Former SPM Star Garrett Hehir Latest To Carry On Cushing Tradition

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Former SPM star Garrett Hehir latest to carry on Cushing tradition

The Cushing Academy boys’ hockey program has built quite an impressive tradition to the point where anything less than a New England Prep School Division 1 title here is viewed as a wasted season. Of couse, when your program has produced such stars as Jeff Norton, Tom Poti, Chris Bourque and Keith Yandle, to name a few, you can afford to have those lofty goals.

When Rob Gagnon took over three years ago, he knew he had some large shoes (skates?) to fill taking over for Steve Jacobs, who amassed 564 victories and two Division 1 championships over a 22-year span before stepping down.

“Steve is the foundation of Cushing hockey,” Gagnon said. “Having the opportunity to step in after him is a true privilege and also with that privilege comes a lot of responsibility.”

A multi-sport standout athlete at South Windsor (Conn.) High School and Avon Old Farms Academy, Gagnon went on to play four years for the University of New Hampshire. Following graduation, he coached at Hebron Academy in Maine, guiding that program to a New England Prep Division 2 crown in 2005-06.

The Penguins (16-6-2) have faced some of the top prep school hockey programs in New England and have been paced by former St. Peter-Marian star Garrett Hehir. The junior leads the team with more than 40 points, putting him among the top scorers in New England.

Hehir spent one season with the Guardians before taking his talents to Ashburnham.

“When I first came here I was hoping things would turn out good, but I never expected it to be this good,” said Hehir, who plays right wing. “I’ve met so many people here that I never would’ve met if I had stayed in Worcester. During my freshman year, my father (Bobby) and I agreed it would be better for me to attend a prep school. Through hockey I’ve become a much-better player and have learned so much. Academically, the teachers here work very close with you and are always trying to help you. I’m glad I made the decision to come here.”

With a roster that includes 11 players under age 18, the Penguins are a young squad. They are driven by a senior group including Sam Boyd, Steve Inman, Liam Moorfield-Yee, Corey Scammon, Sam Langrock, Collin Bourque, Kyle O’Brien, Mike Walker, Chad Hardy and locals Anthony Laperriere (Winchendon) and J.R. LaPointe (Gardner).

“Because we are so young once in a while we’ll get an untimely penalty,” Gagnon said. “That’s a reflection of the youth. But from a skill set, people look at us as being one of the most-skilled teams in all New England.”

Hehir is viewed as a leader by his teammates, due largely to his relentless work ethic. He wears a 25-pound vest for approximately 30 minutes every practice to increase his overall speed, agility and quickness.

“I believe the best part of Garrett’s game lies ahead of him,” Gagnon said. “He sees what it takes to get to the next level. He’s a Division 1 college player hands down. Garrett’s responsibilities are to come here every day, work hard and make his teammates better; he has done that extremely well.”

The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Hehir is being looked at by several Hockey East programs but is hoping to play for Boston University, Boston College or Northeastern. He says his dream is to one day play in the Beanpot Tournament. Before that can happen though, Hehir knows there is still unfinished business at Cushing.

“We control our own destiny right now,” he said. “It’s all on us to run the table and get into the playoffs. Once we do that, then anything can happen.”

Slap Shots
Although Nipmuc was forced to disband its hockey team following last season due to financial concerns, the Warriors were able to find a willing co-op partner in the Northbridge. That has blossomed into a winning partnership that has the unit 10-4 and bound for the playoffs.

“Financially it was an enormous burden for the Nipmuc booster club to raise nearly $30,000 every year to fund hockey,” Rams coach Greg Ostopowich said. “I think in a pragmatic sense the merger helps both schools in terms of money and overall depth. Because of the increase in numbers we are now able to add junior varsity and freshman programs.”

Thirteen of the players attend Nipmuc while the rest are from Northbridge or Sutton High. J.T. Adee, a four-year senior defenseman, resides in Northbridge but opted for school choice to Nipmuc, said he knew with Nipmuc hockey was in trouble at the end of last season.

“We knew a change was needed and for the Nipmuc kids to still be able to play,” Adee said. “Northbridge was looking the same way in regards to where their future was headed. This merger has become a perfect fit. It has made a huge difference for both schools. As a team, we’ve developed together, have grown together and have learned to like one another.”

“Right now no one should be satisfied with the record we have and everyone should want to go for a championship. What I would like to see moving forward is for everyone to continue to have that drive that has carried us throughout this season.”

Over the years, one of the things Ostopowich has grown concerned with is depth. There were times not long ago when the Rams were close to forfeiting contests due to low numbers due to various injuries. This is the first year Ostopowich has been able to rest a little easier.

John McGuirk

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