Brunswick School begins its ice hockey season on the road Thursday, a scenario it must quickly get used to. Besides practice, the Bruins won’t spend too much time at Hartong Rink the first month of the season as at least 12 of their first 13 games are on the road — starting with Thursday’s 5 p.m. game at Loomis Chaffee School.
Indeed, the Bruins certainly need to be Road Warriors the early part of the season.
“It’s a tough way to start the year, but we have played well on the road in the past,” Brunswick coach Ron VanBelle said. “We have one showcase and two holiday tournaments, that’s why we have so many road games at the beginning of the season. But we have to be able to win on the road. By the new year, we’ll know if we are a good road team or not.”
Said Bruins senior co-captain/defenseman Ryan Carmichael: “We really have to get off to a good start, that will set the tone for the rest of the year. Our team has veterans who can get us through the rough patch on the road at the beginning of the season. If we come out of the early part of the season with a good record, we can be in good position for the playoffs.”
Qualifying for the postseason has become commonplace for the Bruins of late. Brunswick advanced to the semifinals of the New England Prep School Ice Hockey Association Large School Tournament last winter, where it lost to Avon Old Farms School 7-2 in a game in which the score was tied at 1 after the first period. They also earned playoff berths the 2015 and 2014 seasons.
“A lot of guys on our team have been playing together on the same team for a while, so our expectations are higher than ever,” Bruins senior forward/co-captain Christian LeSueur said. “We have been to the playoffs the last three years and our goal is to keep moving forward. We are strong enough and good enough to do it.”
Playing a New England Division I schedule since 2009, Brunswick’s season is always loaded with daunting challenges. The Bruins’ upcoming road games add to the list.
“Experience will be key for us,” VanBelle said. “Some of these guys have been on the team three or four years and have played in three or four playoff games. “They know what it takes to get there and they know that every game matters.
“Even though it’s a long season, when your playoff chances are based on strength of schedule and wins and losses, you have to be at your best each game.”
AT THE HELM: VanBelle begins his 13th season as coach of the Bruins. He guided Brunswick to a 17-10-5 record last season, including a 6-3 mark in one-goal games and a 4-0-2 showing in overtime. Michael Kennedy is entering his 13th season as an assistant coach, and Steven Mandes returns for his ninth year.
WHO’S GONE?: Graduation claimed forward Nick VanBelle, the squad’s leading scorer last season and the coach’s son. VanBelle is playing at Williams College. Starting goalie Strauss Mann, defenseman Tommy Napolitano, defenseman Grey Owens and backup goalie Kineo Gorman also graduated. Napolitano is playing at Middlebury College and Mann is playing for the Fargo Force of the USHL.
“It was a small graduating class of five guys that made a big impact,” Ron VanBelle said. “We graduated a lot of minutes.”
WHO’S BACK?: LeSueur was one of the Bruins’ top scorers last year. He has a knack for making plays in key situations. Carmichael is an offensive-minded defenseman possessing a strong shot from the blue line.
Forward Jack Forrest, who has committed to play at Williams College, brings skill and experience up front, as does senior Tim Carter. Seniors Brendan Gregoire, Nick Boardman and Wilson Stephenson are also expected to aid the Bruins offensively. Senior Patrick Burkinshaw should help solidify the defense, while junior Dan Dachille begins his first season as the squad’s starting goalie.
STRENGTHS: LeSueur, who is coming off a 21-goal, 19-assist season, is a tough matchup for any opponent. He starts the season with 117 career points (53 goals, 64 assists). Forrest tallied 10 goals last season, while Boardman and Burkinshaw each had five.
“We definitely have a lot of guys coming back who are used to working really hard,” LeSueur said. “We had some trouble scoring at times last year, but the hope is we are stronger in that area. It would give our goalie and defense a little more support if we have the ability to score more goals.”
Said Carmichael: “Defensively, we are really deep with some good puck-moving defenders. We have players who can navigate the blue line, find seams and get the puck to the net.”
CAPTAIN’S COMMENT: “Winning a championship is our goal,” Carmichael said. “I want to win a championship and put a banner on the wall here at Brunswick.”
SHOWDOWNS: Kent School (away, Dec. 6), Westminster School (away, Dec. 9), Trinity-Pawling School (home, Dec. 11), Taft School (home, Jan. 3), Salisbury School (home, Jan. 29), Lawrenceville School (away, Feb. 7). Brunswick will play in the Phillips Exeter Academy Invitational this weekend and the St. Sebastian’s Tournament Dec. 15-17. They will also compete in the Nichols-Belmont Hill Tournament at Belmont Hill Dec. 28-30.