MIDDLETON –– St. John’s Prep senior captain Jake Vana almost shed a tear pregame in the locker room.
On the bench during the national anthem, goosebumps flared across his skin.
After the game, he sported a huge smile.
Vana poured in four goals as top-ranked St. John’s Prep topped No. 18 Newburyport, 6-2, in the 16th 1st Lt. Derek Hines Memorial Game at Essex Sports Center.
Derek Hines grew up in Newburyport and captained the hockey team at St. John’s Prep (1999). He also captained the Army hockey team at West Point, graduating in 2003. On Sept. 11, 2005, he was killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan.
His younger brother, Trevor, spoke to the Eagles before and after the game in addition to dropping the ceremonial puck with the team captains. Trevor Hines humanized his brother in an emotional speech, sharing stories of Derek’s time in Afghanistan and driving home the point of commitment to your brothers. His father, Steve, and mother, Susan, were also in attendance.
“To be able to continue to tell the story of Derek Hines and make him a name that is still so common in so many households in Massachusetts and throughout the hockey community is really special,” said Trevor.
On Friday night, Trevor and Steve attended the Army-Robert Morris game at West Point and showcased a challenge coin presented to the family by a three-star general and the game puck from Army hockey coach Brian Riley.
“Not one of these [players] was even born yet when Derek was killed,” said St. John’s Prep coach Kristian Hanson. “I try to remind them that Derek was a person, not just a mythical figure, not just a name. That’s his brother, that’s his mother, that’s his father. He sat in this locker just like you did. He wore a Prep hockey jersey. He was a captain here for us, and then he went to West Point and was a captain for them.
“We just try to bring that human element into it,” Hanson continued. “It gets really emotional. When Trevor speaks pregame, it really hits home. When he says ‘Don’t let Derek down’, that’s a lot of pressure. We’re grateful that the Hines family allows us to do what we do here, and our goal every year is less about raising the money and more about continuing the legacy.”
Prior to the game, the packed arena sang the national anthem together, from the student section in the upper section to the fans along the glass.
The moment was not lost on the Eagles (14-3-0), who raced out of the gate.
Senior Cam Umlah scored less than two minutes into the game and Vana tallied right before the five-minute mark off a designed faceoff play to put the Eagles ahead early.
Vana redirected a Brady Plaza shot into the back of the net in the second period before Mason Luciano potted a second period goal on the rush.
Vana completed his hat trick when he converted from the bumper position on the man advantage. After the puck struck netting, hats rained onto the ice and the crowd let out a boisterous ‘USA’ chant.
Vana proceeded to tuck a backhand inside the far post to complete his afternoon, alongside senior captains Christian Rosa and Johnny Tighe on the top line.
“It not only motivates you. It puts life into perspective for you of how grateful we are and should be for the life that we have,” said Vana. “People like Derek sacrifice their lives just so that we can play the game that we love and go to school with all of our friends. It gets your heartrate up. I almost shed a tear because it’s so meaningful and emotional.”
Seniors Tristan Joyce and Jackson DeVivo scored power-play goals for the Clippers (13-4-1).
The Eagles donned customized jerseys, pants, and socks that were black and gold for Derek’s commitment to his country in the armed forces. Parents and fans wore jerseys from Hines Memorial Games of years past. A banner with Derek’s face hung behind the away-side net.
The Eagles raised $42,000 for the Soldiers Assistance Fund in their collective desire to keep alive Derek’s memory.
“He’s an American hero and his story should and will forever be told,” his brother said. “I will not stop telling his story until the day that I die.”
Cam Kerry can be reached at email@example.com.