For hockey players, becoming champions was unfinished business

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Ethan Spozarski

The boys hockey team gather one last time with Dr. Lutz and Mr. Saras around the Pen and State Cups.

Last March, the Baldwin ice hockey team qualified for the finals of the Penguins Cup, but lost its chance to play in the championship game when the pandemic broke out.

Now, a year later, the hockey team has won not only the Pens Cup, but also its first state championship since 1988. 

Junior Nelson Buys said that winning states “will probably forever go down as the best feeling in my life.”

“Last year was tough, making it all the way to the Pens Cup and then not being able to play. A lot of the seniors last year took it to heart, and we were very upset, knowing they could have won a championship,” Buys said. “However, that makes the win this year that much better.”

Senior Keith Reed said his favorite moment from his four years on the team was being able to hoist not only the Pens Cup but also the state championship cup alongside his teammates. 

“Making it that far in my junior year last year and then being shut down felt terrible, but it gave us as a team all the motivation this year to become state champs,” Reed said.

The Highlander hockey team has gone 39-2 in its past two seasons. 

“We had a lot of returning players, so we had a strong core. We knew we had another strong team, and we used that as fuel for this year’s season,” junior goalie Eddie Nowicki said. 

Nowicki himself also played a huge role in the team’s success this year.

Nowicki made varsity last season, but never started. This season he started and finished almost every game, and he stopped 96 percent of the shots he faced throughout the regular season. 

“Obviously with how last year went, I feel like the bar was set very high for me,” he said. “But I feel really honored to be able to start and finish almost every game this year and be able to help my team win whenever it was important.” 

Buys said the team’s rivalry with the Thomas Jefferson Jaguars provided some of the best memories of the season.

Baldwin’s only loss during the regular season came to TJ. When the Highlanders faced them again in the semifinals of the Pens Cup tournament, TJ briefly led the game, but Baldwin scored three unanswered goals in the third period to win, 5-2.

“When we beat TJ it was a surreal feeling, and those feelings lasted all throughout the rest of the playoffs and made us feel like we had what it takes to win it all.””

— Nelson Buys

Junior Trevor Belak said that being faced with COVID-19 protocols and restrictions were probably the biggest challenge the Highlanders faced this season. The state shut down all winter sports for three weeks in December, and the hockey team had to quarantine during the playoffs.

“It was definitely a challenge at the beginning of the year just to get used to everything, like how early we had to come into the rink or just wearing masks all the time,” Belak said. “It was different. Sometimes we were only seeing a handful of people because of restrictions.” 

While going through a season, most teams have to deal with key players getting injured or sick. That did not happen with the Highlanders this year.

“We lucked out,” Belak said. “It is very tough every year because you don’t know what you are going to get or what is going to happen,” he said. “Luckily, no one got hurt or sick this season.” 

While the team will be losing some valuable pieces to their lineup with seniors graduating, that won’t stop the team from looking to continue the success of the past two seasons, Belak said.

“Hopefully we can enjoy next season a little more, but we are still going to put in twice the work. Even if we are losing a group of players, we are going to get it done in the end,” he said.