WILMINGTON — Steven Hines had his pregame speech prepared. He readied himself, walked into the St. John’s Prep hockey locker room ... and nearly broke down in tears.
There, sitting before him, were 25-odd young men wearing star-spangled red, white and blue hockey jerseys with military beige on the sleeves. The uniforms — being worn by the Eagles in honor of Hines’ late son, 1st Lt. Derek Hines — were a complete surprise to everyone outside the hockey program, worn specifically for this day.
“I did all I could not to break down,” confessed Hines, his son a former hockey captain at St. John’s Prep (Class of 1999) and the United States Military Academy at West Point who went on to join the 173rd Airborne Division. Tragically, the Newburyport native was killed in September 2005 in Afghanistan while conducting security operations.
The fifth annual Derek Hines Memorial Game was played at the Ristuccia Arena on Saturday afternoon between two of the state’s premier programs, St. John’s Prep and visiting BC High. In dedicating their performance to the Hines family, the host Eagles avenged an earlier loss to their foes from Dorchester while taking a commanding lead in the Catholic Conference title chase by earning a 3-2 victory.
“It’s an honor to wear this shirt for Derek,” said Prep captain Brian Pinho, who along with his father, Jim, helped design the special sweaters the team wore, depicting a waving flag covered with stars and the SJP insignia across it. “The least we could have done is win the game for him; I’m so glad we were able to.”
Third line left wing James Currier, the Prep’s offensive star with two second-period goals, including the game-winner, said it felt as good knowing the team was helping the Hines family and raising money to support the 1st Lt. Derek Hines Soldiers Assistance Fund (which provides financial assistance to Bay State military families who have incurred serious, career-ending or life-threatening injuries) as it did to get the actual win.
“It means the world to us to be able to do this for the family and for such a great cause,” said the 16-year-old from Middleton.
Accompanied by his wife, Sue, Steven Hines was presented with a check for the Hines Foundation prior to the game by the St. John’s Prep captains: Derek Osbahr, Brent Murray and Pinho. The entire Eagles’ squad then came over and huddled with the family near the Zamboni entrance at Ristuccia before a thunderous roar from the crowd, and a special jersey similar to the one the players wore with Hines’ old No. 23 hung behind the Prep bench for the duration of the contest.
At game’s end, the royal blue 1980s satin jacket normally given to the Prep’s top performer in a game was instead presented to the Hines family by Hanson.
Steven Hines knew that many of the Prep players had read about Derek on the Internet or had heard stories about his son, but he wanted to relay something more personal to them in his pregame speech.
“I told them a conversation that Derek had with his best friend growing up, Eddie Hill (who played pro hockey in the AHL and ECHL) after he had been in Afghanistan for a few months,” Steven Hines said. “Derek told Eddie that flying in a helicopter getting ready to jump out and surprise the Taliban on a mission was the same feeling he had in the locker room before a hockey game.
“I told the (St. John’s Prep players), ‘You’re lucky to experience that feeling.’”
The elder Hines also spoke of his son’s leadership qualities and what made him a beloved hockey captain and lieutenant. He relayed another story about how his son went back out into the field during heavy fire to retrieve some mortar rounds that were left behind instead of sending one of his soldiers out to do the job.
“He did that because his soldiers were his teammates,” said Steven Hines, and it was clear Derek did so because didn’t want to differentiate himself from his men.
The message he delivered before they took the ice against BC High on Saturday clearly resonated with the Eagles.
“Mr. Hines gave us the whole story about his work ethic, Derek as a person ... it was really powerful,” Currier said.
“He talked about how Derek was a true leader,” Pinho said, “how he played the game and how he was as a lieutenant. It really hit home.”
“After Steven spoke, I didn’t say anything afterwards. I didn’t need to,” Hanson said.
As for the game itself, St. John’s Prep continued its torrid pace. Since the calendar turned to 2013, the Eagles have been the complete opposite of the actual temperatures that have blanketed the region. Saturday’s win gave them their seventh win in eight games this month, bumping their overall record to 11-2.
The triumph also increased their standings in the Catholic Conference — which they have not won since 1994, head coach Kristian Hanson’s senior season — to 5-1 with two league games remaining: home vs. Catholic Memorial on Wednesday (8 p.m.) and Xaverian on Saturday (5:40 p.m.).
“I’d say it was a pretty good day overall, wouldn’t you?” asked Hanson as he was getting ready to leave the rink.
Indeed it was for all involved.
Phil Stacey is the sports editor of The Salem News. Contact him at email@example.com or 978-338-2650 and follow him on Twitter @PhilStacey_SN.