by Matt Gajtka
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — In the scheme of a season, last weekend produced a pair of momentum-building victories for the Bishop Kearney 18U boys hockey team.
With the New York state tournament coming up this weekend, that’s no small result.
The fifth-ranked 18Us will have to get past the No. 6 Long Island Gulls, No. 7 Buffalo Regals and the No. 23 Nichols School, among others, in order to advance to nationals, so beating the Philadelphia Hockey Club twice by a combined score of 13-2 can only be a good thing for collective confidence.
But in the grander scheme of what BK Selects is trying to build, last weekend held greater significance than what happened on the ice. Prior to Saturday’s game, Bishop Kearney celebrated the first-ever boys hockey graduating class.
“The more I think about it, the more I realize I’m a part of something really special,” said captain Jack Henry (Auburn, N.Y./Yale). “I get to leave my mark here at BK and hopefully it impacts others in a way that excites them to come here as well.”
As Henry alludes to, joining BK Selects was a leap of faith for the 12 boys who make up the Class of ’22: Henry, Tyler Stern (Plainsview, N.Y.), Jaden Dyke (St. Johns, Newfoundland), Miles Meltzer (Frisco, Texas), Steven Reganato (Holbrook, N.Y.), Michael English (Smithtown, N.Y.), Dillon Cooney (Marlton, Pa.), Hans Ulvebne (Oslo, Norway), Michael Kadlecik (Lansing, N.Y.), Josh O’Connor (Halifax, Nova Scotia), Luke Cimpello (Cincinnati, Ohio) and Drew Hansen (Mahwah, N.J.).
Yes, the girls program has long established itself as one of the powers in American amateur hockey, but as of 18 months ago — in the midst of a pandemic, mind you — the entire boys program was merely a concept.
That’s easy to forget with all four boys teams now ranked in the country’s top 10, each legitimate contenders to win at nationals, but that was the reality.
So, how was this level of rapid progress possible?
“We just care,” said 18Us head coach David Arduin. “We care so much about these kids. We invest so much of our time into their betterment and becoming who they are. The hockey component is so little and you realize it on a night like that.”
The night he refers to started with a banquet last Saturday afternoon at Rochester staple Fiamma Centro. Bishop Kearney president Steve Salluzzo spoke, with Arduin and assistant coach Zachary Vit remarking on each senior individually. Boys hockey director Chris Collins also presented to the group, as did friends of each senior and a couple of last year’s alumni, via recorded videos.
On top of that, the seniors’ parents put together a 20-minute video featuring childhood photos and, as Arduin winkingly called it, “some sad music” to accompany the images. Capping it off, several seniors themselves took the opportunity to say a few words on the dais.
“I guarantee no team in the country had a senior night like that,” Arduin said. “We came in with no expectations and it turned into an emotional reflection. It was our way of showing that us coaches have learned something in our lives and we want to give it back to someone else.”
Stern feels that love and appreciation — and he says it’s mutual.
“Being in this family, wearing that logo on my chest for the past two years,” he said, “those are things I have embraced and loved. Being a part of the inaugural graduating class is something that I do not take lightly.
“I know this program is going to be successful for many years to come, and I am so lucky and thankful to have been a part of the team that helped set the standard of excellence here.”
And, much like Arduin, Stern attributes the rapid rise of BK Selects on the boys’ side to relationships, more so than forechecks, power plays and penalty kills.
“My teammates, my coaches and members and coaches of the younger teams have become my extended family,” Stern said. “I have made bonds and friendships that will never be broken and memories that will never be forgotten in my two years here.
“This is all thanks to the first-class culture and atmosphere at BK. It truly has been home for me.”
Once the players and staff adjourned to the Rochester Ice Center for the rematch with Philadelphia, there was a short pregame ceremony involving parents and loved ones at center ice. From there, it was time to face off for the final time before the postseason, in front of members of the 16U, 15O and 14U teams who toted airhorns and a banner to power the cheering section.
The result — an 8-0 win — seemed a fitting culmination to the weekend.
“There was no way we were going to lose after that banquet,” Arduin said. “You aren’t going to look down that bench and question anybody’s intentions.”
After a couple of weeks away from competition, consider the rust knocked off the 18Us’ wheels. Up next for all four BK Selects boys teams is a three-game round robin at Northtown Center in suburban Buffalo, with the top four Empire State teams advancing to the semifinals.
“I think we’re in great shape,” Henry said. “We’ve been playing some good hockey and we’re feeling good heading into the weekend.
“We’ve been preparing all season for these last few weeks, and I’ve got the utmost confidence in our group.”
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