SIMI VALLEY, CA. – In any arena, it’s always best to know who’s passing you the puck.

With 6:36 remaining in the third period of a hockey game against California State University Northridge, Bridgewater State University sophomore Patrick Hilton scored on a power play goal, a one-timer from inside the right faceoff circle that secured the Bears’ 3-1 victory. The goal was remarkable for more than its beauty: Hilton, a Plymouth native, teed up the puck on a pass from Jason Norwood, a Plymouth native, who had received it from Jake Fleet, a Plymouth native, who had been flipped the rubber disc from Evan Hallissey – you guessed it – a Plymouth native.

The town is well represented on this year’s BSU hockey Bears – six players, also including Cole Reposa and Andrew Berlo – make for a hometown connection that is a rarity in college athletics. Bridgewater State plays in the American Collegiate Hockey Association and was in California to play two Los Angeles area university teams late last week.

“Whenever we have a power play, we send out our ‘Mayflower unit,’” said Bears head coach Mike Monahan, now in his 12th year behind the bench. “They are our leaders out there.”

And their play helps explain much of the Bears’ recent success in the ACHA.

“It’s a comfort thing,” Norwood said. “We just know where each is going. Pat’s always in his spot.” 

Plymouth’s BSU Bears cut their teeth in the town’s youth hockey program before going on to play for their respective high school teams, five of them for North and Berlo for South.

“We all started together in power skating,” Reposa recalled, “so we have lots of stories to tell, lots of memories of being on the ice together.”

Staggered in age by a three-year span, the skaters played in the same age categories in some years of youth hockey, but in separate categories in others. High school hockey divided them again.

“I’ve played with and against these guys for years,” Berlo said. “It’s kind of cool.”

“I’d never met [Berlo] before this year,” Reposa added, “but we have been on the same ice often.”

“Yeah,” Berlo, a forward, responded, “you lit me up!”

“The local hockey culture is very big,” Hallissey said. “If you could win only one game a season, it would have to be the one against South.” That’s the annual game when the stands in Armstrong Arena are groaning under the weight of hundreds of partisans trading cheers for their teams.

These Bears attribute at least a part of their love of the game to their parents and siblings. Each claims his father as the one who introduced him to the sport, and from whom they inherited a love of hockey. The fathers were also the ones who were most honest with their sons after games. 

“My Dad once said, ‘I’ll tell you when you’ve played a bad game, but I will always tell you when you’ve played a good one, too,’” Hallissey said. That kind of support is magnified by the many parents and friends who regularly make the trek from Plymouth to Bridgewater and across New England to see the Bears play. A handful of parents even travelled to California in mid-January to see the team face off against the University of California Santa Barbara and Cal State Northridge. They were rewarded with a two-game sweep: 8-5 and 3-1 wins.

Not far down on their list of credits for their success are the players’ coaches in Plymouth youth hockey. Among those they remember most fondly are Mark Zayac and Dick Duddy. They “always emphasized having fun while taking the game seriously,” Fleet said.

For Hilton, who started his collegiate hockey career at NCAA Division 3 Post University in Connecticut, finding fun in the game led him to return to New England and his friends now playing at BSU. “I was talking to Fleeter and he told me all about the thing they had going at BSU. And so I looked into it and decided to come.”

Advantage Bridgewater. The Bears are 2-0 since Hilton joined the lineup after Christmas.

And the talent that Hilton and his mates exhibit is just the tip of an iceberg. Plymouth natives can be found on college ice hockey rosters across America, at both the NCAA and club levels. Connor Sullivan plays varsity hockey at Yale as do Robert Cronin at University of New Hampshire, and Matt Peckham at Worcester State. Jason Norwood’s brother, Kevin, a former BSU Bear who helped the team reach the ACHA regional playoffs last season, now suits up for Weber State’s ACHA team in Ogden, Utah. Pat Driscoll lays for the St. Anselm’s University ACHA team and Kevin Moriarty plays club hockey for Nichols College.

While Hingham and Duxbury have long been known as the cradles of South Shore hockey talent, Plymouth is not far behind. Some speculate about how good a team combining talent from North and South could be.

Back in Bridgewater, the BSU Bears hockey team has a bright future, in part at least, because of its Plymouth players’ past, a bond that was forged in a shared experience.

“It means everything,” Fleet said. “We’re like a family.”

Andrew Holman is a Plymouth resident and a sports historian. Among his recent books is Hockey: A Global History (University of Illinois Press 2018).

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