What a season it was in the MIAA for 2021-22. There were a lot of new faces who took on larger roles across the state and with the new statewide playoff format, it required some getting used to by fans and players alike. One team that didn’t need to make many adjustments were the Eagles of St. John’s Prep in Danvers. After a strong 2020 Super 8 run that landed the team one game away from a share of the MIAA title, two seasons later in 2022 the team was a number 1 seed in the Division 1 bracket, notching wins along way over King Philip, Winchester, Braintree and BC High to get to the Finals at the TD Garden. There, they knocked out the 2 seeded Xaverian Hawks by a final of 6-2 and the player who played a significant role in that tilt was our selection to be Mr. Hockey: junior defenseman Aidan Holland.
Early in the game, St. John’s Prep and Xaverian were neck and neck until Holland delivered a massive hit near center ice that shifted the momentum and fundamentally changed how the game was played. The Prep poured on the physicality and pressure from there to capture the title.
We have been keeping an eye on Holland for the past two seasons and he really popped on our radar as a sophomore as one of the more focused and consistent defenders on the Eagles’ blue line. As a junior, he stepped his game up even further and was playing his best when the team needed him during the playoffs. His consistency at both ends was a big boost and made this award a unanimous selection for our scouts.
Midway through May we headed over to Danvers to present Aidan with the 2022 Mr. Hockey trophy and in the process, conducted a short interview to learn a bit more about his journey and reflect on the season and D1 Championship:
Q: What made this year’s St. John’s Prep team unique? What are one or two characteristics that really stood out that this was a team that had a chance to do something special?
A: We were all very close, from the freshmen to the seniors; the captains and even the coaches and managers: we were all close. We had running jokes on the bus, even during practices you could see the chemistry on the ice. We knew it right from the beginning because we were very close: a really tight knit group.
Q: Was there a moment during the season that you felt like there was something really special going on? A big win or a big moment that really solidified that you had a shot to win it all?
A: I think it was the first game of the season against Hingham. We came out of the gate and did very well. We all played together as a team; it was a great team effort and we ended up winning 8-2. Right after that game a bunch of us knew and even I knew that this was going to be something special.
Q: This was a very unique season once you got to the playoffs and this was the first year of the new statewide tournament format. From a player’s perspective, did you have to prepare differently or look at opponents differently? Was the game planning different?
A: We looked at every opponent the same. We looked at Xaverian the same way we looked at Winchester. We knew our game plan, we knew because of what we do every game that we could beat every team. We just went out there, looked at it the same way and played our game.
With the new format, I think the more games we played against different opponents worked more in our favor because it gave us momentum after beating each team and then we were ready for the next one.
Q: Can you take us through the Championship Game experience at the TD Garden? What was that atmosphere like and what was the support like from your classmates?
A: It was awesome, it was nothing like I’ve ever experienced before. As a team we all went out there for warmups, looked around, enjoyed the crowd but as soon as warmups ended and that first faceoff happened that’s when we knew this was a regular game, just like any other game we played during the season.
Q: How about when those last few seconds ticked off the clock, what is that feeling like? You’re about to finish the game off and you’re with the guys on the bench, what’s running through your mind?
A: It was…I was just…[long pause, a smile and some laughs]. I was on cloud nine, it was awesome. Those last few seconds…I just can’t explain it. It’s something that very few people get to experience and for me to be a part of that is something very special to me which I really liked.
Q: Let’s take it back to when you first started playing hockey, when you first got on the ice. What was it about hockey that really drew your interest?
A: I started playing hockey when I was 6 years old: we always had a backyard rink and my brother and I would always skate around and that’s really where we started to enjoy and learn the game. I have to say, hats off to my Mom: she was the one who always kept the rink clean and took all the leaves off while my brother and I would just skate around and wreck it up while she was there to keep it nice. So we have to give credit to her because without her it would really be a different part of my life.
Q: When you started out were you playing on a lot of local town teams? What youth programs led you to where you are today?
A: I started out with the Masco Hockey youth program and then for a lot of my youth hockey I played with the Middlesex Islanders, the 2005 team and my Dad was my coach, one of the coaches on the staff for that team. After that, I started playing over with the North Shore Wings and came up here for my high school career, which is where I am now.
Q: What was it about St. John’s Prep that really drew your interest, do you remember first setting foot on campus?
A: When I was looking at St. John’s Prep I was in 5th grade, applying to come here for 6th grade. I live roughly 10 minutes away from here so that was obviously important, but a story I can remember is from the first day I arrived when I toured the campus. I was walking through the gym and they had all these sports tables featuring the past trophies and I walked right over to the hockey table and they had the Super 8 title trophy from the 2015-16 year. I remember as soon as I saw that trophy I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. I said to myself: “this is the place I want to be”.
Q: Final question for you Aidan, you have a senior season coming up in your high school hockey career; have you set goals for your final season? Have you thought through what your next level goals are and what you are looking to accomplish moving forward?
A: My obvious goal is to play college hockey. I really think that is something that I’m capable of doing and it’s what I want to do. As far as college hockey goes, I’m looking for the best school for me and if that means playing juniors to get there, that’s something I will do. But as of now all paths are open for me. I’m willing to do anything to get to where it will help me most in my life in the future.