With graduation season upon us for high schoolers, there is no better time to celebrate the Class of 2020. The circumstances this year are tough due to the COVID-19 pandemic: many of these young men and women lost the opportunity to finish out their last school year, go to the senior prom, walk at graduation ceremonies: it’s a truly unprecedented time in this country’s history.
But, there is something we can do. All season long we at MassNZ have been covering this senior class. In fact, we just published our list of the Top 130 MIAA Seniors we saw this season over on the main Neutral Zone site. We don’t want to let the on and off-ice efforts of these young men fall by the wayside as this pandemic has forced everyone to change their daily routines. This series will feature in-depth profiles where these seniors get to tell their own stories on their terms. We want to give them the platform to talk about what this year meant to them and what the future may have in store.
Debuting on Memorial Day, we have the story of the senior goalie for the Framingham Flyers: Jake Handy. Jake’s career has been pretty remarkable and over the last two seasons he was able to lead the Flyers into the Super 8, notching a few wins in the process during the second season. He finished the year this season by starting 27 games, earning a sparkling .941 save percentage and a 1.32 goals against average. But as you can see below, his statline is the last thing he takes away from his time in The ‘Ham.
MassNZ: Every goalie has a story about why they started playing in net, what got you started playing netminder?
Jake Handy: It started when everyone had to take a turn playing goalie back in mites, and one day I was called to be that guy. The first experience I had I actually hated, we won like 8-0 and it was a complete blowout, so I didn’t see much action and didn’t really see the point in playing goalie. After the game I was with my Dad in the car just hating on goalie and everything it had to offer because all I did that game was sit in the crease, little did I know that is where I would end up today. He did his best to get me to give it another chance since he played soccer goalie all his life, through the collegiate level. So eventually I did and it was amazing, and it turned out I wasn’t too bad at it either.
MassNZ: Did you grow up playing solely through the Framingham youth hockey program or were there other stops along the way?
Handy: As much as I would’ve loved to stay with Framingham through my whole youth career, there was a bit of a problem. I was half a year younger than many of my friends that played due to my birthday being in April. So every other year I would make the A team. I would go from team C one year (the year that I was behind) to team A the next year (when all of my friends moved up into the next age division). So by my peewee year I decided to play for the Minutemen Flames out of Marlboro where I stayed until the end of bantams. I did however play for Framingham while playing for the Flames one year when all of my friends moved up to the next division and I was still behind. I do not blame anyone for the fact that I could not make a higher team for Framingham, it was quite simply that the goalies a year ahead of me would secure the positions on the top teams, therefore leaving me with the last teams solely because there weren’t any spots left on the upper teams.
MassNZ: What was your progression like from freshman year to senior year?
Handy: Freshman year was huge for me. I did not play for the high school and instead played for both the Flames and the Framingham Bantam A team. It was a lot of time on the ice for me and I got to see a lot of reps from a lot of good teams we would play. Also, that year I worked a lot with Stop-It Goaltending especially over the summer, and from what my dad called it, the difference was “night and day” between my play at the beginning and at the end of my freshman year. On top of that, the high school team made it all the way to the D1 Tournament Final at the garden, which I attended. After that game, that is what drove me to work. I never had the opportunity to play in front of that many people before, and the possibility excited me. Beyond that I stayed for the D1A final and it kind of clicked in my head that I would do anything to be there.
Sophomore year was a bit of a slump and more of a learning experience. I got a lot of help from my goalie coach Herb who would be at almost every practice trying to help out the goalies. My sophomore year it was clear that Alex Moore would see most of the ice time as he was a 3-year starter and an amazing goalie. Alex, however, slept in one practice, which gave me my first start against Pope Francis. It was a disaster and we lost 6-0. Alex was a great mentor to me and I am grateful he took me under his wing that year. We did not have a great season, but honestly all I could think about was the year after.
