time.
Defensively, the lines are anchored by Walton and James Abbott as first pairings followed by Conall Persechino, Timothy Fitzpatrick, Alec Buduo, Joe Flionis, Wesley Baker, Conner Delaney and Sam McManus. Goalies Shaughnessy, Noah Juaire, Dave Bunsick and Matt Sande provide Turnblom with ample options each night.
“We have some great depth in our goalies this year,” said Turnblom. “Any one of them can play any night. Defense is the key. I stress defense more than offense. It takes a certain group of kids to play defense with heart. They never get a lot of the credit but when you have the guts and the will to sacrifice your body to block shots that means a lot to us. If we get good defense in our end, we’re going to take care of business at the other end.”
Turnblom offers especially high praise for freshmen James Tepper and Tim Fitzpatrick. Both have turned in strong performances while assimilating into the rigors of varsity hockey.
“Our confidence level is really high,” said Ward. “We know that if we play our game and listen to our coaches that we have enough skill to go out there and win if we play the right way. We’re staying up as a team and trying to get every win that we can.
“Our competitive hockey careers are pretty much over after this year and we really want to go out on top and finish our career the way we started it with a State championship. That’s our goal every year. This year, we’re really determined and hungry to get it.”
“In our freshman year, we got a taste of what it was like to win States,” said Walton. “I wasn’t a big part of that team but now that this is my team, I want to win a whole lot more. You always want to win but as seniors this is really special for us.”