By Nick Curcuru
---- — Sitting in the locker room at the old Boston Garden on a mid-March day in 1993, first-year Gloucester hockey coach Dana Knowlton did not mince words when giving his team a pep talk in between the second and third periods.
Gloucester was tied 2-2 with North Middlesex in the Division 2 state championship game 20 years ago this week, taking momentum late in the second period in a game, where it had been playing catch-up for the majority of the first 30 minutes. Knowlton simply shot his team straight.
“I told them ‘20 years from now nobody is going to remember the team that came in second today, but they’re going to remember you,’” the former Gloucester head coach said.
“It was incredible the look they had after I said that, I knew there was no way we were losing that game. There were a lot of great memories from that season and I’ll never forget the look on their faces in the locker room.”
The Fishermen would come out flying in the third period, and thanks to two goals in the final 15 minutes of play, they celebrated a 4-2 win and the school’s first ever state championship in hockey.
Fast forwarding to 2013, Knowlton’s words ring true. The 1993 Gloucester hockey team is still remembered and revered for its incredible state championship run that year.
Time for a turnaround
Heading into the 1992-93 season, the Gloucester hockey program was a program on the rocks. Gloucester hadn’t registered a winning season in a decade, hadn’t made an appearance in the state tournament since 1983 and hadn’t won a postseason game since 1968. Just one year prior Gloucester finished with a 4-13-3 record.
The city of Gloucester was also going through a rough patch at the time. Gloucester was mourning the deaths of three young residents who had all passed away in the last four months. A teenager away at college was shot and killed by another student on a shooting spree. A woman took her own life by jumping off the A. Piatt Andrew Bridge and a Gloucester high school student took his own life with a gun in a crowded GHS cafeteria.
The city needed a pick-me-up, and it was 21 high school hockey players that put a smile back on faces of city residents with its show of heart and determination.
Improvements were expected from the Fishermen that season, with several starters returning including seniors Nick Novello, Chris O’Brien and Eric Hart — along with goalie Mike Interrante, who returned to Gloucester after a stint in prep school. Gloucester also had several promising underclassmen in sophomore Darrell Seppala and freshman Mario Orlando and Jason Harrington.
Down the road, Orlando and Seppala would end up being the school’s top two scorers with 221 and 215 points respectively. Harrington is currently the fourth leading scorer in school history with 135 points.
The Fishermen also had an abundance of what every good team needs — role players.
While the team certainly had talent few thought a state title was in the making for a team that didn’t have a single player on the roster with state tournament experience.
Fortunately, the 21 players and the coaching staff were amongst the few who knew how far the team’s talent could take them. Knowlton was on to the talent Gloucester had after watching them the season before. The Fishermen were at the bottom of the league, but took on a tough Saugus team at the top of the league and played right with them. That game opened Knowlton’s eyes as to what the team was going to bring to the table the next season.
“I knew I had a bunch of good young men,” Knowlton said. “They just hadn’t had the confidence in the past. But this was a hungry bunch and we all had a lot to prove.”
Knowlton juggled the lineup a bit, moving Seppala from defense to forward, Jeremy Jewell from center to wing and Hart to the starting center slot.
The players in the locker room knew this was a team to be reckoned with, and it was up to them to go out and prove it.
“We had a great combination of guys,” Knowlton said. “Obviously, Darrell, Mario and Jason had great careers but we had a ton of great role players. Novello and O’Brien were always in control on the blue line, Interrante was a great goaltender and we had a perfect mix of forwards.”
Regular season success
Gloucester hit the regular season rolling starting off the year with eight straight wins. At the time, the Fishermen had kept their heads down and took things one game at a time, but after the torrid start and a 55-13 goal differential, the team knew something special was brewing.
“(Goalie) Mike Interrante said to me at practice one day, ‘What’s going on here? Nobody is going to beat us in the end,’” Knowlton said. “We just had that feeling.”
The team hit a bit of a rough stretch in the middle of the season, going 1-2-1 in the next four games, with losses to Danvers and Marblehead and a tie against Saugus, but the Fishermen would turn it on down the stretch run.
Gloucester racked up a 7-0-1 record over the final eight games of the regular season and appeared to be hitting its stride just as the state tournament was beginning.
The Fishermen finished the regular season with 16 wins, with Orlando, Seppala, Hart, O’Brien and Jewell as the team’s top five leading scorers.
Historic tournament run
At 16-2-2, Gloucester was a team that everybody knew was good, but it still had something to prove. The Fishermen needed five wins to take home a state title and they were reminded of that every day, with Knowlton putting a board outside the guidance office at Gloucester High School. The five check boxes on it marked the five wins Gloucester needed to win the state championship.
“We knew each game would be difficult and exciting,” Knowlton said. “We ended up playing teams with great records and great hockey traditions along the way.”