My junior year started off a little poorly as I made a tough decision, and one that would cost me the starting position for a couple of games because I had missed two practices and a scrimmage, but I was back by the MHL Cup. From there (even though we lost that game in a shootout) it was all high hopes. We really had everyone buying into the team concept and having a goal behind what we were trying to do: make the Super 8. This continued by leading to a Cahoon Cup win and a game against BC High, at home I believe, on Jan 27th. The nerves were high, and we had nothing to lose. Our whole team played the games of our lives and we beat BC High 2-1 and little did I know that I would remember that game for probably the rest of my life. Junior year was almost all that I had hoped for, but in the third game of the Super 8, we fell to Hingham 3-0.
Senior year (this year) was some of the best hockey I think we could’ve played as a team. We again made the Super 8, we won the MHL Cup, and we were again buying into the brotherhood and team that we cared so much about. We beat some pretty good teams including Pope Francis which I had wanted to do since the 6-0 loss sophomore year, and 3-2 loss my junior year. We knew we could compete with any team in the state as all of our losses were by 1 goal, except one game where we lost by 2. Actually, my dad and I had a ritual every single game this past year where he would stand at the corner and before every game started after the warmups, we would flip each other off and hit the glass. It was really special for me to do that with him: it’s just a little thing that made this year special to me.
MassNZ: What would you say changed the most over your four years?
Handy: Beyond the play, what changed most was my character. One thing I believe I was too young to consider seriously was Coach Ortiz when he would say “hockey is more than a game” or “hockey is bigger than just us”. This couldn’t have been any clearer to me this past summer, right before senior year had started. To say Coach Ortiz was a mentor to me doesn’t do what he did day in and day out justice. He was more like a brother to me, and he would help me through some of the toughest and darkest times of my life and pull me out. But that summer was special, I had been going through some depression about some stuff from my childhood and I remember clearly the beautiful day that he asked me to talk with him. I was reluctant at first, but I wanted to hear him out. We talked for what felt like hours and for those few hours, we talked as equals, like he was not my coach, I was not his goalie or a kid in high school, we were just friends, talking. I honestly can’t describe the weight that had lifted off my chest that day, and I can honestly say I would not be the same Jake today if he was not there to guide me through my struggles and successes.
MassNZ: How would you describe your style of play to someone who has never seen you play before?
Handy: I’d describe it as athletic. Particularly this last season I spent every day in the gym and worked extremely hard to be better than I was in my junior year. The biggest issues I saw in my own play was strength, and that I needed to be a little bigger and stronger to be able to compete that much better. I used the strength to be very aggressive and really attack shooters because I knew I could recover swiftly and quickly to have my angles covered.
MassNZ: These past two seasons were pretty special for you and Framingham – what was it like to be a part of that special run?
Handy: These past two years not only were amazing for our teams to succeed in the sport, but also as people. We really bonded together and built a brotherhood and family that worked for each other so everyone could succeed individually, and as a group. I know I can go to these kids for anything at all. Just this past season I ended up having a Junior Bruins Tournament at UMass Amherst, so I called [former teammate] P.J. Conzo to see if I could spend the night as it was a 2-day tournament. Luckily he was around and let me stay with him. It was as if nothing had changed, we were still good friends and we talked about the season and life. It just really showed me that we are a family and that we really are there for each other and that is something that I’ll have with me for the rest of my life. Being a part of this team means family, but also it is hard to ignore how the community that backed us. Both the school and Framingham as a whole really made this year special; whether it was the packed home games with the crowd roaring, or the smiles we were able to put on people’s faces when we helped load turkeys into the cars of people who were in need of one this past Thanksgiving at a local elementary school. Playing for a town and community that cares this much about us and what we do means the world to me: and I’m sure many of my teammates share that feeling.
MassNZ: Your hometown crowd creates quite an atmosphere at Loring Arena – what do you remember most about them over your four years?
Handy: The fans are what really make it the best school to play for, in my opinion, in MA. It wasn’t really a question if we were going to have a crowd at home, it was more a question of how big. The game I will probably remember most from this year was the first round of the Super 8 hosting Arlington at home. I have never played to a crowd that big and never have I seen Loring so packed in all of the games I attended as a kid. It was really special walking onto the ice and just looking at all of the people who came to support us on our journey. This particular case was insane because you could feel the ground and walls vibrating from the noise in the locker room, and once we stepped out the door it erupted and it really boosted our confidence. That was one of the best hockey games I have ever been a part of.
