JUNIOR HOCKEY: Matured Dunne leads Leafs into nationals


Posted: March 25th, 0208 by Tom Nolette

JUNIOR HOCKEY: Matured Dunne leads Leafs into nationals
March 25, 2008 6:00 AM

At Wareham High School, Gerard Dunne did a lot of wowing but not a lot of winning. That second part has changed dramatically after the 2005-06 Standard-Times Super Team goaltender has spent the past two winters sharpening his skills in junior hockey.

When Dunne gets the state at 8:20 a.m. today for the Mass. Maple Leafs against the Brooklyn, N.Y., based Metro Fighting Moose in the round-robin C Division opener of the Tier III Junior National Tournament, it'll be an older and wiser puck stopper between the pipes at the New England Sports Center in Marlboro.

"I definitely have matured, reading the play, not always relying on using your reactions, just being smarter out there really," said Dunne, 19, who last year played in the Empire League with Bay State Breakers Junior B team based out of Rockland. Last fall he hooked up with the Maple Leafs and has been part of a successful goaltending tandem, splitting duty with Paul Karus of Wisconsin. Dunne has gone 41-10 with a 3.39 goals-against average and an .880 save percentage.

"Tryouts were just a formality," said Maple Leafs coach Tony DeSilva, who tried to get Dunne on his team in 2006. "From June, it's night and day. His biggest problem was consistency."

"When I saw him two years ago, he was just raw. Now he's added some polish to his game," said goaltending instructor Cap Raeder, a former NHL coach and current pro scout and goalie coach with the San Jose Sharks. "He's great to work with because he's a sponge. He wants to get better."

Dunne played a major role as the Maple Leafs won the Continental Hockey Association championship earlier this month in Pittsburgh. It was the program's fifth title in the past 10 years. He'd like to use this season as a springboard into competition for a spot with a college team in the fall, likely at the Division-III level, though he could return to juniors.

His newfound even-keel approach is something he learned from Raeder and has cultivated while helping the Leafs achieve a 39-1 record in C-level play.

"Every game, we kind of know what to expect from him. He doesn't necessarily have one style," said DeSilva, comparing Dunne to Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas. "That's kind of how Dunnie is. He may not make that standard kick-out save, but he stops the puck. He's had a couple of clunkers, but when you play as many games as we do, you're going to have some clunkers."

After completing round-robin play in the nationals, the Leafs will have played 84 games in 2007-08. To accomplish that with a team built on players who, for the most part, are not available full time, DeSilva has had to rely on contributions from talented part-timers like New Bedford High graduate Andrew Pontes.

Pontes, a Winchendon Academy post-graduate student with eyes on a playing career at UMass Dartmouth, led the Maple Leafs in league-tournament playoff scoring with seven points. He is allowed to participate in the tournaments while on school break.

Nick Smola (21 goals, 31 assists for 52 points in 67 GP) has been DeSilva's most versatile player, and the Dartmouth native produced a goal and an assist in the Leafs' playoff win against Pittsburgh.

"He's kind of like the utility fielder, he can pretty much play forward, pretty much play 'D.' He's kind of like sixth man in basketball," said DeSilva.

While the Leafs' premiere team has enjoyed success for the third straight season, the program's development team, geared for area high school players, called off its season after a poor start. The loss of coach Brian Travers to Bridgewater State has DeSilva searching for a new coach who can immediately take over with the split-season Select squad and, perhaps, eventually replace DeSilva behind the premiere team's bench.

"I'd really like to get that second program back up and running after having to fold it last year for lack of players," said DeSilva. "After going to the nationals, I'm hoping it will inspire some (high school) kids to play."

Dunne may be the Leafs' most inspired player right now, as he's found himself a place to thrive and learn while on the job.

"He's not always the prettiest goalie, but he's very aggressive and competitive. This kid really works hard," said Raeder. "He's still got a ways to go, but he's shown a lot of improvement."

Contact Mick Colageo at


Tier III junior nationals

When: Today-Saturday

Where: New England Sports Center, Marlboro

What: A, B and C-level tournaments over five days on five rinks. Action begins early morning and lasts throughout the day, beginning with three days of round-robin play and continuing with semifinals Saturday and finals Sunday.

Leafs' schedule: 8:20 a.m. today vs. Metro (N.Y.) Fighting Moose; 8:40 a.m. Wednesday vs. Charleston (S.C.) Wolverines; 9:40 a.m. Thursday vs. East Coast Eagles (Raleigh, N.C.).