Defenseman-Turned-Goalie Orr Is Just What Woodstock Hockey Needed
Woodstock High junior goaltender Ben Orr gets a glove on a shot from teammate Braden McCarthy (17) during a shooting drill at Union Arena on Thursday. Normally a defenseman, Orr has been pressed into goaltending duty on a team that’s dealt with low numbers all winter. (Valley News - Greg Fennell)
A goalie in youth hockey, Ben Orr has tended net for the Wasps’ last three games and could be in the crease the rest of the season. (Valley News - Greg Fennell)
Woodstock senior forward Hunter Schmell, left, helps goaltender Ben Orr fix an elbow pad during Thursday’s practice at Union Arena. (Valley News - Greg Fennell)
Burr & Burton’s Connor Harrington, center, reaches to block a shot from Hartford’s Justin DeVoid (00) during the Bulldogs’ boys basketball win over the Hurricanes last night. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
Woodstock — Most hockey coaches look at a full bench and pull out line combinations. Charlie Hancock peers at his mostly empty bench and occasionally pulls rabbits out of a hat.
The Woodstock High boys hockey team isn’t just shorthanded. If Hancock, the Wasps’ coach, had all 11 of his skating options available, he would still just barely squeeze out two lines and two sets of defensemen in front of a single goaltender.
Hancock lost that goaltender a week and a half ago. And Ben Orr arrived.
With starting netminder Brady Stewart serving an academic suspension, Orr — a junior defenseman — has become a goalie out of circumstance. In spite of it all, the Wasps have kept moving forward: A team that started with just two wins in its first eight games went through a 4-1 stretch — slowed by Saturday’s 6-3 loss to Hartford — that has improved Woodstock’s postseason fortunes entering the last half-dozen dates of the regular season.
“With him having a little bit of experience from youth level, that was all I thought we had for a choice,” Hancock said after a Union Arena practice last week that featured just seven skaters and Orr in the net. “I found out (Jan. 25) at 9 in the morning that we were going to lose (Stewart). I called Benny right up: ‘We’ve got to find some gear here. You’re putting the pads on.’ ”
Despite having only the 10-minute warmup before Jan. 26’s trip to Northfield as his sole practice, Orr turned aside 32 shots and kept the Wasps competitive in a 6-4 loss to one of Vermont Division II’s better squads. Orr followed that up with 12 saves in a 4-1 win at Peoples Academy last Wednesday and 20 in Saturday’s home loss to the Hurricanes.
The junior will also be in net tomorrow at UA against Mount Mansfield. Hancock expects to know by then whether Stewart — who attends Green Mountain Union High School in Chester, Vt. — will be eligible to return or whether he’ll have to rely on Orr for the remainder of the schedule.
“The day I heard, it was the day before the (Northfield) game, and I hadn’t had any practice,” said Orr, who played goal in youth hockey but shifted to defense as a high school freshman two winters ago. “It’s all there. It’s like riding a bike, almost. I remember all the techniques and stuff. I’m just a little rusty.”
Woodstock’s for-the-moment goaltending solution is more than just another kid in New England with B for a first initial, Orr for a last name and an affinity for hockey skates and vulcanized rubber discs.
In a different circumstance, Orr’s choice of activity might have veered away from athletics and toward music. His late father, Benjamin Orr, was the co-front man and bassist for The Cars, the Boston-based New Wave rock band that rocketed to commercial success in the late 1970s and early ’80s and whose tunes remain radio staples today.
The elder Orr died from pancreatic cancer in 2000 when his son was just 4 years old. The younger Orr’s memories are faint but happy, he said, augmented by “tons of guitars and basses in storage” and a mother, Edita Hartig, who “tells me a lot of funny stories,” he recalled.
“More mentally than anything else, (it’s) the fact that if you work hard, pretty much anything can happen,” Orr said. “He was just some kid from suburban Ohio, and he ended up being a pretty big deal. And it connected me with my mom, growing up with her. I’m … happy with how everything turned out.”
Orr gained a further connection to his past within the past two years. After the band’s four surviving members reunited to release the well-received Move Like This in May 2011, Orr took in a concert at Boston’s House of Blues and spent time with his father’s former bandmates afterward.
“It was really emotional for me; it was kind of like remembering all the feelings I’d had when I was a kid,” said Orr, who bears a facial resemblance to his father, right down to the blond hair (much shorter than Dad’s). “It was definitely cool to see them. … I don’t (keep in touch with them), but I’d really like to start. I mean, I’m getting old now; I’m, what, 17? It’s about time to start talking to them. They were a huge part of my life.”
Given the numbers, each of the Wasps has a huge part to play on the ice now.
Hancock, Woodstock’s fifth-year coach, anticipated a larger roster based on 17 attendees at a camp he held last summer. Then academic issues thinned the field. Then two skaters from Rutland’s Mount St. Joseph Academy didn’t return. Then the season started and Hancock lost sophomore forward Haven Lantz to a broken foot right off the bat.
The result is a roster with just one senior (forward Hunter Schmell) that hasn’t let a short bench hamper its success. Although he has difficulty running a useful practice with so few bodies, Hancock has seen his Wasps make up for it with a high level of effort.
“It’s hard to run an effective practice, so that everybody’s getting involved and nobody’s getting worn out too quickly,” Hancock said. “The same thing in a game situation: The deeper your bench, the better off you are, so you can feed in the third line now and then give the other two a break.
“It’s simply hockey: Try to keep the guys as fresh as you can. Although in Division II, you talk to any of the coaches and they’re only going to play two lines anyway.”
Woodstock’s shorthanded status won’t be changing anytime soon anyway. Schmell and one of the McCarthy boys, freshman Braden or sophomore Connor, will be leaving the team on a weeklong school trip to Panama around the time the postseason starts.
“We’ve had our hand forced (and) dealt with it,” Hancock said. “The kids are pretty unflappable: ‘This is what we’ve got, let’s go.’ ”
And go they have.
“We can beat anybody,” said Orr, who has also been Woodstock’s starting lacrosse goaltender since he was a freshman. “I can’t say that I played well myself (against Northfield), but the rest of the team played great. If we work hard and show up to play, we can beat anybody in the state, easily.”
Orr may not be ready to put down the pads just yet, either. “Sure, I’d love to turn it into a competition, make (Stewart) work for it,” he admitted. “But I’d love to go back and play some defense.”
Either way, Orr’s assist couldn’t have come at a better time. To paraphrase something his dad once sang, he’s just what the Wasps needed.
Greg Fennell can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3226.