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Hockey seniors celebrate a bittersweet ending

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From playing the game they love at Suffolk University to spending time with teammates for one of the last few times at the start of the season on Halloween, the end of their Suffolk Hockey careers seemed far away.

However, the end started to kick in during one of the Rams last home games of the 2015-16 season during senior night on Feb. 6.

“[Senior night] was the first time we felt that the corner was near whether we wanted [the end] to come or not,” said senior co-captain and defenseman Shaughn Shields.

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Mike Cherpak and Connor McCarthy | Courtesy of Suffolk University

Before taking center ice to face off with the Leopards of Wentworth Institute of Technology of Boston, Mass., the Suffolk community, families, friends, fans and teammates joined together to celebrate the Suffolk Hockey careers of seven graduating seniors. Announcer of the game said Zack Capozza, Mike Cherpak, Tyler Heineman, Connor McCarthy, Justin Selep, Shields, and Brandon Smolarek played crucial roles in contributing success to the 2015-16 Rams season, such as scoring over 50 goals as a class.

To commend the success of the class, blue and gold posters hung on the glass panes at the end zone underneath the scoreboard and signs were held for display throughout the home crowd to support respective players. The class received showers of stick taps from teammates, and a loud round of applause from those in attendance. They were also honored with commemorative pictures and flower bouquets.

“We approached senior night as a game to not only celebrate our hockey careers, but also a test to the progress we made during our time here at Suffolk, both as hockey players and as people,” said Capozza.

The game was a must win for the Wentworth Leopards, who faced a 12-game losing streak earlier in their season, the win would also keep them in the race to compete for a playoff spot, as well as for the Rams to maintain their fourth seed of the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Northeast Hockey and would also keep their playoff picture alive as well. The Leopards dictated the game just 30 seconds into the first period with junior defenseman Jake Flynn’s goal assisted by freshman forward Adam Lane to give his team a 1-0 lead, which followed with Suffolk sophomore forward Luke Miller’s goal more than halfway into the first period to even the game. Miller’s goal, with assists from forward Capozza and freshman forward Connor Henry, would be the lone goal for the Rams of the night. Senior Leopard Goalie Joel Miller saved 37 of the 38 shots he faced from the Rams, and Rams goalie Smolarek led the Rams as a team leader with 22 saves of the game.

 

Justin Selep | Courtesy of Suffolk Athletics

Justin Selep | Courtesy of Suffolk Athletics

The Leopards kept their momentum rolling with two additional powerplay (PP) goals from sophomore forward Jake McDonough following Rams Miller’s goal and freshman defenseman Eric Eustace in half of the third period, his first collegiate goal. The game was tight despite the two-goal differential lead on the scoreboard, a 3-1 win for Wentworth.

The Leopards capitalized on their PP opportunities, which carried over to their third and final match up of the season, when they eliminated the Rams from their post-season run in the first round of the ECAC Northeast Hockey Tournament on Feb. 28.

“[Senior night] was a blast even though we lost,” said Heineman. “We tried to enjoy it without losing focus of the game.”

As a transfer student from Nazareth College in Rochester, New York to Suffolk, Selep said his teammates were instrumental toward helping him feel comfortable as a player and person. They welcomed and accepted him. The management major added that senior night was more for playing for “these guys than anything else.”

“[Senior night] is something I’ll always remember,” said Selep. “It’s something that you dream about as a hockey player.”

Defensemen McCarthy, Heineman, and Shields served as captains for the season. With “three great captains,” Selep said he felt there was no need for him to be a voice in the room. As an upper classman, the forward approached the leadership role by helping the team by playing his game.

“As a group, we preached positivity, we kept the boys moving in the right direction,” said Heineman.

“We had a consistent flow from seniors to juniors, juniors to sophomores and sophomores to freshmen,” said Shields. “Everyone’s really pulled their weight.”

The hockey program has evolved throughout Heineman, a global business major, and Shield’s four years with the team. They went from not knowing where practices were held to playing in various rinks throughout Mass. to carrying their hockey gear to practice for their first two years with the team. Their last two years with the team followed with having “an actual home” and lockers to store their hockey equipment. The team also unveiled and donned new jerseys at the beginning of the season.

The hockey program, which was officially established in 1980, had former and current players utilize the public transportation to commute to practices and games until the previous season when Suffolk Athletics and Current Head Hockey Coach Chris Glionna reached an agreement with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation for an off-campus rink.

“Rebranding helped with our identity,” said Heineman. “We introduced the new culture currently brought to the program.”

“The senior class was a big part of that, but we’re leaving it in the hands of lower classmen to do the same thing,” said finance major Shields.

Capozza, an entrepreneurship major, added that the team held a captain’s practice just once a week to having practice three times a week his junior and senior year.

“We had more ice time given to us,” said Capozza. “[More practice time] was crucial in our team workouts and team training leading up to the season.”

Off the ice, whether it would be going out as a group for dinner, movies, or training at the gym, Capozza said the time spent as a team created the team’s culture, and he will miss spending time with his teammates.

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Hockey seniors celebrate a bittersweet ending