WESTBOROUGH – The Algonquin Titans walked away victorious over Hopedale on Saturday night, but the importance of the matchup extended far beyond the score.
The contest wasn’t “just another game.” It was bigger than Algonquin – or even athletics. This game was for Spc. Brian Arsenault.
Arsenault, who played hockey for Algonquin from 2000 to 2004, was tragically killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan on Sep. 4, 2014. The 28-year-old Northborough resident was serving in the 82nd Airborne Division. While the U.S. Army was Brian’s occupation, “hockey was his passion,” according to his mother, Leslie. Arsenault grew up visiting NorthStar Ice Sports and playing pond hockey with friends.
“He’d come home from the Army in August. You’re thinking the kids are going to jump in the pool and go swimming. No. He grabs his stick and goes to [the rink]… Hockey was his thing,” Leslie Arsenault told the Community Advocate.
Brian’s heroism – and love of hockey – is memorialized just outside the NorthStar Ice Sports entrance. The memorial was built by Brian’s friends over three weekends, Leslie said, and is meticulously maintained by NorthStar Rink Manager Craig Boutilier. New England weather is unpredictable, but Brian’s memorial is always pristine. It’s shoveled out. There’s not one stray leaf.
“With this memorial, it’s as grassroots as you can ask for. It was a bunch of guys – they raised the money in no time, they got the materials at cost. All I did was make sure there was coffee and beers there… [Maintaining the memorial] is the least I can do. [The Arsenaults] are friends of mine,” said Boutilier.
“The last thing I said to [Brian] was ‘Be safe’,” he continued.
The Arsenault family – including Daniel, Brian’s father, and many other loved ones – were at Saturday’s game collecting clothing and non-perishable food items for local veterans’ groups. Proceeds from the game help fund the Spc. Brian K. Arsenault Memorial Scholarship.
The annual game – which started in 2015 – has become the most meaningful contest on Algonquin’s schedule. The team wears special camouflage uniforms to honor Brian, Brian’s number-three jersey is hung above the Titans’ bench, and the National Anthem has added importance before the matchup.
“It means a lot to them, to be able to represent Brian, his family, and the history of the program. This is often a game where they come out flying, so you can see how much it means to them to be in this position,” Head Coach Greg Cappello said.
“We knew it was a huge game,” senior captain Luke Palma said. “Big rivalry against Hopedale – in the past we haven’t done well against them. It was more than just a game. We were playing for Brian.”
Algonquin didn’t waste any time getting on the board Saturday night. Just over four minutes into the game, Jared Walsh – assisted by Johnny Meschisen – found the back of the net. Roughly 30 seconds later, Algonquin pulled ahead 2-0 after freshman Andrew Dunleavy scored. The Titans outshot Hopedale 11-3 in the opening frame of action.
“We’ve had to really emphasize getting to the net, getting in front of the goalie, hunting rebounds, and putting pucks in the net on the rebound. Those were some great examples of that in the first period. They were playing the game the right way and getting rewarded for it,” Cappello said.
After the Titans’ first two goals, the Gulachenski twins – Nate and Jack – took over. The brothers, who are both committed to play lacrosse at Saint Michael’s College, were responsible for the next four goals, scoring two apiece.
“[Brian] means a lot to this team,” Jack said. “What the Arsenault family has done… it feels really good to play for them, and it feels really good to get a win for them.”
“We always play harder. It’s bigger than just a game for us,” Nate added.
Cappello called the Gulachenski twins “tremendously important guys” to the team.
Hopedale narrowed Algonquin’s lead to 6-1 in the third period, but the game was long over. The Titans earned the victory, upped their record to 7-4-3, and will now face five consecutive league opponents to close out the regular season.
The Titans have had highlights and lowlights recently, but after one of their biggest wins to date, members of the team seemed confident as they progress toward potential playoff action.
“We’re doing a great job in practice, we’re bringing the energy every single day. Today, we really showed what we’re made of. We’ll keep that energy going,” Palma said.