“At the beginning of [last] season he said, ‘If you guys want to make it to state, I’ll get you there, but you have to put your hearts and souls into it,’ ” said Ben Camilletti, now a senior captain for the Hurricanes. “We want to do the same thing this year because we only lost a couple seniors, and thought with him, we can make it back to the state title and try to win it.”
The only problem was that Vernon planned to step away after last season. He had spent 14 years as a hockey coach, including two as an assistant at Huntingtown, and now he was faced with the graduation of his son, C.J., a defenseman.
But Vernon’s heir apparent, assistant Chris Tortorella, had to move to New Jersey for work. C.J. kept telling his father how the players all wanted him back.
Finally, it came down to the meeting at the restaurant. The rising seniors stated their case — “a pretty compelling argument,” Vernon said — and the coach laid out some strict conditions.
“They said, ‘Coach, we need you. We promise we’ll do X, Y and Z, all the things you ask,’ ” Vernon said. “So we had a long talk. I said in order for me to do this, this is what I’ll expect from you: A full commitment, no drama, you’ll play the position I tell you to play, you’ll practice hard every time you step on the ice and do what we say, and then I’ll come there and I’ll give you my best every time I step on the ice.
“And they all agreed. So here I am.”
It’s a comfortable fit for Huntingtown. Vernon first coached many of the Hurricanes when they were five years old. That includes Camilletti, who appreciates Vernon’s physical style of hockey, his ability to motivate and his hard-nosed approach.
Last season’s squad held an early 1-0 lead in the championship before ultimately coming up short. The Hurricanes are off to a 2-2 start this season, with a one-goal loss to Walt Whitman in MSHL play, as well as a 5-2 defeat against DeMatha.
“We felt we were the best team in the state [last season],” Vernon said. “So this year, we’re not saying we’re the best team in the state, but we’re gonna try our best. I think the guys feel they have some unfinished business.”
Stone Bridge doesn’t miss a beat
When his team’s season started a month ago, Stone Bridge Coach John Lynch was nervous. The team he’d guided to a championship a year ago had graduated seven seniors, and because so many of his players have obligations to club teams, the Bulldogs don’t have time to hold practices during the season.
Lynch said his fears have been mostly put to rest through already this season, with his team opening the season on a four-game winning streak during which it has allowed just one goal. Three of Stone Bridge’s four victories have come by the Northern Virginia Scholastic Hockey League’s 10-goal mercy rule and the fourth came in a 9-1 win over then-undefeated Freedom last Friday.