2021-22 Gazette Ice Hockey of the Year: Ryan O’Leary, Pope Francis

  • Pope Francis’ Ryan O’Leary is the Gazette’s Ice Hockey Player of the Year. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/POPE FRANCIS

  • Pope Francis’ Ryan O’Leary is the Gazette’s Ice Hockey Player of the Year. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/POPE FRANCIS

Staff Writer
Published: 5/18/2022 8:03:35 PM
Modified: 5/18/2022 8:01:48 PM

For Ryan O’Leary, everything began in Easthampton – specifically, in Lossone Arena.

“My dad grew up playing hockey and he would always bring us to Lossone rink to just skate around. When we were five or six, that’s when we started Learn to Skate, and then down at the other end was Learn to Play,” O’Leary said. “We played for the Nonotuck Valley Knights when we were in first or second grade, but it all started through Easthampton.”

O’Leary, the Gazette Boys Hockey Player of the Year, has grown up in hockey rinks with his twin brother, Sean. Not always the most outgoing skater on the ice, he always had his brother to talk to and practice with while they grew up together.

“I think we’re both shy, but I was really shy when I was younger. So it was good to have somebody always around,” O’Leary said. “We would always play with each other in the driveway, street hockey, shooting at each other, just messing around, battling and fighting. It’s great to have a brother to play with.”

Hockey is a sport where development is key – sure, there are generational players who come around every once and a while, but most of those who advance through the sporting ranks do so through persistent practice and hard work. O’Leary has been developing his skills for about a decade, and his dedication to getting better has always been what stood out to his head coach at Pope Francis, Brian Foley.

“Right away his freshman year, you could see he had skill and potential to be a really good player and he works really hard. He’s a really good athlete, he’s a great baseball player as well. You just hope with a young freshman that they just do the things off the ice to keep improving every year, and that really sums up Ryan,” Foley said. “He’s more of a quiet, lead by example (guy). But it’s easy for him to be respected by his teachers, coaches, peers, because he does everything right. He’s a straight ‘A’ student, never misses a practice, works hard every day, is a very consistent player on the ice. He’s a coach’s dream.”

O’Leary, a junior, has had a variety of opportunities to better his game, whether that was traveling to nationals with Pope Francis on multiple occasions and playing against older, tougher competition during the offseason. When he’s not playing for the Cardinals, he’s lacing up for the Springfield Rifles, occasionally playing up on the older squads to gain more experience.

“Even the pace of play is totally different,” O’Leary said on playing up. “As long as you’re moving yourself, you’re not going to get hit or crushed or anything, you’ve just got to play fast and have fun.”

That’s the path O’Leary has taken this year. It was a bit of a rebuilding season for the Pope Francis squad, which went undefeated in the 2020-21 season and won the USA Hockey Division I national championship. The Cardinals lost a significant number of seniors from that team, and returning players had to step up in a big way, finding new roles for themselves in the lineup. It’s not always clear who’s going to fill the skates of the stars that graduate, but Foley was able to rely on O’Leary this past season.

“It was a growth year for him. When you lose scoring, you wonder where you’re going to pick it up. You always tend to pick it up somewhere... I went into the season thinking Ryan was gonna be a big player for us and, and sometimes you’re right on that prediction of a player and sometimes you’re wrong. And he proved us right,” Foley said. “He was a big player for us, and he’s a leader for us. I’m just extremely excited to see his continued growth and what type of year he can have as a senior.”

O’Leary is looking forward to his senior season, too. Though he’s got quite a bit of time until next season starts, he’s already talking about all the work that the team is going to put in during the summer to sharpen their skills and strengthen their team bond.

“Everybody’s working super hard this offseason. We’re all getting bigger, faster, stronger. We’re all playing with each other through the fall, we’re gonna play on the same team. This summer, we’re gonna do a camp all together,” O’Leary said. “We’re all gonna build a bunch of chemistry, and I think we’ll be a force next year.”

FIRST TEAM ALL-STARS

Georgios Alimionos, senior Amherst

Carter Beckwith, senior, Amherst

Zach Buffone, sophomore, Pope Francis

Joe Cigal, senior, South Hadley

Tyler Darling, senior, Easthampton

James Delaney, junior, Belchertown

Andrew Fijal, senior, Belchertown

Tyler Galpin, senior, Easthampton

Francis Henderson, junior, Belchertown

Kadyn Laramee, senior, South Hadley

Charlie May, junior, Amherst

Joe Meon, senior, South Hadley

Ryan O’Leary, junior, Pope Francis

Nick Paul, senior, Amherst

SECOND TEAM ALL-STARS

Cooper Beckwith, sophomore, Amherst

Gunyoung Choi, senior, Amherst

Austin Deren, junior, South Hadley

Joe Freniere, senior, Amherst

Walker Goeckel, junior, Amherst

Gabe Growhowski, sophomore, Easthampton

Nate Loughman, junior, South Hadley

Ethan Marowitz, junior, Easthampton

Tim Mitus, senior, Belchertown

Brady Moreau, junior, Belchertown

Aidan Sullivan, senior, South Hadley

HONORABLE MENTION

Gabe Arabik, senior, South Hadley

Jonny Callahan, senior, Easthampton

Devin Carleton, sophomore, South Hadley

Skyler Ferro, sophomore, Amherst

Charlie Fijal, freshman, Belchertown

Paige Galpin, sophomore, Easthampton

Yuuki Ishida, sophomore, Amherst

Caleb Lundgren, sophomore, South Hadley

Connor McDonnell, sophomore, South Hadley


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