There are 23 players in Old Bridge High School’s ice hockey program.
Two, Martha Dzieniszewska and Heather Figueroa, are girls.
Old Bridge coach Damian Lonigro considers them his team leaders. They are his only two seniors, and the 21 younger players–the 21 male players- -follow their example.
“They’ve been here four years and are starting varsity players,” Lonigro said. “They always have the right things to say in the locker room and they definitely lead by example on the ice.”
Early in the 2018-19 season, Old Bridge has struggled against more experienced opponents, starting 1-5. But in a loss to Monroe Township High School on Dec. 12, the Knights broke through in the third period. They scored their only goal of the game, controlled the puck and played better defense.
Old Bridge showed improving team chemistry that could lead to more victories.
“We had a real tough second period and when we came into the locker room to regroup, we talked about just winning the third period,” Lonigro said. “They could have rolled over and they didn’t. They stepped up and played their best period of the year.”
“It showed there’s no quit, there’s a desire, that they want to be here,” Lonigro added.
The third period effort was a reflection of positive leadership. Figueroa even sparked the Knights on the ice. Early in the third, she pushed a Monroe player away from Old Bridge’s goalie.
The Monroe player was twice her size, and the clean hit energized Figueroa’s teammates.
“I like to just keep the team thinking positive, working hard out there. It’s really our main goal,” Figueroa said. “I just try and be there for my teammates when something doesn’t go right.”
For the Knights to win more games, Figueroa and Dzieniszewska will have to continue to play the role that Figueroa just described. The seniors are not shy about doing so. They enjoy playing with, and leading, the boys.
“I try to keep a smile on my face even if we’re losing a lot,” Dzieniszewska said. “Since they are so much younger, I feel like they look up to me as a senior.”
Figueroa and Dzieniszewska play with girls on their travel teams. But both prefer playing with boys.
“It’s just more fun, honestly, because they are way more aggressive,” Dzieniszewska said, smiling. “I feel powerful, to be honest. It’s fun.”
She laughed as Figueroa walked over. Then, Figueroa laughed too.
“I like playing guys,” Figueroa said, still laughing. “I just like the competitiveness. I like to hit some guys. I’m tiny so it feels good. They are probably like, ‘Yo, she’s so tiny!'”
The senior also said that being in a leadership role has given her confidence.
“It kind of makes you feel like you’re just as good as them. It’s a really good feeling,” Figueroa said. “You have leadership over them. It’s pretty cool that you can lead a guys team.”
With such a young team, Lonigro is still figuring everything else out. But he at least knows he has two foundational pillars to build a team around. He also thinks the Knights have enough talent to blossom around their seniors.
“I expect us to be fighting to make the (NJSIAA Public A) and the (Greater Middlesex Conference) playoffs,” Lonigro said. “That’s a long time away, so I expect them to be a different team then. They are definitely on their way to being ready.”