Everyone in Berkshire County hockey circles saw Ryan Ouimet coming this season. He's been a prolific player in the Hennessy League for enough time that he will surprise no one.
In the 2012-13 campaign, though, the Wahconah senior made himself known to the rest of Western Massachusetts as well.
"This year, with how me and my line were clicking, the teams from the Springfield area focused on me more, especially on the power play," Ouimet said.
With a state-high 84 points this season, Ouimet led the Warriors to the Western Mass. Division III-A semifinals, and earned another All-Eagle Hockey MVP award.
His and the Warriors' season almost ended in the quarterfinals. Wahconah trailed Easthampton 3-1 late in the game, and the Eagles had turned away Ouimet on every shot. You could see the frustration building.
Then Nick Montferret scored on the power play with 2:45 left to cut the deficit to a goal. Then Ouimet tied it with 1:52 remaining. That, he said, opened the floodgates.
"I feel I didn't really have as much pressure on me at that point," Ouimet said. "Early in the game, I felt all the pressure was on me.
"Once we got the second goal, I feel we got the chip off our shoulders. ‘All right, we got this. We can put them in.' "
Lane Grogan, the third part of the Hennessy League's most dominant line, scored the go-ahead goal with 1:11 left.
If that span didn't make Western Mass. aware of Ouimet, as well as his linemates, nothing would.
Ouimet, a Drury High School student, got used to double-teams this season. Everyone threw two players at him. He handled them, Warriors coach Don Disbrow said, as best he could.
"We told him, ‘They're going to try and pound you. You're going to have to move the puck quickly,' " Disbrow said. "All three of them were very smart, and kept their feet moving and moved the puck. That keeps you from getting beat down."
It didn't hurt Ouimet to have talented linemates -- both Grogan and Montferret earned All-Eagle selections this season -- and when the three were finally put on the same line, Ouimet became almost as much of a distributor as he did a scorer. He added 39 assists to his 45 goals in the 2012-13 season.
"When Coach put us together, we clicked right away," Ouimet said. "We were passing around people like it was easy."
By season's end, Wahconah was down to as few as nine players and a goalie, due to attrition and injuries. Sure, the players were tired. Ouimet and his linemates had to play a lot of minutes, and were relied upon to score almost all the points Wahconah got.
No one in the postseason was about to take it easy on them, though. The double-teams wouldn't go away. Neither would the physical play or the pressure.
"You can't really do anything about it, losing kids and all that," Ouimet said. "I didn't really go as hard into the corners, especially on the defensive end, to conserve some energy. I had more legs in the third period.
"We made it as far as possible with 9 or 10 kids, and exceeded my expectations this year, honestly."
Ouimet said he will attend Curry College next year, with a plan to major in criminal justice. He also said he's been invited to try out for a walk-on spot on the school's hockey team, but hasn't yet decided if that will happen.
While Disbrow says most college programs are looking more for junior-level experience in young players, as well as more physical maturity in true freshmen, he believes it's possible for Ouimet to play at the next level.
"There's some teams out there I think he could make," Disbrow said.
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