PAWTUCKET — The Lincoln/Cumberland Co-op girls’ hockey squad had just suffered a tough 5-2 decision to the combined Barrington/Mount Hope/Portsmouth club on Thursday night, March 7, at Brown University.
That, coupled with the Lions’ 6-5 double-overtime defeat in the first game of this-best-of-three R.I. Division II Tournament championship series, meant the second-year program hadn’t captured its dream of capturing the state crown.
In the Meehan Auditorium foyer after the final tilt, senior goalkeeper Ashley Devolve approached head coach Dick Ernst looking rather glum, but that’s when he leveled the news: That his netminder would be the recipient of the Rhode Island Reds Heritage Society’s prestigious Gil Mayer Award during the Mount St. Charles-La Salle boys’ finals clash at Brown on Saturday evening.
Devolve at first seemed puzzled. “Me? Why?” she asked, and Ernst explained to her who Mayer had been – for years a superb goalie representing the Reds. He noted she was the lone female keeper in the Ocean State to win it, that she had been chosen by a special selection committee made up the society, R.I. Hockey Coaches Association and Interscholastic League officials.
“I was shocked, and really excited,” Devolve grinned while seated at Lynch Arena on Tuesday afternoon. “My mom (Diane) actually had told me on the Tuesday night before that I was going to find something out Thursday, but that she couldn’t tell me. I kept asked her what it was, but she said, ‘Ashley, no, you’ll find out when it’s time,’ I was dying to know!
“I mean, we had just lost the second game of the finals, and I was bummed, but I wasn’t too upset,” she added. “I was kind of disappointed we didn’t win the championship, but when Coach Dick told me about it, honestly, I was speechless. I don’t remember much about it; I had a lot on my mind, but I was thinking, ‘Wow! Yea!’”
Six individuals, three girls and three boys, were honored at Meehan Auditorium last Saturday evening, including Devolve and Mount St. Charles senior captain Brian Belisle.
According to committee members, these “Unsung Hero” awards were issued for a player’s contributions to high school hockey; demonstrated acts of sportsmanship, leadership and community involvement; academic performance; talent and ability; and challenges coping with personal obstacles and hardship.
According to that committee, “Her teammates have referred to Ashley as ‘Miss Blank’ because of her diving, acrobatic saves. Besides her academic prowess, she has been involved in numerous extracurricular activities, including field hockey, lacrosse, Girl Scouts (and) school bands. As an accomplished member of the Jazz Band, she has traveled the country extensively for both performances and competitions.”
Mayer’s son, Andre, gave her a heavy plaque, and the two immediately posed for photos.
“I can’t believe how official it looks,” Devolve smiled again while holding the coveted momento of her phenomenal campaign. I’ve gotten other little trophies, stuff like that, but this is my first real award, and I love it.”
It’s so easy to understand why the society and other powers-that-be chose Devolve for the accolade; after all, she had never before played ice hockey before her junior winter season. Sure, she had protected her cage as a three-year member of the Lions’ varsity field hockey squad, but on the ice? Never.
“It all started last year, with Jean Bray; she was trying to form a girls’ varsity hockey team,” Devolve mentioned. “I’ve always been friends with Jean, and I knew she was trying to start one at our school. She told me she didn’t have a goalie, and I immediately was interested.
“I had liked hockey because I saw the movie ‘Miracle’ (about the astonishing gold-medal run the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team made at Lake Placid), and I thought it was really cool,” she added. “Ever since I watched it, I thought about playing … Still, I was pretty nervous because I had never really skated before. I’ve gone with friends to the outdoor rink in Providence, but that was it.
“Jean asked me to go to the meetings she had set up, so I did. I remember the first one, that was in, like, mid-November (2011), and only three of us went – Jean, me and Alison Jeffrey. My mom told me afterward that she wasn’t too keen on my starting a new sport; she wanted me to focus on my schoolwork. I told her that I knew where she was coming from, but I was still upset about it.”
A few days went by, and Ernst phoned Diane to convince her he needed Devolve to play.
“I was at a friend’s house, and Coach talked to my mom for about 45 minutes,” she giggled. “She called me at my friend’s house that same morning and said, ‘You’re playing ice hockey.’ I was thrilled!
“I wasn’t really nervous about the goalie part of it, but the skating? I was, like, ‘How am I going to do this?’ I didn’t even know how to put all the gear on. Jean had to help me.”
She attended her first practice at the Rhode Island Sports Center (on Route 146) on a Tuesday, and was told she would start in net on Friday night.
