UPDATE: Walpole, MA – The Cranston Reds season officially closed Friday night as Rhode Island’s only team in the Metropolitan Junior Hockey League (MJHL) Junior B division took to the ice at the Cranston Vets Memorial Ice Arena.
The Reds in true Junior B fashion, filled the “sin bin” to the brim, taking on the first seed Boston Bandits in their last game of the season and final skate as a Metropolitan Junior Hockey League (MJHL) team. Suffering a crushing 17-2 loss, the Reds went down fighting.
“The last game was a rodeo but I’m fine with it ending that way. That was all the emotions from the year built up in one game.” ~Kevin Gifford, Captain Cranston Reds
Known to this close-knit community as a typical Friday night hockey scrum, a third period donnybrook heightened the evening’s activities. Tempers flared and referees doled out penalty minutes with the Reds organization coming out on top in altercation remediation.
Despite the melee, and its attraction to local law enforcement, after the final buzzer the score sheet was the only evidence of adversity as team members lined up on and off the ice for the final Cranston Reds handshake.
Players’ last game took hold
Reds Captain, Kevin Gifford, reflected on the season’s end on Monday.
“There was a sense that the Reds organization was all done. A lot of us played there for a couple of years and it was the last time that we were going to put on a Reds jersey,” said Gifford. “A lot of my teammates were unsure what they wanted to do next year or whether they wanted to end their hockey careers.”
Despite much controversy throughout the season, the Reds team pulled together with one month to go, battling for and earning a playoff spot. Gifford in his second year as a Reds player took on the role of Captain.
“As a team we had a lot of obstacles to overcome this year. I’m proud of every single one of the kids – all my teammates that really grew as hockey players and as people,” said Gifford. “A lot of my teammates, it was their first junior hockey season. It’s definitely one that they won’t forget.”
Coaching change a positive factor in playoff run
In late January, Reds Coach Dave Capuano stepped down. The team hoped to earn a playoff berth and was faced with a new coach and system.
“We lost our coach. We lost a lot of our players,” said Gifford. “We showed up at the rink and our coach (Capuano) walked in and said, ‘Guys, You have a new coach.’ Everyone was kind of down and out. Didn’t really know what was going on. The suspense – who was our new coach?”
According to Gifford, the change, although unsettling, proved positive.
“Our new coach walked in – Coach Rogers. He really brought a positive attitude to the locker room and let us know that our season might not have been all that great, but we could still peak. We could still work at it and get to the playoffs. Maybe we could make a difference and prove people wrong and go somewhere with this team.”
“I think it was at the right time,” said Gifford. “We needed a new start. We were on the decline throughout the season.”
Rogers wanted the win
Taking the reigns for the team was Matt Rogers, former ECHL pro and assistant coach for the Walpole Express A and B teams. The Reds had to beat his Walpole team in the play-in game to advance.
“In the Walpole game – obviously I coached both the A team and B Team,” said Rogers in a phone interview. “My expectations were that we were going to win the game. My job as the Head Coach was to win. I’m not a losing coach. I don’t like to lose and was like that as a player. I hate to lose. [I] was definitely in it to win.”
Rogers said his main goal was to finish the season on a high. Taking the play-in with a 6-4 win against Walpole, the Reds hooked a playoff berth.
“My main goal was to finish the season on the higher end and make sure the kids had a blast at the end of the season because of the circumstances,” said Rogers. “Teaching them the game and obviously making the playoffs and beating the Bandits. Yeah, we ended up playing the Bandits and lost to the Bandits, but if you’re going to lose, that’s the team you want to lose to. They’ve lost one game all season long. They’re probably going to win Nationals.”
Coach and Captain impressed with results
“I appreciate the work ethic, the effort and the heart from every kid on the team,” said Rogers. “It was a good experience for me in taking a team that was pretty much in shambles, kind of like the Bad News Bears, into a playoff hockey team.”
Gifford who isn’t hanging up his skates just yet, was also glad to be at the helm.
“We all overcame what happened and we still made the playoffs. I really couldn’t be more proud of all of them,” he said. “To help, be a captain and help kids grow. To watch them grow and watch how they took the news of our coach leaving – I really enjoyed it.”
“It was definitely a new start, having a new coach at the right time. Although, I do wish we had Coach Rogers earlier. It was a pleasure to have him for the rest of the season.”
Reds sale allows for a stronger organization
Reds owner, Rob Barletta of RB Hockey, said that the decision to sell the team was a business necessity and a move that would help to strengthen his hockey organization. Putting Rogers in place in Cranston was a means to evaluate players and prepare to possibly move some of them into the Walpole Express line-up.
“A lot of the Reds players, I’d like to bring from the Reds Team to the Walpole Express, when we make the change. I wanted to put them in front of one of my coaches,” said Barlettta. “Those are the kids he’s going to want to bring up to play with our A team. Coach (Jon) Lounsbury, with our Junior A team was able to handle the team on his own, and I was able to send Matt down to Cranston.”
Gifford is headed to Rhode Island College where he hopes to continue to play. Several players ranging from high school to those who have aged out of the league have reached out to the Walpole coaching staff for recommendations and advice.
“They are a great bunch of kids,” said Rogers. “I wish I had them from the beginning.”