by Jashvina Shah
Between the second and third periods of Northfield Mount Hermon’s Jan. 24 contest against Cushing, goaltender Eric Green was throwing up. At one point during the game, even a referee intervened, skating over to NMH head coach Czepiel and saying Green may be hurt.
“I go no, he’s just sick, leave him alone,” Czepiel said.
Green had the flu.
While he kept nearly 75 percent of his teammates from discovering the illness, Green had told Czepiel. The two share a good bond, and he informed his coach of the sickness.
“We had an optional day off and Eric wanted to go out and get extra work in, so against my better judgment I let him do that, and then the next day he was in the health center up at school just because his fever was so high and he was kind of delusional,” Czepiel said “It was something that I knew about, unfortunately.”
But Green was always going to play. And even when he was throwing up in the game, Green wasn’t going to leave.
“I had to reset myself a lot during the game because you can’t allow it to take over your mindset, and you have to stay locked into the game, and that was harder for me,” Green said. “But as far as symptoms, once your adrenaline’s going you know it’s hockey and I’ve done it a thousand times.”
He stayed in and made 48 saves en route to the 1-0 shutout win.
“I don’t know. I don’t know he stayed in it mentally,” Czepiel said. “With a player, you can kind of get in and out and you don’t have to be as sharp, whereas he made 48 saves. He was good. He’s a special goaltender, that’s for sure.”
That was just one of 21 wins Green recorded as he finished his senior season with a career year and helped the Hoggers improve to 23-7-3, a nine-game unbeaten streak and an appearance in the Large School tournament.
“I’ve never played with a group of guys who battled harder for me defensively in terms of blocking shots, playing defense, just really helping me out,” Green said. “And they make my job easy. So all of my success I owe to coach Czepiel for installing great systems and my teammates just working hard for me every practice and every game.”
This season marked the first time since 2009-10 NMH posted 20 wins or more. Last season they recorded nine wins and the year before that they had five.
Green was the center of the turnaround, something Czepiel knew–and told Green when he first met him–before he was even the head coach.
“I told him what I thought was the future of NMH,” Czepiel said. “They were in a little bit of a rough spot at that point, so I was trying to reassure him that the future, his next three years would be successful and it was all going to start with him.”
He posted a .941 save percentage this season, the highest of his career. It marked the final portion of Green’s improvement, where his save percentage rose from .888 as a sophomore to .915 as a junior.
“It was definitely maturing in his past few years and really focusing on a lot of the off-ice stuff,” Czepiel said. “That was the biggest reason for his success the past two years, getting down a process that worked for him both pre-game and post-game during the week and then working on the technical things during the year and during the summer.”
While Czepiel knew as soon as he saw Green that he would be the catalyst for the team, Green’s first few seasons were difficult. Just two years ago he served as the sophomore backup and was playing late in the season at top-ranked Kimball Union, where a slapshot hit him in the head. The shot concussed Green and ended his season.
It effectively ended NMH’s season as well, as the team had no goaltenders eligible to play and were forced to forfeit its last seven games.
“My concussion lasted three months. It sucked,” Green said. “I was on the sideline while my team was having to forfeit games because the other goalie on our team hurt his ankle. … Dealing with that was hard because I felt responsible for the fact that we were going to finish the season with five wins and that we were having to forfeit all these games.’
And just before his freshman season, Green didn’t have a place to play. He wanted to play a season of U16 hockey after his time with the Mid Fairfield Blues, but he was cut from several teams.
One day he received a call from Tom Pratt, the head coach of NMH at the time. The team needed a backup goalie, and Green agreed. Since then, Green has improved his demeanor and confidence.
“He’s a very athletic goalie,” Czepiel said. “He’s composed in the net but his athleticism is pretty high-end.’
A successful senior season drew attention from Division I schools, a process that started around the Cushing tournament. He looked at Hockey East schools, visited Connecticut and New Hampshire and settled on UMass-Lowell.
“I loved the coaching staff, coach [Norm] Bazin, coach [Cam] Ellsworth, coach [Andy] Jones. I was a huge fan of all of them,” Green said. “They have a great history, especially with goalies, and just in general a very successful program. I was excited to be a part of that. They really did their homework on me and they showed that they were interested in me by watching a lot of video on me, coming and seeing me play, taking the time, or taking more time on my tour than other schools had. It felt good as a player to see them putting a lot into me, because that makes it easier for me to put a lot into the program.”
Green always knew he would go the college hockey route.
“I grew up seeing a few games at the Yale whale, Quinnipiac games are huge in Connecticut,” Green said. “There’s some great programs down there. Just from a young age, college hockey was all the buzz with the kids I was playing with. It’s what my coaches preached to me and it’s the end goal for a lot of kids that come out of New England, so there was no other option for me.”
While Green occasionally watched college hockey games, his love for hockey started with Bridgeport Sound Tigers games, the first team he ever watched. Green was just a kindergartner when he started going to games, but he still remembers sitting behind and bench and received a warmup puck from the equipment manager.
He still has that puck in his room.
Photo Credit: Hickling Images