Hesse calming influence to No. 8 St. Mary's

LYNN, Mass. – Mark Lee sat in his office, surrounded by the trophies and team photos he’s collected during the last 24 years as the helm of St. Mary’s of Lynn boys’ hockey team. Following a 3-3 tie with Archbishop Williams on Saturday, the No. 8 Spartans are in the thick of the Catholic Central race, but they haven’t quite separated themselves from the pack either, sitting at 3-1-3.

St. Mary’s has been slow to start in a couple of those games and, in the process, may have let a couple of points slip away.

“I think we’re going to get better as the season goes on,” Lee said. “We’re still trying to find ourselves and we’re in a little bit of a scoring slump.”

However, St. Mary’s has it covered in the nets with senior Donald Hesse. Rest assured, if the Spartans find their scoring touch and build toward the postseason, Hesse will be prominent in any success St. Mary’s might enjoy.

“He’s been our backbone for the last two years,” Lee said of Hesse. “Any hockey program, you always want to build from your goaltender out and we feel that we have as good a goaltender as there is in high school hockey in this area. That’s a great plus for us.”

Hesse, a Salem native, was perhaps the state’s hottest goaltender at the end of the 2009-10 season, guiding the Spartans to an appearance in the Division 1 North finals. St. Mary’s lost 2-1 to eventual state champion Arlington Catholic. After maintaining a 2.09 goals against average during the regular season, Hesse carried the team in the tournament.

He’s considering spending a year at prep school (Berkshire Academy, Bridgton Academy and New Hampton are among his targets) before looking to break into the college game.

“The bigger the game, the better he played right up until that last game against Arlington Catholic,” Lee said, “and he was great in that game, too.”

In the locker room, Hesse has a quiet demeanor. He prepares with a common ritual: first listening to his pregame music mix (Lil Wayne and Disturbed help pump him up), he stretches and then tests his reflexes with a tennis ball in a secluded part of the rink.

That calmness belies his intensity.

“I don’t say much, I’m just focused on what I have to do in the game,” said Hesse, a Salem native. “Other people joke around before a game, and they can do that, but I have to be quiet to focus on what I’m doing for me to get ready for a game.”

Although he’s reserved in his pregame routine, Hesse realizes the importance of taking an active role in setting a tone.

“It’s all about leadership,” he said. “We need to put the younger guys on our backs and take them there. We have to lead them there.”

Hesse also pointed to the contributions of some of St. Mary’s younger leaders, such as sophomore forward Bobby Mullens, who has scored seven goals in seven games. The Spartans will depend on players like Mullens stepping up to get them where they want to be.

“It’s a funny team,” Lee said. “It’s not the most talented team, but the work ethic that we have has been better than just about any group that I’ve had. We’re not going to go out and score six goals a game, that’s just not in our repertoire. But we have a team that’s going to go out and play very hard every night.

“It’s all about us. If we go out and play the way we’re capable of playing, we can do well. But we’ll decide how far we go.”

Lee, who has had a state title elude his grasp at St. Mary’s, knows firsthand what a goaltender can do for a team in the postseason. Before Hesse, former all-scholastic Nick Vitale led the Spartans through four postseason runs.

“Hot goaltenders are going to take you as far as they’re going to take you,” he said. “[Hesse] certainly did that last year.”

Lee also considered Hesse among the best that he’s seen in the program. But he didn’t yet want to close the book on his career.

“I’m not going to say he’s number one, but he’s among the best. Hopefully, we’ve got a lot of games left to play.”