By Mike Dougherty
MONSEY — There was loud music and boisterous laughter upstairs in the Suffern locker room while the players got ready for the first practice of the hockey season. It took only a couple of words to drastically change the mood once all of the hopefuls assembled on the ice Wednesday at Sport-O-Rama.
“Goal line,” shouted Mounties coach Rob Schelling.
And for the next several minutes, the players were sprinting the length of the ice until they were nearly breathless. It’s a ritual they look forward to every season.
“I was excited and anxious, definitely, there was no sleep at my house last night at all,” senior co-captain Nick Modica said. “You go through every game of the season in your mind and kinda figure how you want things to pan out.”
Suffern is looking to win a fifth consecutive Section 1 championship.
“I got so many texts last night from alumni telling me how they wished they were skating with us today,” Schelling said. “And when you hear the kids coming into my office saying that they didn’t sleep last night and how much they’re looking forward to this first day, it really brings me back and shows what this means to play high school hockey. It’s something that revives me.”
Mamaroneck was the first team in Section 1 to practice, hitting the ice at Hommocks Park Ice Rink promptly at 5 a.m.
The season is opening later than usual. Teams were practicing on Nov. 5 a year ago, but according to Section 1 executive director Jen Simmons, the executive committee agreed to push the start back after participating athletic directors voted in favor of a later date, noting conflicts with fall sports. She also indicated a number of districts were against starting this past Monday because schools were closed.
A majority of the schools upstate have been on the ice for nearly two weeks.
Suffern went 19-4 last season, but left the ice at Sport-O-Rama dealing with disappointment after falling 3-2 to Saratoga in a regional playoff. The goal is to get back to Utica and play for another Division 1 state title.
The graduating seniors were big on intangibles and will not be easy to replace. And two more holes in the lineup were created when Tom Mahoney and Joe Verboys left for private schools. The Mounties have a habit of producing talented underclassmen when a need arises.
“Again, I use the word tradition a lot, but it’s great to see these kids fill in year after year,” Schelling said.
Hill and Modica will play a big role in getting the underclassmen ready along with assistant captain Tom Brennan.
“The main thing is just to stay calm, keep your composure, especially in the big games with the big crowds. Play simple and it’s going to work out for you,” Hill said. “There might be a little extra pressure to win, but I think it plays to our advantage that we’ve been there.”