Rooney leads prep school to NE championship

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Most high school athletes only dream of playing in a championship game, let alone starring in one. But for Canton hockey sensation Kevin Rooney, winning on the game’s biggest stage has become something of a common occurrence.

Kevin Rooney

Two years ago, Rooney became a hometown hero after leading the Canton High boys’ hockey team to the Division 2 state title, with his empty-net goal serving as the exclamation point in the Bulldogs’ 4-2 victory over Newburyport at the hallowed Boston Garden.

Not satisfied with just the one championship, however, Rooney struck again earlier this month — this time on the prep circuit as a member of the Berkshire Bears, who defeated St. Sebastian’s in overtime to claim the NEPSAC Martin/Earl (large school) tournament championship.

As with the Bulldogs’ 2010 title, this year marked the first time in program history that Berkshire has finished as prep school champions, and Rooney, once again, was a big reason why.

A team captain and first-line center, Rooney not only led the Bears in points; he also scored the game-winning goal in the tournament quarterfinals against No. 8 Westminster (CT) and again in the semifinals against No. 5 Albany Academy (NY). The first goal came in overtime of a 3-3 game, while the second one snapped a 2-2 tie with 5:46 left in the third period.

The title game against No. 2 St. Sebastian’s proved to be another nailbiter, with senior Brendan McGovern netting the game-winner two minutes into the sudden-death overtime period for a 4-3 win. Rooney didn’t score in the contest, although he did have a near-miss late in the third and also tallied two assists.

“It’s just a great feeling,” Rooney told the New England Hockey Journal after the game. “We’ve got a lot of seniors on our team, so it’s great to win it with these guys.”

The win also further validates Rooney’s decision to go to prep school — a common move for top hockey talents but one that still requires some big sacrifices on the player’s part.

Besides leaving his Bulldog teammates, for instance, Rooney also decided to forgo graduation in 2011 and repeat his junior year at the Berkshire School, a private, coed boarding school in Western Mass.

He said it made for a “tough transition at first,” although he is happy with the choice he made and could not have asked for a better environment to grow both academically and athletically.

“It was good to have that first year under my belt,” acknowledged Rooney, who overcame early struggles on the ice to have a strong debut season.

As for the team, Rooney said last year’s Bears’ squad lacked leadership at times, and they ended up bowing out in the first round of the NEPSAC playoffs. However, the team quickly regrouped, and with a core of 13 talented seniors, the Bears went out this year and had a season for the ages.

The end result — a prep school title — places Rooney in some truly elite company, although he still considers the Bulldogs’ title run to be his favorite hockey memory, and he remembers everything about that postseason “like it was yesterday.”

“With Canton, because it’s a small town, the fan support was much bigger [than at Berkshire],” he said, “and to win it with my friends I grew up with playing hockey was something I will never forget.”

Rooney, who was named league MVP that year, also has similarly fond memories of his sophomore season, when the Bulldogs made it all the way to the Boston Garden before falling to Newburyport 4-3 in the state finals. Rooney’s brother Bryan, who is two years older, garnered MVP honors and finished as the league scoring champion that season.

The elder Rooney recently wrapped up his second season at Stonehill College, where he finished as the team’s fifth-leading scorer with 17 points. The Skyhawks reached the NE10 conference finals, thanks in part to Bryan’s game-winning goal in the semifinals against Assumption College.

Hockey is in the Rooneys DNA, of course. Their uncle, Steve Rooney, starred at Providence College and later won a Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens. Their father, David, played at UMass Boston, and their cousin, Chris, followed in his father’s footsteps and became a Friar, having recently wrapped up his junior season after playing three years in the Eastern Junior Hockey League.

In the fall, Kevin will become the latest member of the Rooney clan to head to Providence, joining his cousin for a season before battling it out on his own in one of the nation’s top collegiate conferences.

He fully expects another tough transition, just as he experienced last season at the Berkshire School. Then again, if his track record is any indication, it will only be a matter of time before the kid manages to lay claim to the vaunted Hockey East.

As Brian Shuman, his former coach at Canton High, once said, “Kevin always rose to the occasion. When the bright lights were shining, he played his best.”

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avatar Posted by on Mar 21 2012. Filed under Beyond CHS, Sports. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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