Published DateGILFORD — It's often the small things that divide the good teams from the great. In the case of this year's Belmont-Gilford hockey team, the things that hamstrung the season turned out to be so small as to be microscopic.
"Ear infections, bronchitis, pneumonia, fever," said coach Jay Londer, listing the ailments that swept through his roster, beginning in January and continuing through Saturday, when the Bulldogs were knocked out of the NHIAA Division III tournament in a quarter-final matchup with Kennett. "It was a rollercoaster, we battled with adversity all season with sickness," he said.
Londer doesn't want to make excuses, though. After all, every team faces internal challenges every season. Indeed, the Bulldogs were often able to overcome their difficulty, fighting through their symptoms to put together a 12-6 season, earning the team the fourth seed in the tournament and a home playoff game. The Bulldogs couldn't keep up with the fifth-seeded Kennett, though, who came out strong, took a quick lead and held Bulldogs to a brief two-goal rally in the final period. The score was 5-2 when the final buzzer sounded. Kennett went on to face top-seeded Berlin in the semi-final round, played last night, when Kennett found itself on the losing side of a 5-2 decision. Berlin will face John Stark-Hopkinton on Saturday for the Division III title.
The recent season was Londer's fourth as coach of the Bulldogs. Twice his team has played its way into the semi-finals, twice the team's season has ended in the quarter-final round. Not yet has he taken a team to the final round, though he senses that he's getting closer to that level. And, despite an early departure this year from the playoffs, he saw evidence of that growth this year.
"It was a good season, we had young talent," he said. The team will graduate five seniors this year: Brandon Heimlich, Tevin Mitchell, Max Desmarais, Jeremy Wilson and the team's leading goal-scorer, Jeremy D'Amour. The departure of those players will allow Londer to see what his younger players can do, something he got a preview of this year due to injury.
Desmarais, a defenseman, broke his ankle in the final game of the regular season, forcing Londer to put freshman Nikolai Fernandez in the lineup against a hot Kennett team. Fernadez's performance tuned into an advanced audition for a spot in next year's starting line. "He looked great," said Londer. "He's a solid defenseman, he'll play a huge role for us next year."
With the loss of D'Amour, Londer loses a constant scoring threat, the kind of player that can skate past several defenders and beat the goalie at the other end of the ice. Coming up behind Jeremy, though, is his younger brother Andrew, a sophomore this year. "He's not his brother, they're two different players," said Londer. "Andrew's more of a playmaker, while Jeremy's a pure scorer." Andrew's year was something of a quantum leap in his development, said Londer, describing his early season play as "night and day" compared with how he played late in the season. "Andrew's going to be the real deal."
Another player that Londer's excited to have returning is goalie Calvin Davis, who will be a senior next year. "Calvin is, in my opinion, one of the best goalies in the league," said Londer. The team played this year without a bonafide reserve goalie, and Londer's hoping that a freshman will show up next year interested in tending the net. Otherwise, he'll be scrambling the season after next to convert a player to the goalkeeper position.
For the coming season, Londer foresees a team built on a young but solid defensive line and a dependable goalie. "We're not going to have that explosive scoring. I think we'll be a well-rounded team," he said.
"With the young team, I want to continue to push pace, to play at a high level every single day. Buckle down and work hard and push every to to be prepared to flip that switch when we need it. I think we get closer and closer every year."