Mules of History: From the Cellar to the Championship

A Manager’s View of the Historical Run

Connor Ruse, PaperClip Staff/Writer

“Every winning team has to be a ‘team’ at its core.  Bonding, on and off the ice is essential,” says Assistant Coach John Pendleton while responding to an interview reflecting on how he felt about the 2021-22 season.

And to pull off something like what the 2021-22 Clipper Mules Boys Ice Hockey team did this year was something none of the players, freshman to seniors, would have expected or believed.

“The team itself was the biggest contributor to our success, most teams in this league don’t have the same chemistry that our team has. We all love each other and we would all fight for each other no matter what,” added John Pendleton’s son and junior player, Caleb Pendleton.

Caleb Pendleton was responsible for one of the most memorable moments in Portsmouth Boys Ice Hockey history when he buried the puck in the net against Oyster River to take a 5 – 4 lead with 1:21 left in the third period.

Led by Caleb Pendleton’s late goal, the Mules were able to hold on and win the game, catapulting them up to the New Hampshire State Finals.

And there I was: A person who only filled water bottles for the team for a short time before the pandemic, now being treated with a silver medallion for being the runner-up, yet I had never put a blade or stick to the ice.

Now, I wear a jersey on my back. Number 4 to be specific. To mark how many years I spent tied to the team.

I was the manager of the team from 2018 to 2022. The first two years of my tenure, the Mules found little to no success when battling other teams. We were never quite able to present ourselves as a challenge to opponents in Division 2.

“Back when I was a kid” alumni of the team, Kevin Ruse, explained, “we had maybe 2 kids who could play some form of organized level hockey and had a kid who couldn’t stop.”

Clearly, something had changed within the team from when Ruse (also my father) played in 1994 to this historical year in 2022. And it is pretty much agreed that the team’s skill was not dampened by emotions or rivalries.

Captained by seniors Luke Suhesky, Skyler Mikolaities, and Travis Perkins, the Mules became a force to be reckoned with. Plus, we had the absolute brick wall of Jack Bussiere in the net.

And now, the Clipper Mules were in full swing.

We would go on to beat Dover in an overtime contest, 2 – 1,  with teamwork and patience. Somersworth, despite placing higher than us in the standings, had never won a game against us this season. And, we would take Oyster River and Goffstown by complete surprise, knocking them out on our playoff run.

It was an unforgettable experience that made our bond stronger than ever.

“This attitude started the first game” John Pendleton exclaims in his response. “I like the expression, “stop worrying about losing. Think about winning.”

Our entire team, with the help of every individual on the roster, would go on to prove this mentality to be something special.

And I, as the team manager, got to witness and be a part of something spectacular, when I signed up to be there with the team. At one point, I had a rocky relationship with some of the players and I barely even knew some of them. But as time went on, I was able to cement myself as part of the group more closely,  and earn a medal and a numbered jersey just pure dedication and being the helping hand.

I extend my thanks to everyone who supported the team and every player on the team. We made something special and will be remembered as the best hockey team this school has ever produced.

But this article is not just to preserve. It’s to inspire.

“You have to be able to sacrifice your needs for what the team needs,” Kevin Ruse explains.

“When mistakes are made, it is a team member’s focus to lift them up together, not tearing them apart.” John Pendleton says.

Because we had followed that guideline and used each other to steady one another in those trying times, we had learned what it felt like to fail and to succeed. And after becoming a threat, we rode the wave all the way to the finals.