Purple Squirts Cap Off Season with Win Over Vineyard Rivals

By MARK ALAN LOVEWELL

It was 5:55 p.m. Tuesday, and the atmosphere on the ice was highly charged. The championship battle was about to begin. More than 80 people were on their feet at the Martha's Vineyard arena, shouting encouragement to two teams who had swept across the Cape and Nantucket since October to get here.

This was a salute to the Squirts.

Photo

Each team of nine and ten-year-old hockey players had triumphed over talented opponents in Dennis, Barnstable, Yarmouth and elsewhere. The irony in this pursuit is that the league final game ended here, back at home, between players who grew up together. The two top Squirt teams in the Cape and Islands were Vineyarders.

It was an awkward competition, unique in the history of the championship and certainly for youth hockey on the Island. When it was all over, MV-Purple beat MV-White, five goals to two, in an emotional game.

Bill Jacob, of Chilmark, coaches the Purple team. Bart Kent, a Vineyarder, coaches the White team. Neither imagined back in the autumn that when the teams were established that the final game of the season for both would be at home.

Some players on both sides have played together since they could walk.

"The hardest thing for both coaches is that the skaters joining the team came with a wide variety of experience," Mr. Jacob said. "Some played two years, some played five or six years. Some skaters started playing hockey when they were three or four years old."

MV-White was always the underdog prospect. "We went into the hockey season a little reluctant," Mr. Kent admitted. "The Purple team was expected to go undefeated. They had the veterans. We were going to be a developmental team."

Photo

But something happened from within. Call it synergy, something new arose between teammates that neither the coach nor the parents forecasted. Mr. Kent said the first big sign that his White team had something above the expected occurred in November when they went to an away game and played against Nantucket, a formidable opponent.

"I think we all became a family. We all spent the whole day together on Nantucket. It pulled us together," said Mr. Kent, a paint contractor who played varsity hockey when he was growing up. "We all knew that we had something."

They beat Nantucket 7 to 1. "We knew then that something was going on," Mr. Kent said. It was the first of seven wins. Their season leading up to the championship was impressive: 14 wins, five losses and one tie.

The only better team in the league was the undefeated MV-Purple.

Mr. Jacob had seven years of hockey coaching experience before taking on the Purple Squirts. Still, he was amazed that his players ended their season undefeated, with 20 wins, one cancellation and no losses.

"It is all about the kids. They are fantastic," Mr. Jacob said. Sure, there were some experienced players within the team. But Mr. Jacob said it is all the players working together that brings about goals and wins.

Photo

Mr. Jacob said his players worked a lot on their own strategy. "When the team was formed, we had some superstars but we also had a few that couldn't stand up. I am impressed that these kids helped each other. During the long season, they worked hard. The talented kids never got down on the less talented kids. That helped a lot."

Spirit and camaraderie off the ice is crucial to a team's success on the ice. There is a lot of down time, and the way teammates relate to each other off the ice becomes a guiding factor on the ice. Each player carries about as much equipment in a bag as he weighs.

It is a major commitment, too, for their families. There are a couple of practices a week and one or two games a weekend, many off-Island. Not to mention hockey is a very expensive sport.

Squirts games are short - there are three periods, each lasting 12 minutes. That is not a lot of time for an event that causes mothers and fathers and children to jump into the car and head for the Cape. It has to be about more than winning.

Every 12-member team has its pivotal players. Yet in youth hockey, as in all sports teams, it isn't always the scorers who make the team glow.

Photo

Goaltender Zoli Clarke of Chilmark is the team leader on the MV-White team. Throughout the season when the players rode the bus, young Mr. Clarke was there to get his teammates singing. Then there is the team's spirited female player, Callie Jackson, 9, of Vineyard Haven. Top scorer Kip Cooperrider, 10, of West Tisbury is usually a quiet MV-White team player. But on Tuesday he asserted himself and shot the puck in the net twice.

The Purple team had a host of good players. Nine-year-old Tyson Araujo is the team's best skater and scorer. Other top scorers include Harrison Rodrigues, Max Davies and Shay Hill. Connor Chisholm offered an assist in the last goal of the game. Emily Hammett was a defensive force.

So when the two top Squirt teams in the Cape and Islands had their showdown, it was no accident they both wore purple and white uniforms. They were Vineyarders.