“Right when I got on the ice, I fell, and most of the girls were laughing; they thought it was funny,” she continued. “I did, too. I didn’t know what I was getting into. Most of the girls had been playing hockey since they were little, and here I was 16 and playing for the first time.
“The skating was the toughest part, working on angles with skates on instead of spikes and keeping my balance. And, definitely, I had to get used to the glove. I had never really used one before. I played Little League baseball when I was younger (she played shortstop), but we don’t use one in field hockey. We have a blocker to knock the ball away.
“My father would pull out his baseball glove and me my goalie glove, and we’d go outside and play catch with a tennis ball. That definitely helped me get my hand-eye coordination down. Learning how to get into the ‘butterfly’ position was pretty easy. As time went on, I ended up getting so used to going down to the ice to block shots, my field hockey coaches told me to get back on my feet and into field hockey mode.”
With a laugh, she noted, “They did that in a joking way, but they made their point.”
That squad finished 2-14 in its initial season, and Ernst continued to inform his crew that, if they worked really hard and followed his lead (not to mention his crazy sense of humor), they could go out and win the D-II state championship in its second year.
Thanks to Ernst, Bray’s leadership and talent, a first line also consisting of sophomore Cassidy DiPaola and freshman Cassidy Simanski and two outstanding defensemen in junior Lauren Hervieux and sophomore Marissa Mancini, the Lions cruised past Cranston East in a semifinal sweep before battling the co-op squad based in Barrington.
In the end, Lincoln/Cumberland had finished with a 9-12 mark.
“Saturday night at Brown, I was really excited,” Devolve stated of the awards ceremony. “Everything went as I expected, but I didn’t know how many people would be there, so I was kind of nervous,” she stated. “I actually had to leave our school’s Variety Show right after the first act; I had to be there for that because I had a saxophone solo, but then I got out of there to get to the arena.
“As for our record, I’m just really proud of everyone,” she added. “Even the girls who had been playing forever, they improved, especially the ones who had only played a year or two. Just like me, my friend Tayla Omar started last season, and she’s already an alternate for the first line.
“I couldn’t have done it without my defensemen; they played every minute of every game, and they were amazing! If I gave up a goal, they’d come up to me and say, ‘Ash, don’t worry about it. You’ll get ‘em the next time!’ They’d also apologize, and I’d just say, ‘No, no! I’m the last line of defense. I should’ve had it.’”
Devolve, who has snared three letters in field hockey and will bring home her second in her “colder” sport at a team awards banquet this Thursday night at Village Haven restaurant, juggled her time in athletics with playing in the LHS Concert, Marching and Jazz bands, helping out in the famed Variety Show and being a camp counselor for the Lincoln Parks & Recreation Department.
As for scholastics, she completed her fall semester with a stellar 3.9 GPA; on the ice, she earned third-team All-Division honors.
“I think her receiving the Gil Mayer Award is wonderful,” Ernst offered. “It’s amazing that she never really skated before November (2011). She’s a fantastic young woman, and a goalie who carried us through the playoffs (with a .908 save percentage). She was sensational in all of our games, and it’s because of her complete dedication to the program.
“All the girls gave their hearts and souls to each other, and to me and my assistants (Tom Pereira and Bob O’Donnell),” he continued. “They developed it all into us being the state finalist.”
Last winter, Ernst’s bunch captured just two post-season laurels – Bray first-team All Division and DiPaola third-team. Following this campaign, they raked in several: Bray snagged a Hobey Baker Award, and was also first-team All Division; Simanski brought home a first-team All-Division honor and was second in the league scoring with 32 points (20 goals, 12 assists); Mancini took second-team All Division and DiPaola third-team; and Hervieux, the alternate captain in 2012-13, will be the chief of her squad next year.
Devolve hasn’t decided where she will attend school next year, but has been accepted by the University of Maine at Orono, Rhode Island College and URI.
“I don’t really know what I want to major in; I’m going in undecided,” she said. “I might minor or double-major in the field of music, but I’m not sure. I will say I’m thinking about being a dietician or nutritionist.”
As for Brian Belisle, he received the Chuck Scherza Award as the Reds Heritage Society’s “R.I. Unsung Hero” for forwards.
After the second period of the contest in which he had been competing, he was presented the award by Scherza’s son, Rick.
The announcer read the following to the audience at Brown: “The name Belisle has been synonymous with high school hockey for more than six decades … Brian has distinguished himself as a role model and leader even during a period when he could not play after sustaining a concussion in the first game of the season. After being cleared to practice and play, Brian (registered) seven goals and six assists in Mount’s final seven games. Brian was also the state’s leading scorer and a first-team All-State selection as a junior."