Thursday February 28, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- The Colonels varsity boys hockey team are a blue-collar bunch for sure. Just ask the team’s head coach, Eric Libardoni. "We’re not pretty," he said. "You make do with what you have, and at the same time you have to convince the team they don’t need anything else but each other."

Okay, they might be a raggedy crew, but another thing is certain: Libardoni’s lads can sure play some mean hockey.

The Colonels capped their regular season record off at 17-3 after defeating Northfield, 4-1, Wednesday afternoon at Memorial Park.

The team’s Andy Harris and Nik Rancourt each scored two goals, and goalie Greg DiSilva had 18 saves, to stonewall the visitors.

The win earns them the No. 2 seed as they head into the playoffs.

It’s the best record the team has had under the BUHS coach, now in his sixth year with the program, and there’s a reason for this.

"We work together a lot in the off-season," said Libardoni. "Many of the guys play together in other sports, like football and lacrosse, and I encourage them to do this, to build teamwork. The players work hard and try not to make any excuses. It’s a bond you can’t find anywhere else."

Word around the rink, is that Libardoni is one tough coach, and even he thinks it’s true. But he says it with a warm smile.

"Most of the players want the discipline -- they want to be pushed," said Libardoni. "We’re not always the best of friends."

Those may seem like harsh words, but the coach and his players realize their importance. In fact, it is this encouragement that has helped make the program what it is today.

"The players need to trust that you got their back, but at the same time, they have to know that someone is in charge, and they must be willing to do what is asked of them. For example, if you look at how much better this group of seniors has gotten since they were freshmen, it is unbelievable."

The team’s seniors, who include Harris, Rancourt, Jimmy Podlaski, Adam Griffin, Romello Lindsey, and Philip Perkins, were honored Wednesday during the school’s Senior Night.

For the first three years of his career, Harris had trouble finding the back of the net, noted his coach. What he’s become, is one of the state’s most highly rated forwards, and he leads his team with 27 goals, and 17 assists. "About five or six games into the season, he started hitting everything," said Libardoni. "Harris has been on fire for the last 10 games. Right now, he’s as good a player as anyone in the league. He does everything for us."

Rancourt racked up 17 goals, and 19 assists, after the team’s coaches recognized much he improved since last season. Rancourt started playing hockey in eighth grade. Most kids get on the ice when they’re in Kindergarten.

A spark for the team, Podlaski piled up 15 goals on his season. Podlaski offers a lot of energy for the team, according to Libardoni. He had eight points as a junior, and improved to 30 this go around.

Perkins has 10 goals on the season, with 18 assists. Those are decent numbers for a defenseman, who likes to go for the big hit. He, Braxton Lynn, and Cooper Turner Renaud are so consistent on the Colonel defense, they only allow about 20 shots per game.

Of course the offense has a much easier time when you’ve got a guy like DiSilva in the net, who has a 94% save average. "He’s been a lot more focused this year," said his coach. "DiSilva struggled as a freshman, but he’s developed a swagger about him and plays as if he’s the best player on the ice. Goalies can’t be passive, and they need confidence almost bordering on cockiness."

DiSilva has earned nine shutouts in 19 games.

And you can’t discount the defense in front of him, which include Turner Renaud, Jon Curtis, and Perkins. "Our whole team commits to defense, which is why we have been so successful," said Libardoni.

Griffin, who led the team in scoring last year, ended his regular season with 12 goals, and seven assists. Griffin is a clutch player, who scored four game-winners this season, all while battling a knee-injury.

Lindsey has 12 goals and over 30 points. "A rock for our team," said Libardoni.

David Aquino can be reached at daquino@reformer.com, or by calling 802-254-2311, ext. 163.