ATTLEBORO — “A.J.’s Army” was in full force for the Bishop Feehan boys’ hockey team at the New England Sports Village.
Buoyed on by a message from his Shepherd Center bed in Atlanta from injured senior forward A.J. Quetta to “to keep pushing on, to keep fighting,” the Shamrocks skated to a 2-1 victory over North Attleboro Saturday in a benefit game.
The Shamrocks donned their home white jerseys with custom numerical designations. But, the Shamrocks were all designated “Quetta” for their jersey “names.”
The New England hockey community, including the Boston Bruins, have donated funds to assist in the Quetta’s family medical expenses for the recovery of Quetta from a spinal injury suffered in a Catholic Central League game at Pope Francis.
“It was good for the kids to see A.J.,” Bishop Feehan coach Kevin Dunn said. “Everyone has been so grateful, the support that A.J. has received from the hockey world,” Dunn added of the Shamrocks being unified in their support of a wounded teammate and the support that the team has received.
“I’ve mentioned it before how resilient the kids have been since A.J. was hurt,” Dunn said of the energy being brought to the rink for practice and for games.
“It’s a good thing and a bad thing,” Dunn said of the emotions in the locker room. “At least outwardly it looks like they’re doing okay, but inward you don’t know how they’re doing.”
The Shamrocks (3-10-2) overcame a one-goal first-period deficit and gained the edge on the Rocketeers (7-5) when senior Tyler Ahmed scored a power-play goal at 2:14 in the third period, with Ben Boucher assisting.
North Attleboro took the lead on a goal from Sam Clarke at 5:30 of the first period, with Nik Kojoian assisting. But that was the last time that the Big Red turned the red light on behind Bishop Feehan goalie Ryan D’Amato, who blanked the Rocketeers over the final 39 minutes, posting 28 saves overall.
The Shamrocks were able to emerge victorious by killing off four penalties, including back-to-back trips to the box at 9:41 and at 11:18 of the third period — with Peter Carriuolo, Thomas Franzosa, George Besarick, C.J. Botelho and Kevin Barrera serving the Shamrock penalty-kill unit.
“We’re still not aggressive enough on the power play,” North coach Ben McManama said of the Rocketeers being unable to convert the man advantages.
“Bishop Feehan and North Attleboro are always emotional games, both teams want to win the rivalry game.
“The kids, on both teams, were well aware of what this game meant,” McManama added. “Just as your teammates are always there for you, trying to pick you up, everybody in New England, everybody who loves hockey is there for A.J.”
North was able to kill off a Bishop Feehan power play in the eighth minute of the first period and two more in the third period, in the second and 11th minutes.
The Shamrocks battled through growing pains too in a high-powered Catholic Central League, of which members Pope Francis and Archbishop Williams are the No. 1 and 2 ranked Division 1 teams in the state, with Austin Prep and St. Mary’s of Lynn being in the top 20.
“We told the kids early in the season that we have to learn how to compete at this level,” Dunn said of the challenge, even though the Shamrocks were MIAA Division 2 South Tournament finalists last season.
“We did compete very well,” Dunn added. “We didn’t get very many wins in the league, but we were right there in all the games. We were losing in the league, but in most games, we were beating ourselves.
“The kids have given us 100 percent every game, there have been no issues with effort.
“Most of the games were very good games, up and down. We were making strides as the year went on — it kind of played out the way that we thought it would be.”
The Shamrocks just will never forget taking the ice at the Olympia Center in West Springfield on Jan. 26 to meet Pope Francis, the game in which Quetta’s life was altered.
“A few kids have been able to FaceTime with A.J. and that helps quite a bit,” Dunn said of the Shamrocks being in contact with their fallen teammate on a daily basis.
With COVID-19 restrictions, the Hockomock League and CCL were not allowed to schedule non-league games. In years past, North Atttleboro and Bishop Feehan would annually meet on the ice.
In consideration of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the Bishop Feehan hockey family, and with McManama fostering North Attleboro High’s intentions to make the benefit game happen, both schools agreed to meet.
“It’s always an entertaining game; the players, the coaches, the families all look forward to it,” Dunn said. “Once the puck dropped, it was a typical Feehan-North Attleboro game; the kids like to play in that type of atmosphere.
“It was for a great cause, we both expected each other’s best game of the year.”