By Phil Stacey
---- — LOWELL — To be able to put something in perspective takes time.
That time is usually not about 15 minutes after your high school hockey career ended, when a range of emotions still is still coursing through your veins and the feeling of something you’ve put four years of your life into is gone — in many cases, forever.
But as they showed during an unexpectedly remarkable postseason run, Danvers is not your run-of-the-mill hockey team. And their seniors that skated off the ice at the Tsongas Center last night after falling to mighty Wilmington in the Division 2 North final were able to paint a picture of what it meant to represent the Blue-and-White with remarkable clarity not long thereafter.
“It’s been an honor to put on this jersey and represent the town,” said left wing A.J. Couto, who had both of his team’s goals in a 7-2 loss to the Wildcats. He finished the playoffs with 10 goals in four games, believed to be more than any other player in the state. “It’s meant so much to me.”
“I remember growing up watching all the games — my cousin, Alan Abbott, was on the 2001 state championship team — and wanting to be a part of it. I’m proud to have worn the Falcon,” added captain Rob Buchanan.
“The legacy of Danvers hockey is so strong,” continued Joe Strangie, another captain, “that to say I wore that jersey for four years is humbling. It’s been my life these last four years ... and I have no regrets.”
Let’s face it: no one had the Falcons one game away from playing at the Garden for the Division 2 state championship when the playoffs began. A hot start to the 2012-13 season gave way to some rough patches midseason. Even as the end of the regular season approached, the Falcons couldn’t find the consistency they craved; they never strung together more than two straight victories after Christmas.
“There were times I didn’t know if we’d make the playoffs,” Buchanan said.
But like brothers who can be at each other’s throats one minute but sticking up for one another the next, these Falcons always knew there was one word that best described them: family. Sure, things weren’t always smooth, but they stayed true to each other and rode out the rough patches together.
A strong 3-2 win over Triton in its regular season finale seemed to revitalize the club, and an easy first round playoff win (9-1 over Somerville) paved the way to a 4-3 upset over top-ranked Beverly in the North quarterfinals. From there, the Falcons kept flying and dispatched Concord-Carlisle, 5-3, before running into the buzzsaw that is Wilmington last night.
Seven seniors will no longer lace up the blades under the Danvers banner: defensemen Kevin Anderson and Shea Doyle, and forwards Adam Merry, Ben Wallace, Couto, Buchanan and Strangie. Throw in team manager Dan McKenna, who was as much a part of this team as anyone else, and that’s eight seniors who’ll be tough to replace.
“I’m proud to say I played with those guys the last three years,” said junior captain Kevin Hodgkins. “All those guys led us through the tough times we had and were great leaders.
Truth be told, Danvers’ best effort maybe could have beaten the Wildcats once in 10 tries. The defending Division 2 state champions are deep, full of skill and — at this level, anyway — immensely fast. They constantly pressured the Falcons in the defensive zone, passing the puck to spaces rather than to actual people to create odd-man rushes, and seemed to anticipate on-ice happenings seconds before they actually occurred.
“I’ve never seen a team as talented as that work as hard as they do,” admitted Strangie.
Losing to a team this proficient carries no shame.
Ending their high school hockey careers after a terrific postseason ride proves just the opposite.
“There might be 100 teams in Division 2 hockey in the state, but only one can win it all,” said Strangie. “To finish in the final four, that’s impressive.”
Phil Stacey is the sports editor of The Salem News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 978-338-2650, and follow him on Twitter @PhilStacey_SN.