Lowell Catholic varsity hockey coach Mike Bardsley lives in a world that is both advantageous and complicated. With players from several different communities, he has access to much talent, but is then tasked with creating a unified team with players from differing youth programs.

Bardsley’s Methuen contingent is making this task a bit easier. With four players from Methuen in various positions, the Crusaders have a solid unit of friends on and off the ice.

Senior forward Braedyn Hiltz, senior defenseman Dante Gentile, junior forward Colin Robinson and junior goalie Keegan Winsor have all contributed to a team currently at 4-5-2 but looking to make a State Tournament push in the Commonwealth Athletic Conference. Coach Bardsley provides the tale of the tape on this Methuen foursome.

Braedyn Hiltz: “Braedyn is playing a huge role on the team this year. He plays a lot of minutes and is a big part of our penalty-killing unit. He has a ton of speed and plays a strong 200′ game. Braedyn is a hard-working player and will do whatever is asked of him. He is also a great shot blocker.” 

Dante Gentile: “Dante is a big part of our defensive core playing a regular shift. He is a big and physical player with a strong shot. As a junior, he did not get much playing time, but he has become a big part of our team. He has one of the strongest work ethics and is always making improvements.” 

Colin Robinson: “Colin is an all-around great athlete. He gives you 100% every single shift. He is a sponge, always asking questions to better himself and his team. Colin plays a big part on both the power play and penalty kill. He is a very physical player, likes to grind in the corners, and is never afraid to block shots.”

Keegan Winsor: “Keegan is a great kid. He has come a long way since last season becoming a vital part of our goaltending tandem with Sam DeChaves. He had a solid game against Lexington allowing only one goal and then had a shutout in a tough game against North Middlesex, saving 35 shots in a 2-0 victory. He is another one with a great work ethic and is always the first one on the ice at practice every day.” 

Hiltz, 17, talks about his teammates and the decision to study and play at Lowell Catholic: “Playing hockey with three other Methuen kids allows us to bond more often than others because of how close we live to each other. Before some of us had our licenses, we would carpool together to make things easier for our parents.

“I chose Lowell Catholic because my mom went to Catholic school and my dad appreciated the education that Catholic schools provide. I also went to middle school and was there from sixth grade. I felt comfortable going to Lowell Catholic since I’m mostly familiar with the campus and how things work within the school.”

Robinson, 16, the son of Laurie Devereaux, talks about the impact of Coach Bardsley and his preparation for a season: “Coach Bardsley is an amazing coach to play for and has definitely made me work my hardest. He is a funny guy who loves the sport and cares about all his players.

“I prepare for a season by playing half-season club hockey for the Islanders Hockey Club. I also go to the gym and workout when I am able. During the season, I step back on the gym because I don’t want to overwork myself. I just try to get exercise when I’m not playing hockey and get on the ice early for every practice.”

Hockey is a sport that requires a huge commitment. So how do these busy athletes create balance in their lives?

Gentile, 18, responds, “Balancing time is certainly challenging, but manageable. It’s really about working hard, leading by example, helping and picking up others, and staying positive. I had high expectations coming into this season. We have a solid team and I’m looking forward to us getting better every game in order to compete in the playoffs.”

As a goalie, Keegan Winsor, 17, is in a unique position on the team.

“I enjoy the challenges that come with it,” says the son of Methuen Firefighter Derek Winsor and wife Donna. “Before every practice and game, I try and follow a routine of stretching and warming up. I always try to stay focused on improving my game and maintaining a strong mental state.

“I do things off ice like wall ball to improve my hand-eye and reflexes. I try to stay in a routine so I’m prepared and continue to elevate my game. Every time we have morning practice, I wake up at 3:40am to give myself time to mentally and physically prepare for practice at 5:50am.”

Last season, Lowell Catholic lost to Tewksbury in the first round of the State Tournament. With the Methuen players and a solid overall roster, 2023-24 improvement remains the goal.

“I have high expectations for our team,” says Bardsley. “We have most of our returning players from last year – a solid core of seniors along with juniors, sophomores and some newcomers. We are strong on the defensive side with returning captain James Kierce and are looking for more offensive production. Jake Cabral, Matt Lumia and Danny Parent seem to have found the back of the net. 

“Kierce and captain Matt Cabral have done a great job getting players to buy into our system. We have a tight-knit group of players with a special bond. Team chemistry is such a huge part of a team’s success, and we harp on that with the boys. These kids spend every waking moment with each other and it shows with team camaraderie.” 

Other than Hiltz, who did not grow up in Methuen, the other trio of Methuenites see the value in the community connection now that that they are teammates with the Crusaders.

Says Winsor, “I enjoy playing with three other athletes from Methuen because it gives us common ground. I played some youth hockey with Colin. We also played on Methuen junior varsity when we were in the eighth grade.”

Robinson agrees, stating, “I always know someone’s near me because we all live in the same community. I played with Keegan and Dante for a year each in Methuen Youth Hockey, one in Mites and the other in Bantams. Methuen Youth Hockey allowed me to have fun and play with friends, and to get ready for my freshman year.”

Adds Gentile, the son of Brian and Julie Gentile, “Familiar faces make for a comfortable locker room. We get along well and support each other. I had either played or practiced with Colin and Keegan while in youth hockey. Knowing each other from Methuen Youth Hockey certainly helps us be comfortable as teammates.”

All of the Methuen players have interests and accomplishments away from hockey. Robinson plays baseball, works at Jay-Gees in Methuen and is an Honor Roll student. Gentile is a captain on the Lowell Catholic golf team and also plays lacrosse. He works at Heav’nly Donuts and is in the National Honor Society. Winsor plays varsity tennis for Lowell Catholic and also boxes. He is an Honors and Head of School list student.

Hiltz, the son of Brian and Lilla Hiltz, rounds out this impressive Methuen group playing lacrosse and attaining National Honor Society status in history and Spanish while being recognized for his GPA achievements.

He is hoping to continue his hockey career in college and puts the experience of this season with his Methuen compadres in perspective: “We always do workouts together and team bonding to prepare ourselves for the season. We also do captains’ practices to build up chemistry.

“It is all about growing as a team and bonding like a family. There are also spaghetti dinners at people’s houses. These are really great opportunities to talk with the guys and make core memories. I want to make sure that we seniors leave a mark on the team for the younger guys to follow. For us to improve, we need to listen to the coaches, pass the puck more and communicate with each other. This will allow us to be successful.”

 

Four Methuen student-athletes are playing some fine hockey at Lowell Catholic High School. They are (from left) seniors Braedyn Hiltz and Dante Gentile alongside juniors Keegan Winsor and Colin Robinson. Courtesy photos

Blitz Bits

Congratulations to MHS superstar pitcher MacKenzie Yirrell on her commitment to continue her academic and softball career at New England College … MHS wrestlers Joey Bolduc and Dom Gangi have also committed to study and compete at New England College … Ranger wrestler Vinny DeMaio recently posted career win number 100 and he is just a sophomore.

 

 

Joey Bolduc and Dom Gangi

 

MacKenzie Yirrell

 

 John Molori is an author, columnist, and a 2011 inductee into the Methuen Athletic Hall of Fame. Facebook: John Molori, Twitter @MoloriMedia. Email molorimedia@gmail.com