The highlight of the Hockey Banquet for me, and probably for everyone else, is always the speeches made by the players themselves. Jeremy Coupal led off and was the designated thanker this year – the player in charge of mentioning everyone that the players would all like to thank, in order to save time and repetition. After he took care of that business, he talked about what a terrific experience he had with the team and how much a part of them they made him feel. When he joined the team after his sophomore year, he was able to move into one of the hockey houses and he talked about how much he enjoyed rooming with Marty, Bryce and CJ. Jeremy has been involved with youth hockey coaching for a long time now and he told me a while back that he was hoping to get a coaching job somewhere after college. He will be serving as a volunteer assistant coach at Bemidji State (I think it was) next year, so he has a good start on realizing his dream.
Josh Rabbani was next and kept his remarks very brief. He talked about how much his time at RPI and especially his teammates meant to him and thanked his parents especially for letting him (a California boy!) pursue his dream of playing hockey.
As soon as Justin Smith took the podium it was obvious that he was going to be this year’s emotional guy. He opened with, “I told the guys I wouldn’t do this.” Then, even as he choked up, he grinned and said, “Here we go!” He had to stop often to gather himself and at one point Paddy Cullen even brought him a glass of water, but Justin never stopped laughing at himself through his tears. That’s so typical Justin – always ready to tell a humorous story at his own expense, to get everyone laughing AT him WITH him. He talked about what a roller coaster ride his time at RPI was and how his teammates were the best part of it all. He admitted he didn’t get to play as much as he would have liked, and wondered if all those times he nearly killed people going the wrong way in warmups was part of the reason (again, typical Justin!). He had the most trouble getting through his thanks to his parents, mentioning how his mom got him involved in hockey as a single parent, but then met his stepfather – “love you to death” – who became a big part of his life. He had us all laughing and crying too, and got the first ever (in my experience) standing ovation for a hockey banquet speech. Way to go, Smitty – we love you.
Forgive me if my remarks about the other guys are briefer. Justin just gave me so much more to work with! Every guy without exception thanked his parents lavishly and emotionally, commenting on all the driving to practices, sitting in cold rinks, and more recently traveling to RPI to be at games. Paddy Cullen said that his time at RPI gave him memories he’ll never forget, including a trip to Alaska and last year’s trip to the NCAAs – “one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had.” He thanked his teammates too, especially Alex Goulet for “keeping me on track in school.”
Alex, in turn, thanked his teammates too, especially Paddy and Justin, and “Big Ben” Mayo, who he described as an unbelievable person. “Hanging out with him,” Alex said, “gives you a different perspective on life.” He got a laugh when he reminisced about Justin teaching Ben to skate and how, within an hour, “Ben was skating better than Rambo!” Josh was laughing and nodding emphatically, so we can assume he wasn’t insulted by the comparison!
Joel Malchuk, who redshirted in his freshman year and will be receiving his MBA at graduation next week, told his underclassmen teammates to cherish every moment, that it goes by so fast but will give you some of the best memories of your life. And Mike Bergin echoed those sentiments, saying that RPI hockey has given him lifelong friendships and has been “the best experience of my life.” Mike got a laugh when he reminisced about his first workout with his classmates at the Mueller Center, saying “York was in cargo shorts and Morrissette was in dress socks, so that gave us an idea right off of what kind of class we would be!”
All in all, it was an enjoyable and, as always, emotional evening, a last chance to applaud and cheer for these seven terrific young men who gave so much of themselves to RPI hockey for four years and gave us so many memories. I’ll write more about all of these guys some time soon, but meanwhile – thanks, class of 2012!