GHS ice hockey captains (l-r) Zack Caporale, Alex Rodriguez Jr. Kayden Hinchey, and Nick Huempfner
The 10 seniors on the Glastonbury High School ice hockey team have over a decade of experience playing together. They now hope that chemistry translates into some memorable wins over the next couple of months.
“The hockey community is a small community, but we are very tight. That’s what makes this group so special,” GHS head coach Ken Barse said of his seniors. “For years they watched outside of our boards and what they wanted most was to be on the ice with a G on their chest.”
Senior captains Zack Caporale, Alex Rodriguez Jr. Kayden Hinchey, and Nick Huempfner are leading a team on the ice that has battled a brutal schedule, along with the injury and illness bug.
Through 10 games, the Guardians stand at 4-6. The experienced team aims for a fruitful February and to be fully healthy by the time the start tourney rolls around in March.
“We are really like a band of brothers together,” said Caporale. “I’ve known these guys forever and we are willing to do anything. We’re willing to take a bullet for each other.”
Rodriguez Jr. added, “It’s a great feeling being together. I grew up with these guys and a lot of us played youth hockey together.”
Caporale and Rodriguez have helped engine the offense this winter.
Hinchey is the leader on the defensive end. He believes that the defense could be the key to a postseason run, saying, “All of the coaches say ‘defense wins championships’. We just have to have that communication and play for each other.”
Huempfner began the season on the defensive end before shifting to forward to fill a need.
“It’s a challenge going from one position to another but you just have to roll with it. You have to figure it out on the fly and I just do what the team needs me to do,” said Huempfner, “Now that I’m a leader on the team, it’s time to step up and be more of a threat offensively and defensively.”
Barse commended Huempfner for making the position change, saying, “Nick is doing an outstanding job as a forward.”
The longtime head coach, who is in his 26th season leading the program, has seen countless players come and go during his tenure, which includes state championships in 1999 and 2003.
Scott Hinchey, who is the head coach of boys’ lacrosse at GHS, was a player on the 1999 title team and is the father of Kayden Hinchey.
“Kayden is my first second-generation player, which is a daily reminder of how old I am,” Barse joked.
He added that he’s been to former players’ weddings and helped celebrate other big moments in their lives.
“Hockey is about relationships and these relationships are lifelong. Some people ask me why I keep coaching and it’s about those relationships,” said Barse.
Assistant coach, Alex Rodriguez Sr., has been alongside Barse and is now coaching his sons, Alex Jr. and sophomore Michael Rodriguez.
“It’s fun, it’s exciting. I’ve been coaching them both through youth hockey,” said Rodriguez Sr. “Anybody would dream of coaching their two boys all the way through high school.”
Rodriguez Sr. said his sons differ on the ice with Alex Jr. playing a more physical role and Michael taking a more cerebral approach.
The Rodriguez boys have grown up around the hockey program, developing a rapport with their current ice mates.
“They’re a tight group. They have been together since they were around 6-7 years old and they are together off the ice,” Rodriguez Sr. said of the seniors. “They’re all great kids and they are loyal to each other. When they battle out there they are looking out for each other.”
The team has looked strong in their four wins. They opened the season with a 4-2 victory over Branford and shutout North Branford (6-0) in game three. Following a three game-losing skid, the team rebounded with an impressive 4-2 victory over Farmington Valley.
The Rodriguez brothers combined for three goals in the victory over Farmington and freshman goalie Patrick Sullivan slowed a fierce Farmington attack that was averaging nearly four goals per game in their previous five wins.
The first-year netminder has earned the respect of his teammates and exceeded expectations with the coaching staff.
Caporale said that Sullivan has made the “biggest impact of any freshman that he’s seen.”
Coach Barse agreed, adding, “He has legs and speed like a senior, and the attitude and intensity of most seniors I’ve had. He is the real deal. His mental capacity to focus in the split second is what really drives him.”
Following an overtime loss to Wethersfield and another loss to South Windsor, the Guardians rebounded this past Saturday, Jan. 22, with a 2-1 win over Woodstock Academy. Both Rodriguez boys scored, with Michael netting the game-winner on an assist from Ben Jean. Caporale and Hinchey assisted on the first goal, while Sullivan made 37 saves to secure the victory.
The team has nine regular season games remaining, including a rematch against Wethersfield for Senior Night on Feb. 19. They finish with games at South Windsor and a home finale against Simsbury. All three games will be chances to avenge losses.
“There are too many ‘almost games’,” said Rodriguez Jr. “When we played East Haven and Wethersfield they were really close games but we fell apart in certain aspects. I promise you we won’t do that again.”
Hinchey added that Wethersfield is one of the better teams in the state and that the rematch will be a good measuring stick for the postseason.
The state tournament, which was not held a year ago during the COVID-shortened season, starts in early March. The last time the Guardians were in the postseason they knocked off East Catholic 3-2 in the first round and were set to take on top-seed Branford in round two before the remainder of the tourney was canceled in March of 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last year was a bit of a wash as the team lost their starting goalie to an injury and the team, who normally practices and plays at Trinity College, was displaced to Newington.
Now back at Trinity, the team wants to put the early season losses behind them and focus on a bigger goal.
Barse stated the regular season is an experiment, adding, “I’ve seen a lot of things in ice hockey. It doesn’t really matter what you do in the regular season. We’re not afraid to experiment if it makes us better later.”
“I would love to see us improve on our intensity in front of the net. We do a lot of puck watching,” added Barse, “It’s been a bizarre year. We’re always taking one guy from one spot and putting him in another. It’s like a chess match.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin