Ice-ing on the cake

The 2010-2011 Marblehead boys ice hockey team (20-4-3) has been labeled one of the best teams the North Shore has ever seen and recently inducted into the Marblehead Hall of Fame. Heading into that season, they had a lot to prove as the team on paper was loaded, but they have yet to get over the hump of getting past the semifinals in the state tournament.

Led by captains Jake Kulevich, Ben Koopman, Ryan Dempsey, and Chris McLeod, the Headers aimed to make history. A coach on the team was Mark Tarmey, who played a role in the quest for the title.

“This team was made up of a good number of senior leaders. But when they were freshman in the 2007-2008 season, they caught fire in the second half of the season and made it to the state semifinals before losing to Scituate,” Tarmey said. “Sophomore year, they made the state quarterfinals, where they lost in a shootout. Then, in their junior year, they made the state semifinals before losing to Scituate again.”

“In our previous three years, we had pretty good opportunities to get to the Garden. We felt we had the talent and the overall build to win a state championship,” Kulevich said. “The expectation going into the final year was to not only get to the state championship but to win it.”

Both Tarmey and Kulevich described the group as “extremely close,” but mentioned that there were a few bumps in the road. One bump came early in the season when they lost to Lynn.

“Lynn had a decent team, and we lost to them 4-2 in December,” Tarmey said. “We outplayed and outshot them, but we lost, which was a wake-up call to the team. They were a formidable opponent, but we felt we needed to do better. Maybe we were a little too confident or thought it would be automatic. We knew we had to fix up.”

“I thought we had a stronger team than Lynn that year, but they always played us tough. I think they shut us down,” Kulevich said. “It was probably the best thing for our team. Maybe we weren’t going to beat everyone we thought we should, and it made us play every period like it was the third period of the state championship.”

Marblehead would then go on a tear heading into the postseason. Everyone knows that playoff hockey is different.

“We were in the position we wanted to be, but the reality of the postseason is it’s one and done,” Kulevich said. “You have to reset, and I remember feeling nervous before the first game. We were loose, and it was fun all during the regular season, but the moment before the postseason, the nerves of this is our last chance to do what we wanted to do. I don’t think we necessarily played well, but we did enough to get through and advanced round by round.”

Tarmey believed the team grew in confidence, which led them to the semifinal matchup against Pembroke.

“The best team we played all year was Pembroke. We thought we were going to play Westwood. Westwood, on paper, was the prohibitive favorite against Pembroke, but it became apparent right from the start of that game that Pembroke was going to be our toughest game,” Tarmey said.

Kulevich knew the semifinal game hadn’t been kind to them in recent years.

“The semifinals had been our ceiling, and we have yet to get past that point. Coach Tarmey knows the high school hockey circuit better than anyone. He had us prepared, and we knew it would be our toughest challenge to date,” Kulevich said. “I remember the game was at Harvard, which is a great place to play because the noise travels faster there. It felt like a true playoff hockey environment. I think our experience proved to be the difference in that game since we’ve been in so many tight games before.”

Marblehead went on to beat Pembroke 3-2 and booked their ticket to the Garden.

Now at the Garden, Kulevich said the team was confident that they would get the job done. 

“We went into that game as confident as we could have been. We were ready for that moment, and we felt it was a game we earned to play in. Throughout our time playing in Marblehead, our senior class more or less played hockey together for our entire lives,’ Kulevich said. “It was a uniquely close group for the amount of guys in our class. We felt we belonged on that stage.”

Kulevich scored two goals in the  6-3 win over Westfield to help Marblehead complete what they set out to win a state title.

Twelve years later, the team made more history by being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

“Having the team and the coaches there was amazing. It felt like one of the team dinners we had from back in the day,” Kulevich said. “There were a lot of laughs and jokes. It was a really good time.”

“I was very proud of them. These kids are great kids and well deserving,” Tarmey said. “I couldn’t be happier. The Hall of Fame golf tournament and night were special. It was great to get the team back together. We haven’t all been in the same venue for a long time, and 90% of the team made it. It was great to catch up with all of them and see how they developed as young men.”