Less than 30 minutes earlier, Cam Owens and his fellow bleached-blond Wilmington High teammates, celebrating their 4-0 win over Franklin for the Division 2 state hockey title, had tossed their sticks into the air before hitting the TD Garden ice for a giant dog pile.
Now the 21-3-2 Wildcats, shed of their sweat-drenched uniforms in favor of dress shirts, were more than happy to chat about repeating as state champs.
Shifty, creative, and quick on the ice, Owens is a bit humble when he unlaces his skates, and never more than on Sunday afternoon.
Yet the dynamic 5-foot-7, 175-pound senior captain, who will depart Wilmington as the program’s all-time leading career scorer (72 goals, 86 assists) with a pair of state championships in his pocket, deserved to take a bow.
Wilmington was on top, 1-0, entering the third period Sunday when Owens simply took over.
In the first few minutes, he zipped around the ice, poke-checking every Franklin skater who had the puck. When he corraled it, he drew multiple defenders and slipped through a seemingly closed door, and fired shots on net. Twice, he just missed converting.
At 4:26, with Wilmington on the power play, Owens collected an outlet from Dylan DiNitale, made another nifty move through defenders, and fired a perfect pass to junior Brendan McDonough that left the big winger so wide open that Franklin goalie Devon Maloof had hardly turned his head before the puck hit the back of the net.
‘My game is making the people around me better.’
“He just tossed me some pretty nice sauce and it just landed right on my tape, and I had a point-blank shot and put it in the net,” said McDonough. “It’s good knowing he’s on your line.”
Five minutes later, in another eye-popping move, Owens worked himself free and fired a hard one-timer that led to a juicy rebound, which eventually found the stick of senior Jake Rogers before he stuffed it past Maloof for a convincing 3-0 cushion.
“He’s quick, he’s very shifty, like the defense thinks they have him point blank to put a big body check on him and he just finds his way by him,” said McDonough.
Steve Scanlon, wrapping up his 23d season behind the Wilmington bench, said Owens “has a sixth sense about where that puck is going.
“He makes the right moves or goes to the right place at the right times,” added Scanlon, who also coached Owens’s three older brothers at Wilmington. “Unteachable, absolutely. This kid can just create a goal out of nothing. He’s very talented; he’s got a gift.”
For Owens, it’s not about how good he is, but rather how good everyone around him has made him. It has always been that way, and it started with his older brothers.
The eldest, Chuck Vallas, graduated from Wilmington High in 1998, when Cam was just 4. Justin Vallas graduated the following year, but not before setting the scoring record at Wilmington with 135 career points. Andy Owens graduated in 2011.
“I kind of knew my path, I knew I was going to go to Wilmington High School, and playing with them when I was younger helped me elevate my skill level and get quicker than most kids,” Owens said of his siblings. “They were all good hockey players. That helps me out in the future, and now I’m here.”
As the program’s career scoring leader, Owens cemented his legacy as “one of the most influential players in our program,” said Scanlon.
First, though, he had to prove that he belonged. During the start of his freshman campaign, he had not cracked the varsity, instead skating circles around JV defenders. However, when his brother Andy was out of the lineup for an extended amount of time (mononucleosis), Owens was called up and served notice, scoring 14 goals in 15 games.
Scanlon said he knew he had a special player.
“I knew I had the talent to play at the varsity level, but that year they had a ridiculous amount of talent — every kid could play,” said Owens.
“I knew I probably wouldn’t get a shot unless something happened, and then it happened to be my brother. . . I put a couple pucks home. From there, I just elevated my game and kept working hard.”
Scanlon added, “He’s electrifying, a little bit of a different player. He gives you the X-factor in a game. He can turn a game on its head. . . We’re going to miss him.”
Owens, though, deflects the praise to his linemates, McDonough and Rogers.
“My game is making the people around me better,” he said. “I’m shorter; I move the puck well. That’s what I try to work on. I’ve got two big wings that can skate and can shoot so I try to give them opportunities. I try to make them better.”
In doing so, he leaves as a champion.
“I never expected this,” Owens said. “This is nuts. I can’t describe it. You want this your whole life and then it happens twice? It’s unbelievable.”
in shorthanded bid
Seemingly, there were always roadblocks for the Swampscott High boys’ hockey team. And that didn’t change in Sunday’s state final.
The Big Blue won a school-record 19 games while losing five. They won their first Division 3 North title, beating Bedford, 3-2. They defeated Medway, 4-3, in the state semifinals, advancing to the championship game for the first time. They received a police escort out of town for the drive to the TD Garden.
The final roadblock, however, was too much to overcome.
On Saturday, the players learned that team captain Trevor Massey (7 goals, 22 assists), the Northeastern Conference South Division MVP, along with sophomore forward Ryan Cresta (7-8-15), would not be skating Sunday due to a violation of MIAA rules involving alcohol that took place at a school dance Friday night.
Minus the pair, the Big Blue struggled getting shots on goal, managing just 23 and eventually losing 4-1.
“The guys that were here today played their hearts out,” said Swampscott coach Geno Faia. “There’s nothing we can do about it.
“We had a history-making season. They’ve got a lot to be proud of. All the excitement in the town — any of these guys thinking about going elsewhere just have to take a hard look at the experience these guys just had. It’s a big positive for the program.”Pat Bradley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.