MassNZ: What does it mean to you to pull on the Framingham jersey as you did for four seasons, representing your hometown?
Handy: When I put on the jersey it was special. A lot of kids wanted to be where I and my team was: in that locker room, so I never took it for granted. Because of the players, coaches, and community behind us every time I put on that jersey I made a promise to do as best I could and try my hardest to give my team a shot. For all of the people that showed up to the games: students, teachers, alumni: I wanted to give them a reason to come back, and to really enjoy watching us and what my team was trying to do.
MassNZ: Can you speak to why MIAA hockey was the right path for you? What makes it special?
Handy: MIAA hockey was the right path for me because it fit me. I loved my town, and I played with these kids my whole life. What it really came down to for me is that this is what was going to make me happy. I thought about playing club but after being at the D1 Final my freshman year and watching everyone around me pulling for Framingham, I couldn’t go to play for a club team. I had to make my town proud and finally leave my mark on the program. I also believe it was fair. Our playoffs give public school teams a chance to both compete with private schools and still make a good playoff run if they can’t compete with them. It also gives the chance for towns like mine to be able to compete and give private schools a run for their money with a good enough team, like we’ve had the last two seasons.
MassNZ: Over your four years, what is the most memorable moment that comes to mind for you, and why?
Handy: A clear moment would be the BC High game. There was just so much work at practice: we were working nonstop on their game and how we can combat them in order to win. When it came down to it, everyone did their job and not only that, they did their best job, it was a perfect storm. We all played our best games, and no one took a shift or shot off. On top of that Loring was packed and the air that game was different, there was just so much energy and some jitters which just made the atmosphere unforgettable. Off the ice though, more memorable to me were the talks I would have with Coach Ortiz, I couldn’t stress enough how much this man helped me through difficult times and really showed me how to become a better young man.
MassNZ: What will you miss the most about the boys and if you had one teammate to pick for a shootout, who’s your guy from this past year’s team?
Handy: I will miss every single one of my teammates. They all worked so hard and strived for success just as much as I did and everyone worked just as hard as the person next to them. But it is hard to forget their beautiful faces every Saturday morning for game-day breakfasts, they were pretty great and an amazing way to start off a game day. For the shootout it is hard to not go with Will Trischitta. This kid had an amazing year and there was a reason: he worked his ass off in the offseason and tried his best to be a captain that would show his strengths and guidance both on and off the ice. His hands are insane and his shot is extremely accurate and well placed. If I had to go against him in a shootout, I’d say he scores on me 8/10 times. His skill is simply remarkable and he is a force to be reckoned with.
MassNZ: This has been an unprecedented end to the season for the Class of 2020 and an odd way to start the summer – how have you been passing the time?
Handy: It has been quite interesting for my class to be faced with this virus over these past few months. Instead of looking for the bad I try to look for the good as there is a lot of it. You have health workers and heroes on the front line giving it their all trying to make everything as safe as it can be, and I can’t be thankful enough. For my class, it has been hard watching as prom and everything else we have worked so hard for for the past 4 years slip between our fingers, but I do think that this will just push us harder to strive for greatness. I really believe that this class has the potential to do even greater things. For myself, I try to stay active and workout/run as much as I can because I leave for Basic Training in 2 months, so my main focus is making sure I’m prepared for it as best I can. It has been really tough not seeing my teammates for a last send off though, and I fear I might be gone by the time social distancing is fully lifted.
MassNZ: What is next for you? We noticed Army National Guard listed on your Instagram – is that where you are heading next? If so, what got you interested in the National Guard?
Handy: Yes I am going into the Army National Guard. I have been interested in serving in law enforcement for some time, so I have enlisted in the military police. It is more community based and I can hold down a full time job while being enlisted. Plus, I wanted to go into law enforcement because not only am I learning techniques and skills, I am also able to go into the Police Academy while enlisted. The National Guard also pays for education and I am planning on getting a degree in criminal justice which is a huge help to keep me from having debt. The Guard is also able to help with the COVID-19 pandemic relief efforts so I am grateful that when I am back I could have a role in helping so many people.