SHREWSBURY – When Gardner High’s inaugural ice hockey team took to the ice 50 years ago this winter, it became a season of many firsts.
The very first goal came on December 22, 1971 against Hudson Catholic at Allen “Olie” Beauregard’s stick, while the team’s first victory – 3-1 over Nashoba on January 5, 1972 – coincided with the goal of Jim Gerde versus the Wildcats. first hat trick.
Three nights later, junior goaltender Joe Agnelli recorded the team’s first-ever shutout in a 1-0 win over Lunenburg.
“Fifty years, dammit, that was a long time ago,” said Agnelli, now 66, who for 41 years has been an attorney at Agnelli Law Offices PC, a law firm specializing in bodily injury located within the Mercantile Center in Worcester.
Agnelli and his classmate Mike Foley were the two goalies for the squad, which was led by co-captains Bert Jalbert and Don Pelletier, top scorers like Beauregard, Gerde, Bob Girouard and Hervé LeBlanc, and coached by the former UConn goalkeeper John Santucci.
“We used to skate on the ponds back then,” said Agnelli, who noted that he and Foley had previously played for coach Marty Anderson’s bantam hockey team at the Clark Memorial in Winchendon. “(Anderson) called us because he knew we liked playing the goalie and needed someone to step in. “
Agnelli recalls wearing makeshift gear made by his father, also named Joe Agnelli and known as a fairly fair knuckleball pitcher in the former Gardner City softball league.
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“My dad was quite a handyman and used to mold foam rubber in the form of goalie pads, tie belts with them and put shin guards underneath,” Agnelli recalls. “For the gloves we used first baseman mitts and my dad found an old cage that I could wear as a mask.”
Eventually, when he gathered enough money, Agnelli bought his first goalie stick for $ 5 at John’s Sports Shop in 1969.
Even though the Bruins were a popular product back then, Agnelli followed CBS-TV’s Game of the Week to watch some of the best goalies of the day.
“I loved guys like Terry Sawchuk, Johnny Bower, Eddie Giacomin and Gerry Cheevers,” Agnelli said. “Plus, at the time, the Wallace Civic Center-trained Bruins and the Boston Braves and Springfield Kings also came there to play.”
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Several uncles on the maternal side of the family were playing pond hockey. Agnelli made his debut playing on Dunn’s Pond in Gardner and Wyman Pond in Westminster.
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Once Gardner High announced he would form an ice hockey team, Agnelli was thrilled to have the chance to play, but wasn’t quite sure what he was up against.
“It was freezing at the Clark Memorial for testing and we froze our asses,” he said. “You had to really love hockey to be a part of the team during those early years because it was always cold. Mike (Foley) and I had played on icy surfaces before, not just ponds.
He remembered several players on his team shooting the puck and, in the freezing cold, the puck split in half after hitting the goal post.
“We had to get dressed to train in high school and then take a bus to the Clark,” he said. “We had put our skates next to the fireplace there and sometimes we had to share the locker room with Murdock, after they got off the ice after their workouts.”
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He recalled that members of the first year team recognized that this was a work in progress.
“We had a great time and we all got along really well. We took the losses in stride. We knew we were a new team and Coach Santucci was very patient with us. Overall I think we have done quite well, ”he said. “Coach Santucci had so much to deal with for the whole team. He worked with defense and (assistant coach) Doug Pickering was a great skater and worked with the John always told me he wished he could have spent more time with us goalies but he didn’t There was very little time to devote to training.
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He recalled that the shutout victory over Lunenburg was the only game his mother had ever played in.
“She often had to stay home and take care of my sister. I said, ‘Mom, you have to come more often,’ ”said Agnelli. “My dad put the puck on a wooden plaque that I have in my (attorney’s) office.
As the game came to a close and Gardner clung to a 1-0 lead, Agnelli recalled that Lunenburg was on the power play and struggling to score the equalizer.
“There was about 5 or 10 seconds left and somebody shot from the blue line, and I was tracked,” he recalls. “I just pulled out my glove and hoped I grabbed it, and it ended up in the glove. It was luck, otherwise it would have been a draw.
Life after high school hockey
After high school, he attended Westfield State, which did not have a varsity hockey team, so he played club hockey. He was then transferred to Fitchburg State where he focused on improving his grades to enter law school.
During these years he played in several men’s leagues in Gardner, including the Turk’s Barber Shop team which included statesmen John Aher and Eddie Zifcak.
Then, while attending law school, he began officiating all over New England and also competed in junior games on Cape Cod.
His son, Joe Agnelli III, played the goaltender role in the youth hockey program at Shrewsbury and then played at St. John’s and Lawrence Academy before helping Lebanon Valley College win a conference title. of ECAC. He also played at Nichols College before attending law school.
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“He was 10 times better than his old man ever was,” said Agnelli.
Agnelli and his wife, Lee, also have a daughter, Catherine, and six grandchildren, including 8-year-old Joe Agnelli IV, who plays Mite hockey with the Worcester Junior Crusaders.
Joe Agnelli III joined his father in his law firm six years ago.
“The objective is to take a step back and possibly let him take over,” said Agnelli.
His eventual retirement will allow the couple to travel, play some golf and visit their second home in South Carolina, near Myrtle Beach.
Agnelli is also planning a 50th meeting of the Gardner High hockey team, which will take place on February 5 at the DCU Center in Worcester during a Worcester Railers hockey game.
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