By Jordan J. Michael
SCHENECTADY –– Guilderland-Mohonasen has had a tumultuous hockey season with no wins. Players say that some people don’t even realize the school has a hockey team. The people who do know of the Dutch Warriors’ players will tell them that they’re awful at hockey.
The players hear all sorts of negative comments from opponents and they hear it in school. Some Dutch Warriors have thought about quitting, but they have too much faith and heart to hang it up.
Guilderland-Mohonasen fights through every lopsided game and tries to get better, but the low roster numbers and inexperience are a lot to overcome.
“They’re like little soldiers that are told to take the hill,” said Jonathan Phillips, father of players Tyler Phillips and Connor Phillips. He’s also the booster club president. “They haven’t been trained on how to take the hill the correct way.”
Guilderland-Mohonasen has suited no more than 13 skaters this season. Every other Capital District High School Hockey League team has at least 20 skaters. The program’s first and only head coach, John DeRubertis, who started when the team was founded 12 years ago, left after last season, and the team lost valuable seniors to graduation.
Because of the low numbers and expense of ice time, Guilderland joined with Mohonasen, another Suburban Council school, three years ago.
Guilderland-Mohonasen players pay $800 a piece in royalties for a season of hockey. However, the team doesn’t have a budget for consistent bus travel like the other teams in the league. The players depend on parents for transportation. Ryan McCrum said that sometimes driving is faster, but the team misses out on bonding without bus travel.
“The bus thing was a huge argument in our house,” said Tyler Phillips. “My father is the head of the boosters, but there wasn’t enough money for buses, and we’ve taken buses in the past. We took one to a tournament at the beginning of the season. We find other ways to bond, like in the locker room or at Union College games.”
The Dutch Warriors are in a reassessment period. Mr. Phillips feels bad because people expect Guilderland-Mohansen to win games, but it doesn’t even have a real bus or other amenities like the other teams in the league. Amazingly, no Dutch Warrior players have quit.
“Yeah, we’ve all thought about quitting at one point,” said senior Austin McCrum, the goaltender. “We’ll all joke about it, like, ‘Hey, Coach, here’s the towel.’ We all say it, and as much as we’d like to quit, we all stick with it. We all know what would happen if we quit, but we’re obligated to this team.”
If anyone quit, Guilderland-Mohonasen’s low numbers would be even more severe.
“It’s hard for us parents to watch our kids go through all the losing,” said Mr. Phillips. “We’ve had parents want to explode and run through walls this season, just as much as the players want to.”
But, if a parent told that to a kid, the kid wouldn’t be too pleased.
“They’d say, ‘Yeah, you want to run through walls? Well, go out and skate for three periods,’” said Mr. Phillips. “Their journey is harder than ours, but there’s a breaking point for both the players and the parents.”
No matter what all the detractors say, Guilderland-Mohonasen wants to win a game. The team isn’t taking to the ice as satisfied losers. Actually, the players are frustrated and hungry.
“The score starts going up and we start to lose our temper,” Ryan McCrum said. “That’s when we start getting penalties and getting hit and all that.”
But that’s when the camaraderie of the team shines, Tyler Phillips said. The McCrum brothers and the Phillips brothers said the team players all have equal loyalty to each other, but Austin McCrum and Tyler Phillips agreed on being harder on their little brothers.
“It would be good for the program if younger brothers of current players went on to play for this team, but kids shouldn’t be forced into anything,” Austin McCrum said. “Even though we’re not good this year, or won’t be great next year, a couple years’ down the road, if we get more kids, we’ll be able to compete.”
Connor Phillips, a 100-pound eighth-grader, is getting plenty of ice time because he’s filling a void that would normally be plugged by an upperclassman. The same can be said of the two freshmen on Guilderland-Mohonasen.
The Dutch Warriors don’t have enough gas to fill the vehicle. A normal line shift in hockey is around one minute, but Guilderland-Mohonasen players are skating for three minutes at a time. A game is 45 minutes. By the time the third period comes around, the Dutch Warriors are spent.
Guilderland-Mohonasen’s first-period statistics reflect a hard-working team. Defending league champion Saratoga led 1 to 0 after the first period. Fifth-place Bethlehem was trailing the Dutch Warriors, 1 to 0, going into the third period.
Senior goalie Austin McCrum had 57 saves against Burnt Hills, even though Guilderland-Mohonasen lost, 5 to 1.
The team just doesn’t have the stamina to compete at a high level. The Dutch Warriors need more skaters and have already started marketing the team for next season.
Mr. Phillips said players are tempted to join more competitive club teams but stick with the Dutch Warriors out of loyalty despite few fans and ridicule from other teams. “Kids have played with their sticks upside down,” he said of competing teams mocking the Dutch Warriors on the ice. “They’re degraded and picked on but we haven’t lost one kid.”
Connor Phillips writes about miracles in his letter to The Enterprise editor this week, but doesn’t think winning one game would be a miracle. “We can win a game,” he said. “Going .500 would be a miracle.
His older brother thinks that having a hockey team, at this point, is a phenomenon. “We have kids that didn’t even play hockey two or three years ago,” he said.
In a way, Guilderland-Mohonasen could be compared to the Mighty Ducks, which was a fictional film series. Those players came off the street, but were still able to win some games.
Maybe some new jerseys or a new team brand would help? The Phillips’ brothers turned to their father.
“With pride comes some work in the bank during the off season,” Mr. Phillips said. “We’ve got to have conditioning and work like the other teams in June and July.”
Success can come from failure.
“To be honest, if we won one game, and people showed us no respect, I wouldn’t care,” said Connor Phillips. “We’d be so happy to win one game.”
In the locker room, Austin McCrum said, sometimes the athletes question how they will win a game. He thinks that Saturday’s tilt against Burnt Hills will be Guilderland-Mohonasen’s defining moment.
“If I go to my friends and tell them that my hockey team won a game,” he said, “they’d be like, ‘Holy s---, really?”
The McCrums and the Phillips’ haven’t had to experience the misery alone. It’s been a journey through brotherhood, and all four of these kids have a good sense of humor.
“Whatever bad happens, we just make a joke out of it,” said Austin McCrum. “It has to be that way right now.”