By Josh Perry, Managing Editor
BROCKTON, Mass. – The line was pouring out the door of Asiaf Arena and into the snow on Tuesday night, as Canton and Stoughton hockey prepared to take the ice for a Hockomock game that meant far more than its impact on the league standings.
Fans packed into the rink, with all four sets of bleachers filled. It was reminiscent of when Asiaf plays host to the Div. 2 South semifinals, not an early-January contest.
In the last locker room, down the hall on the left, senior Matty Marcone pulled on his No. 11 jersey with Canton scrawled across the front. It is the same number that had been worn three years ago by his older brother J.C. A captain’s ‘C’ had been pinned onto the front of the jersey and when the Bulldogs made their way to the ice, it was Matty that was first through the doors.
He was introduced on the ice with the team, standing between captain Bobby Mullaney and junior Ryan Lodge. Although he was not technically going to be a starter, there was only one name that the crowd was waiting to hear and like a hometown player at an all-star game, when his name was called he received by far the loudest roar.
When the puck was dropped, Stoughton reluctantly scored a goal on the opening shift. Black Knights coach Dan Mark admitted that none of his kids wanted to score at the start of the game for fear of taking the spotlight away from Matty, but this was all part of the plan. On the second shift, Matty skated out to center ice to take the draw.
He won the face-off and skated across the blue line all alone on the goalie, just as he had dreamed about countless times shooting on the garage at home, at practices with the Bulldogs, or every Saturday skating with the Boston Bear Cubs. He threw in a quick deke, admitting later with a wry smile that he wanted to add some style to the goal, and then he wristed a shot just inside the post.
Immediately he wheeled away to his right, arms raised in triumph, waiting for his teammates to join him in the corner. He was only there for a second before he was lost, swallowed up in a sea of green and white jerseys.
“He’s a goal scorer,” said Canton coach Brian Shuman. “We’ve seen it all these years in practice…and when he scores a goal, he’s practiced his celebrations before…Seeing his smile made it all worth it.”
During the first intermission, Matty explained how he felt on the ice. He said, “I liked coming in. I liked seeing all the fans coming too. It’s a lot of fun.”
He added, “That was just cool out there.” When asked what it was like celebrating a goal with his teammates after all these years, Matty replied honestly, “I felt like I was going to fall over a little bit.”
Matty has been the manager for the Canton hockey team, as well as football and lacrosse, for the past four seasons. He is a senior in the special education program at Canton High (and according to his mother Susan will be receiving a diploma this spring) and in 2012 was diagnosed with dyskeratosis congenita, a rare disorder for which at this time there is no cure.
When it was decided to organize a game for Matty and to give him the chance to take the ice, Shuman and his parents attempted to keep it a secret, but it slipped out. It hit social media and quickly spread through the ranks of media members, classmates, parents, other hockey programs, and soon #ShiftForMatty was trending on Twitter.
“We tried to keep it a secret but then it hit everywhere and he found out,” said Susan Marcone during the second period. “Actually, he said that all the ladies were texting him, so he was pretty excited.”
When asked what this night meant for her and for the Marcone family (both J.C. and Matty’s sister Nicole were able to attend), Susan said, “It’s just what you want for your kid. I’ve seen it with my other kids and I’ve supported them and it’s just nice to be able to see him in that role as well.”
Shuman joked that Matty seemed to be handling the buildup to the game better than the most of the adults.
“I didn’t get much sleep thinking about the start of the game because so much planning went into it from so many people,” said Shuman.
“He’s cracking jokes and talking to the cameras and he was the most calm and composed of anyone before the game. Typical Matty.”
Matty took part in the team’s pregame rituals including the team dinner on Monday night and wearing a shirt and tie to school on game day. He had always been an important member of the program, but now he could officially call himself a member of the team. The excitement was shared by the rest of the Bulldogs.
Shuman said, “They love him like a brother. I think every one of them would say they have another brother in their family and it’s him. He makes so many people happy and he’s such a pure and kind young man.”
Praise was also directed to Dan Mark and the Stoughton program for jumping at the opportunity to be part of the night. The Stoughton players cheered for Matty during the intros and when he took the ice for the first time and came together to congratulate him after the goal.
“I can’t say enough about the sportsmanship of those kids to really do this,” said Susan. “Especially because Canton and Stoughton are such big rivals.”
Shuman added, “What can you say about Danny Mark? He’s just the best and tonight wouldn’t have been possible without his generosity and the sportsmanship of Stoughton High School.”
Mark took a second between the second and third periods to share his thoughts on the occasion. He deflected credit to Shuman for planning the night and said simply, “To see a smile on Matty’s face was well worth it. Of course the score isn’t that great (8-1 at the time), but it’s a minor thing by comparison.”
“This is great. Mission accomplished as far as I’m concerned.”
Sports have the ability to provide awe-inspiring moments of skill; athletic feats that cause you to wonder how it could be possible to score that goal or to make that shot.
Sports also have the ability to create awe-inspiring moments of a very different kind. Sports bring communities together, creating and celebrating moments of humanity, of sportsmanship, and of inclusion. They allow spectators to share in those moments together and those are the memories that will love on.
As Matty Marcone was introduced before the standing room only crowd on Tuesday night in an old rink in Brockton, with all the fans, Stoughton and Canton alike, cheering for No. 11 in green, it was clear that sports had created another moment to cherish.
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.
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