“The story line this season was injuries,” said head coach Rich Minnix. “We made it to Yale and made this season a successful one. I would say this was a success.”
The Trojans were a heavy favorite back on Thanksgiving, the day before teams could officially hit the ice for tryouts. They had guys like defeseman Chris Blanchard and forward Hunter Boileau returning and a full season with forward Jack O’Brien, who had sat out half of the previous year after transfering from Xavier.
This was a Division III team with a chance to make it all the way.
But as the season started, Boileau was sidelined by a back injury and his return was continuously put off. With Boileau out for a good portion of the first half, the team was left in the hands of Blanchard — this is, until Blanchard went down himself with a broken wrist.
Now the Trojans were down both of their All-State players from last season.
“With the amount of injuries we had all season, it made the season tougher than we imagined,” said Minnix. “But we got healthy at the right time.”
When Boileau returned, the team was on a path back to where it wanted to be from Day 1. Then Jack O’Brien went down with a concussion and pulled the plug on his high school hockey career.
“Jack added the grittiness to this team,” said Minnix. “He worked hard and grinded every shift. It’s tough to see that happen to a kid.”
Injuries depleted the Trojans. Leadership and inspiration needed to come from somewhere on the ice.
“Markus Trahan kept this team together,” said Minnix. “Markus deserves all the praise and more than I can give him.”
Along with the defenseman Trahan, forwards Kyle Roberts and Scott Bradley made sure they did everything in their power to keep the team in the hunt.
By the SCC/SWC Division III championship game, Blanchard ed back. The Trojans were almost as healthy as they could hope to be.
“Scott had a great year,” said Minnix. “Same with Kyle. I expect those guys to step up again next year and take on heavy workloads.”
Next year: That’s what the Trojans are thinking about now. Five seniors are graduating and leaving big holes in the lineup, the biggest being in net.
“Finley stayed strong for us and battled when we were down,” said Minnix. “She sat for three years behind Zach O’Toole and waited for her chance to play. Not all goalies can do that.”
Finley VanHouten’s graduation leaves a giant question mark in the net. Christina Meadows was a freshman this season and is assumingly returning next season, but will still be young and very inexperienced. Her play this season came at the conclusion of games that weren’t close. Minnix expects several freshmen goalies to come in as well.
“We have an open competition,” said Minnix. “Come December 1, we will see what happens.”
Minnix went on to say that VanHouten was the backbone of the Trojans this season. Her play peaked at the right time. In the postseason tournaments, VanHouten made big saves against Division III powers like Woodstock and Newtown.
“She did her job and made the initial saves,” said Minnix.
In the scoring department, 50 points are graduating with Blanchard and Boileau. Those points will surely be made up with the likes of freshman Matt Petit and fellow returnees Bradley and Roberts. Boileau and Blanchard, did more than just score. For Minnix, they were cornerstones.
“Those two are a huge part of our success,” said Minnix. “They came in with me and I’ve had the opportunity to watch them grow. They will be missed, but these seniors put these guys in a good spot for the future.”
Even with the graduation of five seniors, Minnix does not view next season as a “rebuilding” year.
“These guys are just as hungry as ever,” said Minnix. “We are right there.”
The Trojans are in a good spot. They return Pettit and defenseman Connor Chorda, who played serious minutes this year as freshmen and made key contributions. The core group of retuning juniors includes Bradley, Josh Martinez, Jared Sullivan, Tommy Nelson, Sean McGee and Joe Naumenko.
“We’re looking to replace 50 points on the year,” said Minnix. “We are going to be a team that scores by committee.”
Martinez is a guy who is going to be looked upon for big minutes and more scoring next season. He did not get a lot of love this year on the scoresheet, but made plays that were important. He is a grinder, a hard forechecker and the type of player who is first into the corners and who will scrap with anyone on the other team.
“He’s going to step up into a leadership role for us next year,” said Minnix. “He’s one of those guys that is first on the puck, forces turnovers, which would lead to Boileau’s goals.”
Sullivan is another guy who will be looked to as a senior leader. Sullivan is the type of player who never draws a lot of attention to himself, which is a good and bad. Sullivan very rarely made mistakes this season and stayed in his comfort zone, but because of that he did not crack the scoresheet too often (13 points).
He will need to start playing a little bit more on the edge and get out of his comfort zone if he wants to make up the points the departure of Blanchard is taking away.
Three important seniors went down this season and the Trojans still found a way to be in the top four of Division III. That is no easy feat.
“We fought to the very end,” said Minnix. “I’m proud of this team.”