The wind is blowing on a cold December morning, and a flicker of light can be seen coming from a second floor window. This light makes the misty air visible, caused by the dust blowing on the streets. It appears to be a ghost town. This time, however, instead of the cowboy usually seen on television, comes a teenager, the only person in sight. Equipped with a hockey bag and stick, he moves toward his destiny, the Walter Brown Arena hockey facility. This kid, along with others, makes up the prestigious Brookline hockey program.
When people speak about Brookline's hockey team, they say Brookline is just a town that has many talented players, and they come together to make a great team. Last year the team lost in the Division 1 State final, held in Boston Garden. Their opponent was the tough Barnstable team, and in front of thousands of fans, Brookline played its heart out, unfortunately losing in a tough seesaw battle.That game ended a memorable season and the careers of senior superstars Mike Kelley, Brandon Patey, Mike Kelleher, Andrew Ames, Dennis McCue and Sean Delaney.
Some may wonder how Brookline's players become so talented. Is it all God-given talent? How do they improve? The unique tradition of the two weekly morning practice sessions plays a big role in the caliber of their talent.
A majority of the kids on the team say that the worst part of the practices isn't the actual playing. It is getting up and preparing to play. One player, Raphael, said, "When you wake up and see that it's only 4: 00 or 4: 15 a.m., ninety percent of you is saying go back to bed and forget the whole thing. For some reason, that small ten percent makes you get up and prepare for practice. It must be because of the respect for the coaches and the team."
The kids start packing into the locker room at about 4: 55 a.m. Some walk sluggishly into the room practically asleep and go out onto the ice in the same manner. Every morning as Dave MacDonald walked into the room, he would whine, "I'm going home to get some sleep." However, Robert O'Leary explains, "I don't know what it is. It's just that once my blades touch the ice something tells me to wake up and put on a good showing because the coaches are watching."
Finally it's a little after 5: 00 a.m. and almost all are on the ice. One of the four coaches makes a final run to the locker room to yell at late arrivals. Then, practice officially begins. First everyone does a few laps while stretching all parts of their bodies. Next is a half hour of agility skating drills when the practice intensifies. The team practices quick starts, quick stops, and sharp turns. The uniforms grow damp with sweat and the pace slows after each drill. For the first time, one or two hop off the ice for a necessary break, which is only allowed if you absolutely can't continue. After each drill many players lean against the boards for a needed rest. This is when Coach Corcoran always adds his familiar quote: "Get off the boards! How can you be tired, you're all teenagers!"
The pucks are then brought out onto the ice and the team practices basic fundamentals, which include stick handling, shooting and passing. All team members definitely like this part the best because it gives each a chance to score goals and practice fancy shots. The head coach exploits the few players he picks on. He will yell at them for not skating their hardest, or for any small mistake (like not following directions). Sometimes he will embarrass a player, not because he dislikes him, but to get his point across.
Now comes the most vital part of practice. The team is broken into four lines, plus two goalies, and they practice plays used in games: breaking out of their zone, coverage of their zone and their opponent's and finally face-offs. When done, everyone is ready to get off the ice and change. As a relieved smile crosses each player's face, the coach says those famous words, "Everybody on the goal line." The team does various sprints for fifteen minutes. One poor soul went with the wrong line and was forced to do twenty-five push-ups. After the sprints, there is a race around the rink going forward and then backwards to cap it off.
It is now 6: 55 a.m. and the morning practice is over. A few kids who are in excellent shape leave the ice with no problem and begin changing. Most kids lean against the boards gasping for air, or skating very slowly around the rink so they don't tighten up. Eventually everyone is back in the locker room. Some are almost ready to leave and some are just beginning to change, still recovering from practice. Coach Piatelli makes his final entrance and leaves the team with a farewell phrase, "See you tomorrow morning, fellas."
The town awakens at the coming of 7 a.m. A cowboy saddles up his bag, and wipes the sweat from his steaming forehead. Glancing behind, he beckons his poss" onward, away from the silent confines of Walter Brown Arena. n
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.