Good chemistry: A winning formula in hockey
At the start of the 2007-08 season, each member of the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) boys varsity hockey team received a tee-shirt emblazoned with the word, "Together." That one word perfectly summed up this group of 23 players and its coaches.
In practice, in games, on the ferry, on the bus, and off the ice, this year's squad was an especially close-knit unit that embraced the word as a mantra. They posted one of the best regular season records in school history, with only one loss in 20 games before bowing out of the state tournament in the regional semi-finals to an outstanding Sandwich team.
Following their playoff victory against Hanover on March 1, junior David Flanders summed up the team's philosophy. "Together- that's how we're going to do what we want to accomplish. We do everything we can as a team."
Junior Matt Flynn attributed the team's bond to the closeness of the community. "We have a lot of chemistry because we all grew up together. Playing with these guys for so long, you just know where they are on the ice, how they're moving, and how they play."
Head coach Matt Mincone and his staff began to get everyone on the same page from day one. "At the beginning of the season, I told them if you do it this way, you'll have fun; if you don't, you won't," he said. "They're a good group. It just takes a while to get things across. It's almost like they have to see it succeed before they believe in it."
Instilling a sense of selflessness is an essential part of any good coach's plan. Coach Mincone is no exception. One day at practice early in the season, several players arrived at the rink without their equipment bags. As a result, no player was allowed to wear his team jersey. "If one guy doesn't have a hat, no one wears a hat. If one guy doesn't have it, the rest of them have to step up for him," Coach Mincone said.
David Flanders summed up his team's style as fast, strong, and smart. He added, "We're not trying to be a rough team, but we're trying to get the point across that if you've got the puck, you're going to get hit."
Despite its no-nonsense, business-like approach on the ice, the team has its share of pranksters who provide needed comic relief during a long season.
In one instance, a player put clear tape on the bottom of another player's skates, causing him to make a rather un-coordinated entrance to the ice.
Game days are a more serious matter. "We focus. We try to get our heads in the game, usually in a calm, quiet sense," David said.
Each player has his own routine. Goalie Alex Minnehan likes to arrive at the arena an hour early and works out with assistant coach John Fiorito, sharpening his reflexes with a tennis ball.
For Matt Flynn, a good night's sleep, a good meal, and music does the trick. "If I'm on the bus going to the game, I try to listen to just regular soft music and then when I get to the rink, I start turning on the rock and the serious stuff and that helps you get focused," Matt said.
The positive team chemistry includes the coaches. "We compliment each other," Mr. Mincone said of the coaching staff. "That's why I love coming here every day. There're good days and bad days, but when we [the coaches] get together in here, we all think on the same plane. We know what they're good at and what they're not good at and that's what makes us stick together."
"When I started four years ago, this group of seniors were freshmen and there was a tradition here that we all stepped into," Mr. Fiorito said.
Taking into account that Coach Mincone guided the Vineyarders to their second state title in 2002 and through a four-win season in 2004, Mr. Fiorito said, "The biggest compliment - and I know this from talking to the kids - is that he hasn't changed."
Ryan Mundt, the leading scorer in Martha's Vineyard Regional High School history, said his former coach knows his stuff and explains things clearly on the ice. "He has two championship rings, so they [the players] know he has some sort of a clue as to what he's talking about," Mr. Mundt said.
The three captains - Mitchell Pachico, Joel Rebello, and Matt Flynn - provide vital leadership. Mr. Mincone describes Mitchell as a good all-around leader on and off the ice; Joel as the guy who will pick up his teammates during the game; Matt as a constant source of intensity; and goalie Alex Minnehan as an important leader in his own right.
Matt said being a captain is all about responsibility. "I feel like I have a voice. I can talk and people listen to me. I think when it gets down to business, people really listen and follow what you do and how you act."
Finding the right words for a pep talk doesn't always come easily to the junior. "It's hard to always talk in the locker room, to think of stuff to get them fired up and to get them prepared, but when the time comes it definitely does just come to you and you speak whatever you have on your mind," he said.
Relaxing in his office after a practice session before the Sandwich game, which turned out to be the team's last, Coach Mincone summed up the importance of each player fulfilling his role, right down to their chores in the locker room, "It's all in the details, that's what it's all about, not just now, but later in life," he said. "How they carry themselves is a reflection of this place, of me as a head coach, of the school, and that is important to them."
Ralph Stewart is a photographer and frequent contributor to The Times.