By Mike Zhe
Last year, before Brooks School home games, freshman Max Prawdzik would head to the room of teammate Colin Langham, stretch out and take a nap.
No big deal, right? Even young hockey players need their sleep.
But Prawdzik and Langham are more than just young hockey players. They’re very capable goalies — and competing goalies — on a good Brooks team that can play only one of them at a time.
“Colin and I are great friends,” said Prawdzik, a sophomore. “The first time I met him he was extremely polite, very warm: ‘How do you like school?’ My first captains’ practice, I was a little nervous and wasn’t playing my best. He came up to me, asked me how I was doing, calmed me down and helped me out.”
The two share more than a friendship at the North Andover, Mass., school. Injury-wise, they’re starring in a hockey team production of “Groundhog Day.”
Last year, with the touted Prawdzik, an Andover, Mass., native, arriving as a freshman and Langham coming in as a repeat junior, there figured to be a good battle for the starting job. But Langham sprained his ankle in the preseason and missed six weeks of action, opening the door for the youngster.
“For a ninth-grader, he was kind of mature beyond his years in net,” said Brooks coach Dave Ries.
This year, the roles were reversed. Prawdzik picked up a virus after the season’s opening weekend — which included him making 17 saves in a 4-0 shutout of Buckingham, Browne & Nichols — and has not played since, handing the workload to Langham. Prawdzik is expected to be back once the new year begins.
“It’s kind of a bad coincidence,” said Langham. “It’s weird. It’s unfortunate that this happened. Max is a great goalie. I think in practice, when we’re both healthy, we really push each other.”
Brooks, which competes in the Independent School League, closed out the first segment of the year at 3-1-1, losing to Keller Division heavyweight St. Sebastian’s (5-1), tying Eberhart Division foe Middlesex (2-0, with Langham making 22 saves), and also beating Pingree and St. Mark’s.
Ries took over as coach when Brooks was in the midst of some lean years. But two years ago, the team went 11-8-3, following that up with a 16-11-1 campaign that included sharing the title in the ISL’s Eberhart Division (with Rivers School) and reaching the semifinals of the Piatelli/Simmons tournament.
Over the summer, Prawdzik was one of six 1997 birthdate goalies selected to attend USA Hockey’s National Goalie Camp in Ann Arbor, Mich. A lanky, butterfly-style goalie, he’s worked with local gurus Brian Daccord and Adam Geragosian and hopes to play Division 1 college hockey.
“He has a lot of potential,” said Ries. “If he keeps improving his technique, rebound control and puck handling. We’ll be counting on him for a big contribution over the next three years.”
He’s eager to get back on the ice and start making up for lost time.
“Last year, my love for hockey really expanded,” said Prawdzik. “I never looked forward to hockey like I did last year.”
The 5-foot-10 Langham is part of a Georgia pipeline for Brooks, which boasts four natives, including senior defenseman and co-captain Mitch Nylen, who played on the same Atlanta Fire team. Brothers K.J. and Connor Moore also played for the Flames, and all four could look forward to warm weather over the holidays while Prawdzik and other northern teammates shivered.
“We also have a kid from Florida,” noted Langham, a native of Cumming, Ga. “He’s probably on the beach right now.”
After missing the first part of last season with the ankle injury, Langham got the call for several big games down the stretch. He was at his best in the Piatelli/Simmons quarterfinals, making 42 saves as the seventh-seeded Bishops knocked off No. 2 South Kent, 5-3.
While he doesn’t have Prawdzik’s size, he’s a technically sound goalie and a very good stickhandler, something that’s not a given at that age.
“He plays his angles and relies on standing up a little more than Max has to,” said Ries. “And he’s great handling the puck. He’s the one who starts the breakouts.”
Two years older than Prawdzik, his adjustment to the school came quicker, on and off the ice.
“He fit into the school well right away,” said Ries. “He became an admissions (department) tour guide less than three months after starting at Brooks, which is unheard of.”
It isn’t just goaltending that has the Bishops aiming high in 2013. Nylen is the anchor of a good defense, while co-captain Andrew Bruno, a strong two-way player, leads the way up front.
“We’re doing really good so far,” said Langham. “We graduated a couple key players but the new kids have really stepped up. Once we get back from break, I think we’re going to hit our stride, just like we did last year.”
Once they get back from break, there should be a healthy Prawdzik back to make the goaltending situation more interesting.
Which is exactly how both players — and friends — want it.
“We have a great relationship,” said Langham. “I love Max; he’s a great kid, a great goalie. Last year was really the first time I was in a goalie situation like this. We’re not fighting for the job, but we’re definitely going to push each other.”
This article originally appeared in the January 2013 issue of New England Hockey Journal.