By Rich DePreta
There are times when hard work is its own legacy.
The Stonehill College Men's Ice Hockey program has decided to reward the just-completed four-year career of Stamford resident Anthony D'Elia by naming the Anthony D'Elia Award as one of its honors each year at the Skyhawks' postseason team banquet.
D'Elia had earned the honor — originally named the Stonehill ice hockey GRIT award — as a sophomore and a junior with the Skyhawks.
"The parameters of the GRIT Award was to give it to a player who embodied hard work, perseverance and doing things beyond scoring goals to help our team win," Stonehill third-year head coach David Borges said. "Anthony D'Elia won the award two years running because he's such a gritty player on the ice. Playing forward at 5-foot-8 inches and 170 pounds, Anthony was out as part of our No. 1 forward line battling opponents who might be six or seven inches taller and 30 pounds heavier than him. Anthony competed every second on the ice and never cut corners. He is the epitome of what we want this award to stand for in the years to come."
D'Elia, who will graduate this spring with a degree in business management, went to Stonehill in North Easton, Mass., after three years playing ice hockey and baseball at the Gunnery School. He was captain of both squads his senior year.
"When I was looking at colleges I knew I wanted the right education and I wanted to play hockey. Stonehill jumped out at me," D'Elia said. "They were looking to turn the program around. And I was part of a group of 15 freshmen who came in. New kids. And a new culture to take the program where we wanted to. Our guys (15 seniors on the 2015-2016 squad) have been able to accomplish a legacy over four years."
Borges took over the Skyhawks' program just before D'Elia's sophomore season.
In three years, Stonehill was 43-25-8 overall in Borges' tenure. The Skyhawks captured three consecutive NE-10 Conference regular season titles, going 19-0-2 in league play the first two years.
In 2015-16, Stonehill added its first NE-10 postseason tournament crown since 2007. Stonehill was declared postseason champs when its finals matchup with St. Anselm's was cancelled due to a mumps outbreak at St. Anselm's.
"When I took over, Stonehill was scoring four goals a game. But they were allowing four goals per game as well," Borges said. "What myself and this group brought was disciplined hockey in the defensive zone. They accepted responsibility for all 200 feet of the ice. In my first season, we had a late-season 10-game winning streak where we allowed 1.78 goals per game. From there, the kids bought in to what we preached. And the system kept working."
It has been a system that suited D'Elia's skill-set and mindset perfectly.
"Anthony worked hard every single day in practice. And every single shift during games," Borges said. "Anthony challenges everyone else to be better. He only knows one speed — full speed. I loved his approach the last three years. The NHL names many of its postseason awards after the great players in the game. And I wanted the Anthony D'Elia Award to be Anthony's legacy to our program. Every year when we give it out we will talk about the passion and commitment Anthony brought to Stonehill ice hockey."
In 97 career contests, D'Elia scored 17 goals with 29 assists for 46 points. In 2015-2016, D'Elia was limited to two goals and 10 assists, playing most of the season with a high ankle sprain.
"This past season, we played the toughest schedule in Stonehill hockey history. We wanted to be prepared for the postseason," D'Elia said. "I rolled my ankle badly. I spent most of the season with my foot in a boot and doing hours of therapy. There was no way I was going to miss time during my senior year."
D'Elia took his job as assistant captain very seriously.
"I wanted to lead by example. Lead by my work ethic. Give the younger kids someone to emulate," D'Elia said. "Because of my size I play with a chip on my shoulder. So many people told me I was too small to play college hockey. My job every night was to prove them wrong."
Besides the pride of seeing the Stonehill hockey championship banners, D'Elia has an enduring part of the Skyhawks' tradition to relish.
"I've loved hockey since age 4. All the guys I've played with over the years have made it a special experience and adventure," D'Elia said. "And now to see my name on the award and what it represents is a great honor. Stonehill is the place where I grew as a person ready to embrace life."