Kent goes on a Wild Ride to a Large School Championship, Learning it’s Easier to Handle Sitting Down

Kent goes on a Wild Ride to a Large School Championship, Learning it’s Easier to Handle Sitting Down

Kent School has had a lot of excellent hockey teams. This year was no different as we left the Avon Tournament in December with the impression that they were one of the best. We also thought there was more to get from their roster. Turns out it took a tough stretch and some simple advice to put it all together and win their first ever Prep Championship.

We spoke with Head Coach Dale Reinhardt about the season and how they were able to make a ten-game run where they went 9-0-1 culminating in hoisting the trophy at St. Anselm. First, we spoke about practices and the makeup of his team vs last season:

“Last year we lost a ton of close games, too many. We returned a number of key pieces from that group. Players like Giummo, McLain, Stich, Cobb, Contey, Pierce who were “heart and soul” types for three or four years. That is what made it so rewarding that those guys were our best players in the final game. We also added players like Dane Dowiak, Alex Laferriere and Michael Posma who took pressure off those returning players and allowed them to play a more comfortable role. We scored 50 more goals this year and a lot of them were scored by those three guys alone (56). As far as practices, we didn’t change too much. It all starts there. We practice at a high pace and build a lot of competition into our practices. I played for Paul Pearl and he also ran things that way and we had success often with less talent than other teams. We learned to compete on a daily basis, and never take a day, shift, or play off. We spend little time at the board, we build our conditioning into our practice and drills and compete all practice long. There is seldom a need to line them up and condition when we practice like that. It was an adjustment for some of the new guys, but they got there. Prep hockey can be eye opening for players coming from Midget hockey. The pace and less games make for more of a sprint. Having such a good core of leaders in our returning group allowed us to help one another learn that and we had a lot more great practices than we did average days”

Many teams note a turning point in a championship season and Kent is no different. Coach Reinhardt told use about a tough stretch they gave up big leads in each game, going 0-2-1:

“Late January was a turning point for sure. We went up 4-0 at Salisbury and lost 7-6. Went up 3-0 against Taft and settled for a 3-3 tie at home and then went up again at home against Westy and lost 4-3. Credit to all those teams but our ship was pointed in the wrong direction. It was never a question of work ethic, but just learning to manage games better and sacrifice for the betterment of the team. The kids never stopped working and we played Taft again on January 30th. It was a back and forth game and they scored to tie the game in the third. The “here we go again” crept in and could have derailed us for the remainder of the season. One of my assistants had the idea of having the team sit on the bench as opposed to stand. It created a greater sense of calm and stability that helped carry us through the emotional ups and downs of the game. It made a world of difference for our team as we were definitely an emotional bunch. Dowiak scored the winner early in the third and we never lost another game. We sat on the bench the rest of the year and really learned to focus on the next shift. That made all the difference.”

As we say at Neutral Zone, there is never really an off-season. That is true for prep schools as well as they prepare for graduating players, perhaps players that move on to the USHL and must replenish and improve their rosters. Dale explained their approach to recruiting:

“We have not traditionally done great with the Connecticut kids in my time at Kent. They tend to head to the traditional state powerhouses. We do well in the Atlantic District. My assistants Jeff Beck and Jake Bennett do a great job identifying players. They turn over every stone and use every connection. Dane Dowiak played for Coach Bennett previously so all those connections matter. Both my assistants are huge assets to our team and community and luckily, they recruit well too. Jake is full of energy and as the young guy on the staff really connects with the potential recruits. He works his tail off on the recruiting trail and burning up the phone lines. He has been a huge addition to our staff in that regard. Jeff plays a role in recruiting, but really is my resident sports psychologists. He helps me personally manage the ups and downs of the season. I think he has an uncanny ability to connect with the players on their level, communicate with them and give them a secondary voice to hear from. Jeff, Jake, and I don’t always see the game the same which I think is a huge asset. I am always saying this is ‘our team’ (players and coaches alike), not my team. I think that ownership allows for honest conversations and for the coaches to present different ideas of tackling the same issue. Not just the coaches either, as the course of the season went on, we put more and more trust in our players, late in games I would ask for the players input on what face-off plays they might want to run or what they were seeing on the powerplay. I think letting go of the reins a bit, which can be so hard for a coach, made us even more successful”

Finally, we had to ask Coach about the Lion mask which a player would receive from the previous wearer of the head after each win. We always got a laugh as some of the pictures on Twitter were interesting looking as the mask is a bit odd. Coach explained the mask:

“I bought it on Amazon. I thought it would be a cool thing and we found that the players often gave the mask to an unsung player. Someone who blocked a key shot or just played a solid 200 foot game. They had fun with it.”

As there has been some time to digest the entire season we asked Coach Reinhardt if there was anything that stood out. He answered pretty quickly:

“The fact that we lost so many close games last season and that in the final game our veteran really were our best players stood out. They learned how to win. They learned how to remain poised, sit down and get prepared to win the next shift. It was great to see and really is why we all coach”

Photo Courtesy of Kent School