By David Willis
---- — The Andover High hockey team knows the rule. When goalie Colby Gilbert is giving instructions, it’s time to listen.
“I very rarely have to say something twice,” he said with a chuckle. “I like being a vocal leader, and I want to use my experience to be sure my team is prepared to play.”
When Gilbert took the ice in late November for preseason practice, he did so as one of the many leaders on a veteran-laden 2012-13 Andover High hockey team that sported 10 seniors returning from last year’s squad.
But as the season kicked off and the injury bug began to bite the Golden Warriors in a big way — including a number of key players lost for the season — Gilbert was asked to take on new responsibilities in addition to starting goalie.
“We needed Colby to be the backbone of this team,” said Warriors coach Mike Ciarletta. “We knew he could play goalie, but we needed him to lead and he has really stepped up and done so well in that role.”
Gilbert has embraced the responsibilities of leadership, while also once again starring in goal for the Andover High squad that entered the week having won two straight games, and on Saturday take on archrival Central Catholic.
“I think coach (Ciarletta) expected a lot out of me leading the team,” said Gilbert. “We talked about it over the summer, then when kids started going down, I had to step up along with a few other guys. I love leading by example, and that starts with playing well in goal.”
It has been quite a journey for Gilbert, who entered his junior season facing a major battle to win the starting goalie job, replacing two-time All-MVC/DCL Division 1 goalie Kyle Berthiaume.
“It was a really competitive between me, Dan (McLaughlin) and Chris Olson,” remembered Gilbert. “We were all goalies and, the previous two years we had been battling for playing time (on JV). We pushed each other a lot and it was good to have the competition.”
Not only was Gilbert able to win the job, he quickly established himself as the Warriors’ go-to netminder. He started all but three games, earning eight victories with an outstanding 1.65 goals-against average and five shutouts.
But it was in a loss, in which he allowed four goals to archrival and eventual Super 8 semifinalist Central Catholic, that Gilbert felt he truly became comfortable.
“I felt like that first matchup was a real turning point for me,” said Gilbert, who made 39 saves that day. “Central is such a big rival, and going into that game knowing I was going to get the start really solidified the position for me. It showed the coach trusted me.”
A month later, Gilbert was downright dominant against the same opponent, when he delivered a 24-save, 3-0 shutout of a Raiders team that entered on an 11-game unbeaten streak. It was just the Golden Warriors’ second victory over their nemesis since the 2005-06 season.
“Now that was a fun game,” said Gilbert. “We just played different than we had in the other game. I didn’t face a ton of shots, but a shutout is a shutout and it was even better against Central.”
Heading into his senior season, Gilbert knew he had plenty of responsibilities both on the ice and off. But those became even tougher when injuries started to hit the lineup. Top defensemen Chas Heseltine and Steve Castaldo and forward Justin Brosnan were among the seniors that were lost for much or all of the season.
“It’s hard to come into a season with such a good group of upper-classmen then losing so many,” said Gilbert. “There’s a loss of leadership. But I like that role. I want to do as much for the guys as I can, and other players have stepped up too.”
Gilbert has also continued to be a stalwart in net. In seven starts he has a 2.28 GAA including a shutout of Billerica.
“I feel like my greatest strength is that I like to prepare,” he said. “I like to watch film on my opponents and know what I am up against. On the ice I am very vocal and very focused. You are the only goalie out there, so you have to step up and make the big save when your team needs it.”
He also knows his Golden Warriors have their work cut out for them on Saturday, when they again take on Central Catholic, which enters the game ranked No. 9 in Eastern Mass., down from No. 3 after a loss to Austin Prep.
“This is something we look forward to all year,” he said. “We have high expectations for ourselves. A lot of us have been together since youth, and a lot of Andover kids play for Central, so it’s always a special game.”