As part of this new season of MIAA hockey, the pandemic has led to a very different reality for most high school athletes, especially the seniors. Obviously the rules and regulations are new, but for the 2021 senior class this is their last ride of high school competition. Some may not have another chance to play competitive hockey while others will be able to move on to play juniors, prep or even collegiately. There are lots of great storylines this season that we want to shed some light on and we want to highlight senior forward Brandon Spaulding of Pope Francis. A star hockey player who plays on one of the top lines in the state and has stepped up his game in his final season as a budding power forward. Also a multi-sport athlete who stars on the lacrosse field, we sat down with him for a 1:1 interview that covers growing up in Western Mass, learning the game in the Springfield Rifles organization, what it means to be a defending MIAA Champion and his plans for next season.
Let’s start with the obvious: what does it mean to you to get to play your senior year of hockey, even in the midst of this pandemic?
A few months ago I was worried we weren’t going to have any games at all. It’s obviously great to have the opportunity to play so many games under these circumstances. I’ve worked hard to get to my senior year. It’s not quite what I hoped for with no fans and no bus but I’m thankful for this last opportunity with my teammates to represent Pope Francis hockey.
We noticed that hockey isn’t your only sport at Pope Francis, you also play lacrosse. What position do you play and what are some of the elements about lacrosse that drew you to playing?
In lacrosse, I generally play attack. I was drawn to the game by the speed of it. I figured it would play to my strengths – speed, quick feet, quick decisions. Lacrosse is a fun sport in the spring to stay on your feet and to stay in shape.
This Pope Francis team has been much discussed during the offseason as the odds-on favorite to be the top team in the MIAA again this season. Are these things that you or your teammates think about, or is the focus more on the next game?
We know that we are ranked as the top team in the MIAA, but the rankings don’t mean too much to us. We take it one game at a time. Our focus between games is improving whatever we didn’t do well last game. Every one of our opponents wants to knock us off the top of the rankings. We have stay motivated & focused.
You play on one of the best lines in the state with sophomores Ryan Leonard and Ryan Shaw: what type of chemistry do the three of you have that makes that line so deadly? Do you each have your own roles on that line?
I believe that we are the best line in the state. We have been together most of the past two seasons now so our chemistry is definitely there. We always seem to know where each other is going to be at all times. Things really started to click when we figured out how to cycle the puck off each other behind the net. I feel like the dirty work in the corners is one of the strengths of my game. Our cycling tends to wear down the other team as the game goes on, giving us more room to create, leading to goals. If you look at our goal breakdown by period, we tend to really score in bunches in the 2nd & 3rd periods. Ryan Leonard is definitely the finisher on the line. Ryan Shaw & myself are more the playmakers.
Last season you earned a Super 8 co-championship alongside Arlington as the two teams left standing at the end of the playoffs. Can you explain what that title means for Coach Foley, your teammates and to you personally?
After losing in the Garden the previous two years, this title meant everything to Coach Foley. The title was a great honor for the team as well. It was disappointing to not play the Final. I thought we were playing as well as we had all year. We were 1-1-1 with Arlington last year so we wanted that one last game to settle it once & for all. And I know they did too. We worked so hard all season to win the Super 8. But after some time had passed, we realized we should be proud of what we accomplished. Personally, it was great to FINALLY become a Super 8 champion. The 4 OT loss to BC High my sophomore year was heartbreaking. But it only fueled me to get another crack at the championship. I’m very proud to be part of the 1st Pope Francis team to ever win a Super 8 Championship.
Coach Foley has a tremendous track record of playoff success over the last few seasons, taking numerous Cardinal teams to the Garden. How is he able to get so much out of the teams you’ve been a part of and what is the mentality like within that locker room?
Coach Foley is a great coach who always pushes us to be better each and every day. Coach Foley is hard on us but he is only hard on us because he wants us to be great as both a team & individuals. We are always working on our weaknesses. I think it’s attention to detail – Coach isn’t afraid to make in-game adjustments. If the power play is struggling, he’ll change it up mid-game. There is always something you can do better. We enter every game with confidence because we know Coach Foley and our assistant coaches have done everything they can to prepare us for our opponent.
You grew up in Western Mass which has a hockey culture all its own. Can you describe what it means to have reached the summit of MIAA hockey for younger generations that come after?
Being from Western Mass, I think we play with a little bit of a chip on our shoulders. Some people don’t think there’s “good” hockey west of Worcester. Our counterparts in the Eastern part of the state tend to get a lot more attention so that can be frustrating at times. But it also provides motivation to prove people wrong. I feel I’m on the best team in the state right now. Going to Pope Francis has been a tremendous 4 years for me – it’s made me a better player & better person. I’d strongly recommend it to any young player coming up in the Western MA area.
You’ve played most of your youth hockey career with the Springfield Rifles organization. Can you speak a little to how you’ve grown as a player as you’ve played for them?
I’ve been playing for the Springfield Rifles since I was 8 years old. The Springfield Rifles formed me into the player I am today. The early years were tough – we were a new organization so we tended to lose quite a bit when we traveled East. But the coaches kept telling us we were playing the best competition and that would only make us better. And they were right. I know I can 100% say I improved each and every year with the Rifles. Coach Kervick in particular was a huge part of my development. I was always one of the smallest kids on the team, never considered the “top guy”. But he believed in me from day 1 and kept pushing me. My game really took off under his guidance. I will always be appreciative of his support.
For someone who has never seen you play hockey: how would you describe your game?
I would describe my game as being a 200-foot player. I try to pattern my game off of Patrice Bergeron as he is a solid defensive player but also a threat in the offensive zone. I pride myself on going to the dirty areas (the corners, front of the net) to get the job done. I like to play my game with speed and physicality.
Is there anything you are actively trying to work on?
There’s always room for improvement. Acceleration speed once I get the puck is something I’ve been focusing on. And I believe skating & shooting can always be improved. That will always be a work in progress for me.
Finally, do you plan to pursue playing hockey next season? Have you started thinking about what that might look like and where?
Yes I will be playing hockey next season. As of now, I have not made a decision of where I am going next season. I’ve been in contact with several prep schools for a PG year. I’ve also been in contact with several junior teams. But right now, I’m just trying to enjoy every minute of every game I have left as a member of the Pope Francis Cardinals.