After cruising past Canton with a 3-0 win in the opening with O’Brien, Seppala and Orlando notching a goal and an assist each, the Fishermen entered the heart of the tournament and a second-round date with mighty Hanover.
In 1993 there were no sections in Eastern Mass. and as a result the Fishermen had to battle through several schools from southern Mass. to reach the Boston Garden.
In Hanover, the Fishermen were squaring off with a senior-laden, battle-tested team and may have even entered the game as underdogs. Gloucester, however, showed off its combination of talent, depth and heart coming away with a 5-2 win and playing its best hockey as the game wore on. Knowlton credited the play of an underclassmen line in that win as Harrington, John Karvelas and Zach Smith played a huge role in getting Gloucester a win in that game.
Hart scored a pair of goals in the win while Seppala, Puglisi and Karvelas added the others.
“They were young kids with their eyes popping out of their heads playing against two of the top scorers in the state on Hanover,” Knowlton said. “(Hanover) was a mature team and they thought they were going to beat us, a lot of people thought they were going to beat us but the kids really came through. They stayed on them and kind of wore them out in the end.”
That brought Gloucester to a third-round clash with Boston Latin. Another powerhouse team with talent, tradition and a hot goalie. Like Hanover, Boston Latin was also tournament-tested, with 15 seniors on the team. It was a tall task for the Fishermen, but once again a task they were up to.
Because Latin’s goalie was eating up every shot in close, Gloucester began to shoot from further out and the strategy worked. On goals from Seppala and Finnish exchange student Janni Kaariainen found the back of the net and Gloucester walked away with a 2-1 win and a berth in the state semifinals.
“Their talent was difficult to neutralize and their goalie was difficult to beat but I’ll tell you we played our hearts out against them,” Knowlton said of Boston Latin. “They played us even I thought, but we worked so hard to get that win.”
That set up a showdown with Franklin in a game where the winner would represent Eastern Mass. at the Boston Garden. As it turned out, the Franklin game may have been the most exciting and wacky tournament game of the bunch.
Franklin had a goal called back early in the contest after the official blew the whistle because he lost sight of the puck, which had dribbled into the net from underneath Interrante’s pad after the whistle blew. Gloucester also appeared to have a goal called back for having someone in the crease after the puck fluttered high into the air. The officials, however, conferred — and the goal would count.
Gloucester went on to pick up a hard-fought 4-3 win on goals from Seppala (2), Hart and Jewell. Knowlton was also quick to praise the play of Puglisi for shadowing Franklin’s leading scorer.
In the state championship game, Gloucester would play Central Mass. champion North Middlesex at the historic Boston Garden.
It was Gloucester’s first appearance on the Garden ice and the nerves showed early in the contest. North Middlesex broke out to a 1-0 lead late in the first period and extended that lead to 2-0 in the middle of the second frame.
“We started out with butterflies, I think we were freaked out by the fact that we were at the Boston Garden,” Knowlton said. “It was kind of hard until we got settled in.”
Late in the second period, Gloucester got settled. With just over five minutes to go in the second frame, Orlando raced down the left wing, put a shot on goal and scored on his own rebound cutting the lead to 2-1, giving the Fishermen some momentum and sending the Gloucester faithful at the Garden into a frenzy.
Two minutes later, Gloucester tied the score at 2-2 when Orlando hit Hart with a cross-ice pass and the senior assistant captain finished the job and the teams went into the third period tied.
The final 15 minutes belonged to Gloucester. The Fishermen came out flying and peppered the North Middlesex net with shots and finally took the lead on a Seppala goal in the slot. A short time later, O’Brien would add the finishing touch with a goal making it 4-2.
As the final second ticked off the clock, the team went wild on the ice and the fans went wild in the stands, celebrating the first state title in program history, a title that was well earned.
“Even though we were down a goal we weren’t down emotionally,” Knowlton told the Gloucester Times after the win. “I thought we were playing well even though we were down 2-0. I said to the boys, it’s just a matter of time.”
Gloucester celebrated into the night as a large contingent of still cheering fans met the team bus at Grant Circle and followed on a parade throughout the city, where joyous city residents lined the streets to cheer on the newly crowned state champions.
Two decades later, the memory of Gloucester’s incredible run is still vivid in Knowlton’s mind. And he’s still appreciative of the ride his team put him and the city through.
“I don’t think there was a time where they didn’t come through,” Knowlton sad. “It was just an amazing team. Every kid who stepped on the ice contributed for us and contributed well. We had a great group of captains who had control of the team and everyone got along well.
“It was just a special group,” he added. “I can’t believe it was 20 years ago already.”
Sports Editor Nick Curcuru can be reached at 978-283-7000, or at email@example.com.