With a little over two minutes left in the first period of Saturday’s Catholic Conference matchup against host Xaverian, St. John’s Prep broke through for a goal.
Sophomore winger Tyler Bird flew down the ice leading a 2-on-1 break, deked the goalie to the left, and dished the puck to senior captain Sam Kurker, who tipped the puck into the back of the net.
Seconds later, in retaliation, Bird was hit from behind by a Xaverian player and violently shoved to the ice.
Kurker, a physical 6-foot-2 forward, had his teammate’s back, and jumped into the fray. He netted a pair of goals in Prep’s 3-0 win, recording his 100th career point in the process, raising his season totals to 19 goals and 16 assists in 13 games.
But as exhibited by standing up for his teammate, Kurker offers much more than a scoring touch around the net for Prep.
“Younger kids look up to Sam,’’ said St. John’s Prep fifth-year coach Kristian Hanson, who takes the “C’’ on the front of Kurker’s jersey seriously.
“He’s so physical that it only encourages the younger guys to be just as physical. He’s one of the most vocal captains we have and he’s not afraid to grab the board in the locker room and draw up plays.“
The Boston University commit was the middle of everything on Saturday night, whether it was rough play along the boards, in front of the net, or offering spirited words to a teammate with a head down.
“We make sure we get together as a team as often as we can, and it’s probably the most chemistry I’ve had on any team here,’’ said Kurker, a Reading resident.
“I make sure everyone stays comfortable and that they can come to me with anything, but we as captains know that there’s a level of respect we have from the underclassmen, so I make sure I lead by example and help this team any way I can on and off the ice.’’
Prep, which lost in last year’s Super 8 final to Malden Catholic, started the season 9-4, but there is more to the Eagles’ surge than statistics, according to fellow captain Nick Pandelena, a senior 6-4 defenseman from Atkinson, N.H.
“We need to play the whole game and our systems better,’’ said Pandelena.
“As captains we make sure everyone is working their hardest, being in sync with everyone and working in our defensive coverage. Too many easy points can be given up because of the mental lapses so Sam’’ - along with other two captains, forward Brian Pinho (North Andover) and goalie Dave Letarte (Salem) - make sure “the guys’ heads are in the right place.’’
Roughly seven minutes down the road, junior captain Joe Strangie is raising the bar at Danvers High. The 5-9 center is racking up the points (13 goals, 14 assists in his first 12 games), but he does not shy away from showing his grit.
During a heated battle against Revere in late January, cousin Nick Strangie was hit from behind.
“As soon as I saw [Nick] go to the ground, I immediately hit the kid down. Even if he wasn’t my cousin, I would have done that for any of my teammates,’’ said Strangie, who was whistled for a misconduct penalty.
“Joe wasn’t a captain going into the year,’’ said sixth-year coach Kevin Brown. “But due to disciplinary reasons and injuries, he’s stepped up and rallied our guys to a great start. He puts the team first and his teammates mean more to him than anything, and they know it.’’
Nick Strangie, a senior captain, said his cousin has silenced any questions about his leadership skills
“We’ve been playing together since we were five,’’ said the defenseman. “He’s a great leader and he rallied us back during the second intermission against Shawsheen when we were down, and we came back to win, 6-5.’’
At Austin Prep, senior captain Ryan Quinn of Burlington earns praise for his quick thinking off the ice.
“There was a young man choking at our open house, and Ryan ran to his assistance and helped him out,’’ said Austin Prep coach Lou Finocchiaro. “Kids respect him, and he leads by example, but makes sure the kids know that it’s not where you are playing hockey, but who you are as a person that really matters.’’
Winthrop coach Dale Dunbar said his senior captain, 6-3 forward Chris LeBlanc (15 goals, 13 assists), is “only vocal when he has to be, but when he is, watch out.
“Chris is on our guys to practice harder. He knows that our game performance is a reflection of how we practice, so he makes sure that he feels kids have put in the time, and if he feels they need more practice he’ll extend it or add days.’’
Chris and fellow captain Mike Polson have also had players-only meetings. “The coaches didn’t even know about it,’’ said Dunbar, who runs a summer camp, Leaders4Life, to shape better leaders off the ice.
“But practices had been inconsistent, and they took it upon themselves to get the kids’ heads on right. He’s a special talent and a true leader.’’
A good captain is an extension of the coaching staff, a friend, a teammate and a mentor.
“Good captains are kids that understand that they need to be leaders through good times and bad,’’ said Dunbar. “Captains, not only our own, have been walking the walk, more than talking the talk, and that has earned them their ‘C’s.’ ’’
Andover’s seniors show the way
Kendra Dargoonian and Emily Appleton are not only the senior captains for the Andover High girls, but the lone seniors on a 20-player roster.
Saluting Appleton (12 points in 14 games) as one of the best defenseman in the league, coach Phil Rowley said “she’s aggressive, strong, mature and everyone feeds off her strengths to a point where they don’t look like a bunch of freshmen and sophomores.’’
She and Dargoonian got the other players involved in fall leagues, and working on their conditioning when they weren’t playing. Rowley credited Appleton with mentoring freshman defenseman Joanna Olsen on and off the ice.
But to go far in the MVC/DCL, Rowley knows his squad (7-6-1) will need to battle when the schedule is challenging.
“We out-shot Hingham and A-B in our losses, but it shows us that we have the opportunities,’’ said the coach.
“We beat Waltham, 3-2, scoring the go-ahead goal with 1:30 left in the game, to record our first comeback this year. Our girls rallied, and they’ll continue to rally, all the way to the tournament.’’