Hope for the future

The crowd at Cyclones Arena was about 30 people, and the intensity level was not quite the same.

But for the hockey players from Hollis Brookline High School, the feeling was fantastic.

They were playing hockey, something they were told in mid-December that wouldn’t be possible after a low player turnout.

And they played with passion, in the memory of their departed teammate, Cam Ricard, who died in a car accident the night school officials asked the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association to remove HB from the Division III varsity schedule.

The NHIAA offered a compromise: The Cavaliers could play a junior varsity schedule. The school and hockey community jumped at the chance.

But it certainly wasn’t what they expected when practice began in late November.

“We’re making the best of a bad situation,’’ senior tri-captain Matt Mailloux said.. “Cam’s whole passion was hockey, and if we didn’t have a season, we’d have nothing to honor him with.”

Mailloux realized the first day of practice that the program might be in trouble player participation ebbing.

“We knew it was going to be a challenge from the very beginning, losing six or seven seniors from last year,’’ he said.

The drop to junior varsity level hockey hasn’t dampened the team’s enthusiasm, Mailloux said.

“It feels like hockey,” Mailloux said. “Whether it’s varsity, junior varsity, D 1, II or III, it doesn’t matter. Cam was one of my better friends.’’

Mailloux the chance to “just to be out there, and to know he’s out there with us.”

The Cavaliers should be back on the varsity level next year. Hollis officials, according to athletic
director Rhon Rupp, are working with the NHIAA and Derryfield School to form what is becoming prevalent option around the state. Rupp said the combined enrollment of the two schools would push the team up to Division II.

“But that’s OK,” Rupp said, adding that the final decision will be made by the NHIAA Classification Committee in April. “I think we’ll be better. We don’t want to co-op and get one or two kids. Derryfield told us we might be getting as many as 12.”

So, what happened to the once thriving program, which reached the Division III semifinals two years ago? Rupp noted that in the school’s first hockey season, 2006-07, they had 18 skaters, then 22 the next year.

But enrollment has gone down the last couple of years, and with an affluent community, some players’ families could afford to have them play at prep schools, private schools or in Juniors.

The Cavs, Rupp said, had as many as 15 players sign up for the team this year but only eight showed up the first day of practice, giving then-coach Ken DeCredico a concern.

DeCredico resigned shortly after the JV decision was made, citing a desire to spend more time with his family after being distraught over Ricard’s passing.

Assistant coach Wayne Nader stayed on to coach the JV season, and a coaching decision will be made in the off-season after all is settled.

“I’m so indebted to Wayne, he stepped right up,” Rupp said. “We’re pretty happy with everything. It’s been great.”

Nader, who is from Andover, Mass., says the players are taking everything seriously despite the JV status.

“The intensity is there,” he said. “The calmness is there, the comaraderie of the team is there. I won’t take the credit, the kids did it themselves. They pulled themselves together at a tough time.

“It’s been good for safety, for a building year, getting the kids with a little less skill some competition and some game time.”

“It’s a good motivation,” junior captain Kyle Stephens said. “I started to get to know Cam the last three years. It was a pleasure to play for him, and now that he’s not here, it makes you want to play even more, give 100 percent for him.

“It’s been fun. It’s not as competitive as it used to be, but I still enjoy playing.”

“Even though we’re not playing at the varsity level, we’re out here playing for Cam; it doesn’t matter what level we’re playing on,” junior captain Tom Johnson said.

“We’re still out here playing the sport that he loved. We’re trying to honor him out there, on and off the ice working hard.”

Johnson, who played last year and the month of December was tough.

“Hockey was taken away from us,” he said. “There were two blows; Cam’s passing and no hockey out there. If they had taken hockey away from us (completely) it would have been devastating. That’s not what Cam would have wanted.”

Nader said the game remains fun.

“Even the game that we lost, they still had smiles on their faces because they were playing hockey together,” Nader said.

The Cavs ended up beating Goffstown, and at last look were 3-1-1 on the season, with eight games left. This was a special game.

Ricard’s father, Bob Ricard, was at the game and hugged all the players after. It was his first time seeing them play.

“We’re just glad we’re out here playing hockey, playing the game that we love and that Cam loved,” Johnson said. “To be honest, I don’t care what level we play on. As long as we’re out there playing hockey, having fun, working hard.”

All signs indicate the NHIAA approvals needed for next year will be attained in a couple of months. If not, the JV experiment will end.

“If for some reason they say no,” Rupp said, “then we’re done with ice hockey.”