Express looks to join Walpole sports tradition

Adam Riegel

  Walpole sports have a history of success: the field hockey team, the football team, the baseball team, and recently the soccer team, the wrestling team and even the little league baseball team have all been competing for league championships. Yet in the past two years one Walpole team has been completely overlooked despite having a very high winning percentage and being ranked among the best in the country. The Walpole Express Hockey team is currently demolishing their league, but not many people in Walpole know about their success. 

  Currently sitting at 20-1, the Express B team – the team for whom many of the students that attend Walpole High School Play – is the number 2 ranked team in the United States, while the Express A team is experiencing similar success sitting comfortably at 14-6, second in their division. However despite their achievements, there is minimal turn out to the games. 

  “The stands are usually two thirds empty,” observed three year player and Walpole native Will Harrop. Unlike Will, the other players on the team do not hale from Walpole. They come from all over, from Florida to Washington D.C. to Canada and Russia. Because they are not local players, they are not lucky enough to have all of their parents and friends fill the stands like at a Walpole High School sporting event. Currently the fan base consists of a few steadfast female fans from Walpole. But Players wish this would change.

  “I wish we could have more fans,” said D.C. native Donavan Minutolo. “The more people that come the better because it makes us want to put on a better show for all the fans and people we go to school with.” 

  Minutolo and Harrop speak from experience having both been teammates for the past three years. They know the ups and downs the team has faced. Both came to the Express because of their love of hockey.

  “You get to live in the dorms, lift for free, you live at the rink so you have all the ice [time] you could dream about. And now we have awesome coaches, who are willing to help you with anything. They even brought down one of the coaches from Blackhawks to help us out. [The organization] has everything – things other organizations don’t have.”

  Harrop expressed a very similar view. “Since I already lived in Walpole, and my mom works at the rink, it seemed logical to join. It’s a great advantage from the college perspective too. And with the new coaches it’s way better, the coaching staff are all pros from top to bottom.”

  Yet despite their new found success, it has not always been smooth sailing for the Express players. Many acknowledge that being a part of the Express makes it harder to be accepted when they come to Walpole. 

  “It’s not as bad as it used to be. Kids come here and kind of get a bad label as ‘one of those Express kids’. It’s been especially hard dealing with some of the other athletes. But each year it gets a little easier,” stated Minutolo. 

  School has not been the only hard part for these two tenured skaters. Each year they have to deal with fluctuating lineups as players go to other teams or get too old. But just like in a hockey game, the players learn to bounce back from these changes. 

  “I try to keep it out of my head. The bottom line is I still have to go out and skate and perform. If one of my closest friends leaves it’s hard, but I put it in the back of my mind,” offered Harrop.

  “It’s hard when the guys leave, but some of them are still around here playing hockey in college so I stay in touch with them a lot. Plus one of the best parts about living in the dorms is that it brings us all together. Every kid here loves hockey and that brings us together. When a new guy comes in, he very quickly becomes a part of the family.”

  And in case skating for a new program and dealing with changes in the coaching staff and teammates is not tough enough, these players are away from their families and friends for months at a time. 

  “Academically it’s hard without them around, but all of the kids in the dorms give you tons of support. On the ice, it doesn’t affect us as much. When our friends and family can come and see us we play even harder, but all of our parents get in touch with us right after our games so it isn’t too bad,” reflected Minutolo. 

  “I’m from around here,” pointed out Harrop. “But for me the travel is still hard. We get on a bus and travel for hours, only to walk into a hostile environment with a bigger fan base. It’s pretty tough.”

  Luckily for the parents who can’t make it to the games they still have an opportunity to watch their sons play online. 

  Over the course of a 70-80 game season (excluding three or four rounds of playoffs), all of these pressure build on the players. Imagine all you Rebels or Porkers out there winning all the games you have – league titles sectional playoffs, and state championships – and not having any of your friends or family there to support you. 

  But as Minutolo noted, things are starting to change. “We are gradually getting more fans, more sponsors, and the set up keeps improving. Our second floor has a set up for stick handling, shooting, balance, and lifting. We are set up to succeed. We are here to stay.”

  “Now it’s just about having as many people come as we can,” said Harrop. “That definitely helps us out a lot.”

  The Express generally plays Saturday nights around eight o’clock and Sundays around noon with the occasional Friday and Monday night games. Coming up they look to continue their strong early season showing as they look ahead to the playoffs in March. The Express B team – the team whose lineup is filled with students who currently attend Walpole High School – play at home at Iorio Arena. Saturday, December 6 at 8:30 and then the next day at 1. 

  Walpole fans love winners: the Patriots, the Red Sox, the Rebels, the Porkers, and now its time to add another successful team to the list: the Express.