SPRINGFIELD - It was a bold prediction, but one that the Patriots are thrilled came true.
The words came after a practice in early January, while the North Middlesex Regional ice hockey team was in the midst of a 5-2 start to the season. Senior defensemen PJ Dupre made a confident proclamation, declaring that the team was a legitimate championship contender after years of hardship.
"I think we'll make the playoffs, easily. Fifteen wins is what I'm hoping for," he said.
It seemed sincere, not the type of boast made by a high school player out of arrogance, but rather one born from belief in his team.
Fifteen wins is exactly what the Patriots racked up in the regular season, but they were far from done. Even Dupre, full of confidence earlier in the campaign, couldn't have imagined finishing the season 19-3-2 and winning the Division 3A state title in a 12-0 rout of Wahconah.
"When I said that, I was just shooting for the stars," an emotional Dupre said after Thursday's win. "Honestly, I never imagined that. I wasn't sure we could do it."
For a group of seniors who started their high school careers with a three-win freshman season, a victory like Thursday's was a long time coming. Falling just three times all season, the Patriots were the definition of a complete team, outscoring opponents 114-46.
"I couldn't be more proud of these boys.
The eight seniors on the team knew of tough times from seasons past, so when things began clicking, it was obvious to them that this year's team had potential.
"Once we got our lines set and started putting pucks in the net, we knew we had something special," netminder Ryan Twomey said. "There's no better feeling than being a part of this team."
All eight seniors saw time in the win, led by Danny McNamara's four goals and one assist, and Twomey's sterling - if a bit unchallenged - six-save performance between the pipes.
In time, the team will certainly be able to look back and realize just how special the season was. But for now, it's a new and overwhelming experience and one every player has dreamed of.
"I can't even describe how excited I am," Dupre said. "I don't think anything could top this."
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