Feb. 26—The mentality had to shift for the five seniors on the Edward Little boys hockey team.
After the COVID-19 pandemic shortened the 2021 regular season and nixed the postseason, the objective this winter couldn’t be the seniors — defensemen Marius Morneau, Will Cassidy and Colin Merritt and forwards Keegan Moon and Michael Braga — leading the Red Eddies on another deep playoff run. So, instead, their focus became helping prepare the underclassmen for next year and beyond.
“At times I wanted to put myself in front of other people, but the way I was thinking about it, I said, ‘This (pandemic) is going to end eventually,'” Merritt said. “Especially for these freshmen and sophomores, they have two, three years left, so I really wanted to give them a good experience.”
The message from the seniors to the underclassmen throughout the pandemic was simple.
“Stay locked in, stay true to the team, make the right choices around the community, school — whatever you have to do to be good for next year,” Morneau said.
Braga swings from the varsity and junior varsity teams this season after spending the first three seasons on the JV squad. While the other four seniors are bringing leadership to the varsity team, Braga can be a leader to the junior varsity players.
“I know one day they will be seniors, and they could be the captain of the varsity team,” Braga said. “I can show them how to lead a team.”
With no playoffs this winter, the Red Eddies won’t be able to finish what they started last year when they won nine straight games to reach the state semifinals before losing in triple overtime to Scarborough.
“We finally got over the hump, we finally learned the little things that we needed to do in order to get to the next level,” Edward Little coach Norm Gagne said. “That’s why I wanted them so bad to get that state championship game, because (then) they can see what it takes to get there. It’s not an easy climb; I don’t care who you are, what you got for talent, you have to make adjustments, you have to have the cohesiveness within yourself and within the team in order to do the things you do.”
The Red Eddies have steadily improved under Gagne’s leadership, advancing one step closer to the state championship game in each of his first three years as the program’s head coach.
This year’s class of seniors is the first that Gagne has coached for all four years. Gagne has told each senior class to lead the underclassmen with character, commitment, cohesiveness and to do right even when no one is watching.
The pandemic has required the current group of seniors to go above and beyond.
“Coach Gagne has had morals for 40 years, and he preaches those,” Cassidy said. “You have to develop a relationship with every kid. If you have a relationship with them, you are more likely to understand them and practice what the coach preaches.”
Cassidy was able to learn about leadership from his older brother Ben, who graduated in 2019, and he hopes he can pass on those same lessons to his younger brother Campbell, a sophomore forward on the varsity team this season.
One of Gagne’s first orders of business during his first season coaching Edward Little, 2017-18, was making sure relationships were built between the seniors and underclassmen.
“I have always said, you can’t have a youngster coming in feeling confident if he’s being put down all the time,” Gagne said. “You have to nurture those guys so when you get in the big game, they are going to do their job if they feel confident.”
Gagne said this group of seniors has done a good job of taking the season one day at a time, not knowing what the next day is going to bring.
The group hopes their leadership will help the team in the years to come.
“I hope we do leave a good, lasting legacy,” Moon said. “I hope we teach them how to lead better and hopefully they lead the younger guys (when they are seniors).”
The seniors are confident about the future of the program.
“Just planting that leadership role in these kids and showing them what it takes, and I see it in a lot of these kids,” Merritt said. “I think the future is definitely bright for the team.”
Although they won’t be the ones on the ice, should the Red Eddies one day win the program’s third Class A state championship, Gagne wants this year’s seniors to know that they played an important role.
“I said (to them), ‘You have to remember when we do win a state championship, you played a big part in that. Your legacy is to leave that leadership with (the underclassmen), and that nurturing with them, teaching the younger kids,'” Gagne said. “When (the underclassmen) do achieve that goal — I do believe we are going to, I really do — that (the seniors) can feel proud in the fact that they are a part of that. As a matter of fact, I plan, if we do reach that goal, that (this year’s seniors) will be invited to a gathering because they are all a part of this.”