The setting was perfect for Chris Kent and the St. John Paul II boys’ hockey team.
Already off to the best start in the brief history of the program, the Lions skated Monday into Tony Kent Arena in South Dennis in search of their eighth consecutive victory, an amazing feat on its own less than three weeks into the season and before the calendar even turned to 2020.
St. John Paul II withstood its toughest test to that point, trailing early before storming back for a 6-2 victory against Dennis-Yarmouth. The early success certainly is not a surprise for Kent, in his fifth season with the program and second as the head coach.
“A lot of these kids, I’ve been with them since they were eighth graders,” Kent said of his veteran group that includes forwards Joe Manning, Ben Baxter and D.J. Marrs, as well as defensemen Kurtis Weber and Sean Roycroft. “I’ve watched them develop all through these years, and now we’re at the strongest point with that group.”
Following them up is a solid sophomore class of forwards Michael Kornek, Charlie Baroni and Sam Delman, with defensemen Anthony Kent (the coach’s son) and Jack Sherwood. Much of that group has been together since seventh grade, one of the necessities to sustain a hockey program at a school that has just roughly 100 boys.
Gunnar Stevens, one of the team’s few juniors along with D-Y transfer Declan Tolley, has stepped in as the starting goalie after serving as backup to Henry Klimm a season ago.
“When he’s on, he’s on,” Kent said of Stevens, who already has three shutouts this season.
The Lions’ win streak was snapped with Wednesday’s 5-2 loss to Silver Lake. Nonetheless, this year’s fast start is the culmination of the building process that started when Kent followed Chuck Jancaterino to the Hyannis school after both previously has been coaching under Scott Nickerson at Barnstable.
“[Jancaterino] said it takes about five years to build a program, and we’re at the five-year mark,” Kent said. “They’re a really strong core group that basically respect each other on and off the ice. All of them work really hard, work hard in school, put the same effort into the hockey program.
“Over the years we’re slowly getting stronger and stronger, every year we continue to grow, and [increase the level of] who we play.”
Which leads to Monday’s game against Dennis-Yarmouth, from where Kent graduated in 1987. At Tony Kent Arena, named for the coach’s father, who was a longtime youth hockey coach in Dennis.
“I [hadn’t] been in Tony Kent Arena since I coached at Barnstable,” said Kent, who also is a police officer in Yarmouth. “It was a good opportunity to be at the rink named after my dad, and have a big game like that. It was nice to come out with a win. It was a good feeling, a good feeling for the kids.
“The rink wasn’t built until after I graduated high school. I played many years for him at the bantam and midget levels. He dedicated his life to coaching baseball and hockey for the town of Dennis.”
Said D-Y coach Lew Alberti: “I’ve known the Kent family, growing up in the youth program, and graduating from D-Y in 1995. That name always was there. The Kents have always been a big part of the hockey community.”
Kent said he is “very blessed to have an experience coaching my son at the varsity level in hockey.” But he noted one of the big attributes of the St. John Paul II program is there is no pecking order – seniors are very respectful of seventh-graders, coach doesn’t treat his son any differently than any other player. That philosophy also has been part of the long-term plan forged when Kent coached alongside Jancaterino.
“He’s part of why I am where I am today. He was very instrumental in how I’ve moved forward,” said Kent.
They have also leaned on other veterans of the Cape Cod coaching fraternity such as Nickerson, Peter Melchiono (Barnstable) and Buddy Ferreira (Falmouth).
Adding another layer to it all is that Ferreira’s son, Brian, is the original St. John Paul coach. He left after three seasons to become girls’ coach at his alma mater, Falmouth, leading Kent and Jancaterino to Hyannis.
When Jancaterino took over as coach at Old Rochester before last season, the next logical step in the program was obvious.
“It was tough for me to leave,” said Jancaterino, who gave kudos to SJP athletic director Mark Santos and administration for their support. “[Kent] coaches baseball . . . his son goes to school there, he’s tied into that school. It was time for Chris to be a head coach, that was where he should be.”
It remains to be seen where the Lions will be the rest of the season, but Kent said they are taking things a game at a time.
“We try to create something to overcome every year. This year it was never winning more than four in a row, and now we won eight in a row. Last year we had never won a preliminary round [tournament game],” said Kent, whose Lions beat Diman in the Division 3 South bracket. “Each year we try to take a little piece to build on.”
Building a program . . . all while continuing to build and add to the Kent family’s coaching legacy on the Cape.