By the time he hangs up his skates at the end of the season, Bryan Hunter will be among the Shenendehowa hockey program’s career leaders in games, assists, points — and hatchets.
As in the tomahawk wielded by the athletic teams’ mascot.
“We give them out to reward play that doesn’t get a lot of notice, but still is very important to our success,” said Plainsmen coach Juan de la Rocha, who recognizes hard work and unselfish play with a hatchet decal, which the deserving player sticks on his helmet. “Take a look at No. 18 [Hunter’s helmet]. That says a lot about how he plays and what he means to this program.”
Hunter has known nothing but success since making the varsity as a freshman. The Plainsmen have been Section II champions each year, with Hunter playing more of a role each time.
The team’s leading scorer a year ago, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound winger captains this year’s team that went into the weekend 7-0-1 in the Capital District High School Hockey League and 13-1-3 overall.
“I’ve been fortunate,” said Hunter, also a member of the varsity baseball team. “Coach [de la Rocha] was telling us he only got to play in one sectional game. I’ve been on a team that won sectionals every year, and Shenendehowa has won it five years in a row.
“I think there’s a perception that we take it for granted, and that is not the case. We work hard, and we deserve what we get.”
Hunter, who will pursue a business degree at Siena College beginning next fall, has been working hard to perfect his game since he was able to lace up skates.
His father, Steve, played junior hockey in Canada. Hunter credits his passion for the game to genetics.
“I think I was born with a love for the game. I just want to go out there and play,” he said.
“My dad accomplished a lot in hockey. I know he wanted me to play hockey and I really wanted to play hockey. I wanted to follow in his footsteps.”
Hunter came up through the Clifton Park youth system in both hockey and baseball.
“My first love is hockey. Even my baseball coaches know that,” said Hunter, a first baseman who bats left and throws right. “I’m 100 percent committed during the baseball season, but hockey is my first love.”
That was eveident to de la Rocha and his staff, who moved Hunter, Adam Hitchko and E.J. Reuteman to varsity as freshmen.
“It’s very difficult to make this team as a freshman, and play,” said de la Rocha, who has guided the Plainsmen to five consecutive Section II championships. “But he could see the ice real well and had a real understanding of the game.”
Hunter was put on defense as a ninth-grader. His inclination to jump into the offense played a big part in his move to forward the next season.
“Toward the end of his sophomore year, we needed a spark on offense,” said de la Rocha. “He was great at moving the puck ahead, so it was an easy decision.
“He understands the game. He’s not a kid who’s going to get a bag of goals, though he has the ability to. He’s an unselfish player, he’s a setup man.”
Hunter’s 38 points (11 goals 27 assists) led the team last season. This year, his linemates, Jesse Elliott and A.J. Mangino, are second, and fifth, respectively, in scoring in the Capital District High School Hockey League.
“Jesse and I have played together for three years,” he said. “We work well together. This year, we were fortunate to get A.J. on the line with us. He’s fit in real well.”
Hunter has accepted the additional responsibilities of being a captain.
“I honestly don’t know which I like better, being the freshman who was asked to hang around with the varsity players, or being one of the seniors looked to to lead the team,” said Hunter, the third player in school history to play 100 varsity games.
And Hunter doesn’t shy away from the expectations that success has bred.
“People aren’t going to remember this team winning the sectional final, but they will remember us as the team that lost the sectional final,” said Hunter.
De la Rocha is counting on Hunter’s on- and off-ice contributions preventing that fate.
“Some kids are specialists, they have a great shot, they skate well,” he said. “Bryan’s a complete player with the ability to see and understand everything that’s going on when he’s on the ice.
“I remember at our banquet, last year, I said, ‘When he’s on, he’s the best player on the ice.’
“He’s got the ability to dominate.”
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