When Kevin McDougall stepped onto the ice Sunday night, he was not a bundle of nerves.
The stage was about as big as it gets: under the bright lights and on the big ice sheet at TD Garden, with Marshfield taking on defending Division 1 champ Burlington for the state title. But the senior captain had skated there two years ago, as a member of the Rams’ 2010-11 championship team.
A little practice goes a long way, said the sturdy defenseman.
“When we first played two years ago, I couldn’t feel my legs. . . . I couldn’t concentrate. It was so exciting and everything, playing at TD Garden,” recalled McDougall.
“This year I was more about focusing on the game. Just put everything else aside — all the fans, all the glamour — and I just wanted to play the game.
“When I was out there I was trying to tell my teammates, ‘Calm down.’ Just think about how it’s another game we’re playing at the Hobomock rink in Pembroke. It was a much different experience, I’ll tell you that much.”
For a time, he and the Rams did just “play the game.” He assisted Marshfield’s first goal at 2:44 of the opening frame, and the state final was knotted at one apiece headed into the second period.
But Burlington parlayed three second-period goals into a comfortable cushion en route to a repeat, 4-2.
When the final horn sounded, with red-and-white Burlington equipment strewn all over the ice, it was the end of the line for 16 somber seniors at Marshfield, including McDougall and senior forward Pat Burchill, a pair of four-year varsity players.
“I just wanted to go out with a bang,” McDougall said. “Obviously, we didn’t do it [Sunday], but I thought we had an awesome season.”
The Rams have a lot to be proud of from their 20-7 campaign. Two sets of siblings were instrumental in the team’s success. Mike Carbone (22 goals, 27 assists), a senior captain, and his younger brother, freshman JoJo (2 goals, 16 assists), along with the Burchills — Pat (5 goals, 13 assists), a senior, and Matt, a junior, (10 goals, 22 assists) — accounted for more than a third of the Rams’ points.
A 16-6 regular season (11-1 to snag the Atlantic Coast League title), which featured a 7-3 win over eventual Super 8 champion Malden Catholic on Jan. 16, led to a No. 5 seed in the South sectional.
Then the Rams really turned it on.
They ripped off four wins in a row to reach the final, with two of those victories — a 2-1 overtime thriller against Xaverian in the South quarterfinals and a 6-3 triumph over Hingham in the sectional final — particularly satisfying, according to McDougall. Both the Hawks and Harbormen beat Marshfield during the regular season.
McDougall — playing some of his best hockey in the tourney, in the eyes of coach Dan Connolly — was there every step of the way.
McDougall (0 goals, 4 assists this season) proudly identifies himself as a true defensive defenseman.
His true strength — and to a certain extent, enjoyment — lies in his size. At 6-feet-2, 190 pounds, he has a lot of weight to throw around, and he uses every inch of his physique.
“I just like to take the body, get in [opponents’] heads,” McDougall said.
“I like to be the guy that they’re always thinking about. ‘Oh, I’m not going to [compete with] this guy; he’s going to hit me,’ or something like that. I just try to get in their minds, get them more scared.”
His partner on the blue line, senior Brian Smith, said that watching McDougall deliver a punishing hit to a foe fires up the bench in an instant.
Connolly recalled one instance in the final game of his team’s state championship run two years ago. McDougall, then a sophomore, hit a Wakefield skater at the blue line and knocked him all the way back to the red line, according to the coach.
“It was shown on the highlight tape on the Jumbotron, and everyone was like ‘Holy smoke,’ ” said Connolly, who raved about McDougall’s skating ability and his power.
“He just came through. He hits the kid just perfect and really connected. That changed the momentum of that game. They were back on their heels.”
McDougall has come a long way since then, and not just physically. He has grown from a quiet freshman that mostly kept to himself on the varsity to a leader, though more by example than by being vocal. He says he is not the type to blow up in the locker room, instead opting to make his impression on the ice.
Smith doesn’t necessarily agree.
When he earned a spot on the varsity as a junior, McDougall, by then an experienced veteran, took his classmate under his wing, in a way, helping him make the transition up from the junior varsity.
“He just told me to stay calm out there,” said Smith, echoing the sentiment McDougall also expressed to his teammates before Sunday’s game.
“It’s just hockey. It’s just another game. It’s a step up from JV, but at the end, it’s just hockey.”Tim Healey can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @timbhealey.