College hockey attracts a big, enthusiastic Martha’s Vineyard crowd

Islanders welcomed the opportunity to watch top-ranked players square off in the first competition of its kind on the Vineyard.

Elmira goalkeeper Sal Magliocco faced 29 shots from Curry . — Photo by Sam Moore

American novelist Booth Tarkington once mused that genius often results from broad, simple strokes,

That was true last weekend, when high-quality college hockey came to the Island for the first time. More than 1,000 players, families, and Island hockey fans crowded the Martha’s Vineyard Ice Arena on Friday and Saturday to watch four nationally ranked Division 111 men’s hockey foes — Hobart College (N.Y.), Elmira College (N.Y.), Curry College (Mass.) and Salve Regina University (R.I.) — face off in Eastern College Athletic Conference Association games.

Players and fans came from throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe, and even from Aquinnah.

In the hockey scheme of things, the tournament was an unlikely event. The Martin Luther King Memorial Tournament is the brainchild of Salve Regina Coach Andy Buschetto with assists from Matt Mincone, a West Tisbury police officer and men’s hockey coach at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS), and from former MVRHS and college player Trey Rasmussen.

In an interview last week, Mr. Buschetto, now in his seventh year as the Salve Seahawks coach, explained how the tournament came about. “Trey played at Salve, a great kid, and we stayed friends. He introduced me to Matt Mincone at some point, and I ended up coaching the summer camp at the M.V. Ice Arena the past four years.

“I enjoy that. Islands kids aren’t like kids at a lot of summer camps. They work hard and show up for practice in work boots after a day at Bruno’s or landscaping at Donaroma’s. Matt and I were talking one day, and the idea for the tournament occurred to us,” he said.

And they knew just where to go for help. “We talked to the M.V. Ice Arena, and they donated the ice. Then we went to Paul Falvey,” he said.

Paul Falvey is the president of the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank, and, as luck would have it, is a hockey fan. Mr. Falvey played for Hingham High School and for Hamilton College in New York, and refereed college hockey for 12 years.

During a break in the action Friday afternoon, Mr. Falvey, fresh from dropping the first puck to open the tournament, was smiling. “Yes, they knew I was a hockey guy,” he said. “This event is very good for the Island. We’ve got several hundred people coming in off-season. It’s good for hotels, restaurants, and retailers, and for our kids to see good hockey at the college level.”

Mr. Falvey’s son, Paul, plays Division III hockey at Middlebury College in Vermont.

“There is not much difference between Division lll and Division l hockey because, essentially, there is no Division II hockey, so the difference is slight,” Mr. Falvey said.

Indeed. MVRHS Coach Mincone held his thumb and forefinger an inch apart before tournament play began on Friday. “This surface is smaller than college-size rinks; there’s is no place to hide. These games will be physical, and they will turn on mistakes,” he said.

He was spot-on. Only 17 goals were scored on the weekend of close-checking physical play, and more than a third of the scores came on power-play or shorthanded goals.

For the record, top-10 nationally ranked Hobart College won both their games. Highly ranked Elmira and giant killer Salve (which took down No. 1-ranked Trinity College coming into the weekend) were 1-1, and Curry College was 0-2 in the tournament.

“We’re planning to make this tournament an every-other-year event. The support from the Island community and businesses has been unbelievable,” Mr. Buschetto said on Saturday.

Island fans certainly loved the hard-hitting, fast action. Visiting fans, more accustomed to the speed and skill of the college players, were enraptured by the Island.

“Will I come back? In a heartbeat,” said Artie Knight of Toronto, here with his friend, whose son, Robby Simpson, plays for Elmira.

“I’ve never been to Martha’s Vineyard before. Do you guys know how lucky you are to live here?” he asked. And a lot of the Nolans came down from Dorchester to watch B.C. High grad Eddie Nolan lace ’em up for the Elmira Soaring Eagles.

On Saturday, Tiffany Merrick was in the press box, photographing son Blake playing for the Soaring Eagles. Mrs. Merrick and Blake hail from Fort Myers, Fla., of all places. “Wow. This place is fabulous. Never been here before. And they tell me I’ll love it more in summer,” she grinned.

MVRHS men’s and women’s varsity players were on hand, ushering and helping with tickets, programs, and services. On Saturday, MVRHS senior forward Barry MacDonald assessed what Vineyard kids, from PeeWees to varsity, were seeing.

“The speed and the skill, passes from tape to tape. It’s a lot more physical, and seeing it live for the first time is very different from watching it on TV. This is good for us. A lot of guys are thinking about playing at the next level, so it’s good to see what it’s like in person,” Barry said.

On Saturday afternoon, Mr. MacDonald and the full M.V. Arena house saw some serious hockey between highly ranked Elmira and a scrappy sub-500 Curry College team. Elmira had been thwarted by Salve on Friday, losing 3-1 in an extremely tight affair in which Salve took a 2-0 lead after two periods. Elmira closed to 2-1 in the third before Salve potted an empty-netter just before the buzzer.

Curry lost 4-1 to powerhouse Hobart in the Friday game, and was looking to upset Elmira.

Both teams took to the body early and often, and the teams played evenly for the first half of every period, but then Elmira’s physicality began to wear down Curry. The Colonels began to incur penalties, and while successful in killing off a two-man shorthand at one point, could not keep Elmira off the board, falling behind 1-0 after one.

Elmira extended its lead to 3-0 with a power-play goal and a 4-on-4 goal in a penalty-filled period that ended with three Elmira players and two Curry players in the sin bin. Each team scored in the third to end a contest in which 17 penalties, including two misconducts, were whistled. In between, Elmira managed to pour 51 shots on Curry goalkeeper Spencer Cookson (47 saves). Curry had 29 shots on Elmira keeper Sal Magliocco.