By Phil Stacey
---- — Only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of a wolf.
So states the Twitter account of Jake Straw, Beverly High senior right wing and staunch animal advocate and enthusiast.
“Wolves, they get a bad rap,” Straw said about his favorite animal. “Most people think, ‘Oh, the Big Bad Wolf’, but it’s not like that at all. They’re fascinating; it’s been that way for me ever since I was six and my grandfather took me to Wolf Hollow in Ipswich.”
With nine goals — third-best on the team — and 15 points this winter, Straw is one of many dangerous offensive players for the Panthers. He’ll look to add to those totals Monday night at the Tsongas Center in Lowell when his top-seeded Panthers (20-1-1) meet No. 3 Tewksbury (17-3-2) for the Division 2 North title (6 p.m.). A win would advance Beverly to its first-ever state final in hockey a week from tomorrow at the TD Garden in Boston.
There is no questioning Straw’s love of hockey; he enjoys the sport’s physical nature, the cold and winter in general, and being part of a group striving towards a common goal. But his love for any and all things involving animals is just as powerful — if not greater. Straw knows he’s not going to play in the National Hockey League, but dreams of how his love of the outdoors and wildlife can be combined into the ultimate career.
“If I didn’t make much money in my life but was in the wilderness studying and helping animals, I’d be a very happy man,” said Straw.
“I really love animals so much because they live in the moment and taught me how to relax and enjoy the little things in life,” he continued. “People tend to stress and worry about what’s next in life. Animals concentrate on the power they have at that moment.”
Dogs, reptiles, birds, fish — Straw has owned them all. He calls his Siberian Husky, Luna, “my best friend” and also currently owns a gecko and five tree frogs.
While other kids growing up watched cartoons, he’d tune in to Animal Planet or the National Geographic Channel. If he found a bird that was hurt in his backyard, he’d always try to help it.
“I’ve always been interested in the bigger picture, what’s going on in the world,” said Straw, who recently became a vegetarian. “Animals were my first interest before anything else. I got away from it when I was in middle school and tried to be a tough guy ... but thankfully, I came back to it.”
Straw, who volunteered at an animal shelter last year, does not mask his feelings when posting on his Twitter account about injustices he sees involving animals. “I can get pretty angry about it,” he admitted. “There’s a lot of animal abuse, unneeded hunting that does damage to the environment, factory farming and how they treat animals ... it’s awful. It’s really a global problem, and I want to get message that out there.”
He has an advocate and someone he can talk to about their similar interests on his own team in captain Matt Hamor. “He’s just like me; he’s a vegetarian and supports the environment greatly,” Straw said of Hamor, a Beverly defenseman. “He’s been a huge influence on me in that way.”
Rural colleges, where the wildlife is plentiful and majors such as Pre-Veterinary studies or Wildlife Biology are offered, were an easy decision for Straw to explore. He really likes the University of Vermont, some small schools in Maine and others out west, such as the University of Minnesota and the University of Montana.
“My dream has always been to work at Yellowstone National Park and study the endangered animals. That’s probably one of the most beautiful places on earth — and UMontana is only two hours away,” he said.
Straw’s love of hockey was nurtured by his father Jason, who played the sport as a youngster. As one of 10 seniors who have made up the core of the Beverly hockey program for the last few years and improved as a group each season, he’s completely comfortable where he’s been slotted.
On paper, that may be as a third line right wing skating with fellow seniors Kevin Lally in the middle and J.J. Bachini on the left side. But this is hardly the traditional public high school checking unit; rather, this trio doubles as a ‘second’ second line and can not only score (a combined 17 goals and 44 points among the three) but are all blessed with terrific skating speed and are responsible defensively in all three zones.
“I’m fine with my role,” said Straw, who also is a dangerous penalty killer paired with Lally. “I’m not a goal scorer per se, but I get the gritty goals. All of our lines pretty much play the same amount, and I’m comfortable out there with Kevin; he’s my guy. J.J. has been a great fit on the opposite wing, too.
“We’ve worked extremely hard this season and the coaches have pushed us harder than they ever have. And the leadership is great; the captains (Connor Irving, Sean Munzing and Hamor) really respect us all. We know what we’re capable of. We have extremely high expectations.”
Goals off of Straw’s stick seem to come at opportune times. He bagged the game-winner in a late season win over Division 1 Mansfield; prior to that, he had another big one in a 3-1 victory at Winthrop that clinched a second consecutive Northeastern Conference North title for the Panthers. He also had two snipes over another Division 1 foe, Triton, and had a pair of three-point outings against Wakefield and NEC rival Peabody.
He and his teammates watched Tewksbury knock off Marblehead, 3-2, in the Division 2 North semifinals prior to their own semifinal conquest of Lincoln-Sudbury this past Monday night. Straw said the Redmen had a strong defense, moved the puck well and used their finesse to create scoring chances. It’s a club, he said, that his Orange-and-Black will need to be physical with and score when the opportunities present themselves.
“For a lot of us, this is it. We want to enjoy it for as long as we can,” said Straw, who has two younger sisters in Izzy (a junior who plays for the Beverly/Danvers girls hockey team) and Anaiis, an eighth grader. “Me, I just want to contribute and do whatever the team needs me to do.
“The (Beverly) football team won (a Super Bowl in 2012), and now it’s our time. This is the team that’s going to do it. There’s no if’s, and’s or but’s.”