Troy Sankey was going to sit out the biggest hockey game of his life.
The Exeter-West Greenwich senior scored a goal and had two assists Saturday afternoon to help the West Warwick /Exeter-West Greenwich co-op hockey team move to within one victory of the Division III title.
After the game Sankey found out his grandfather and father figure, Ruben Smith, died after he was rushed to the hospital prior to Saturday’s game. Sankey had no interest playing Sunday after losing the person in his life who taught him about work ethic and how to be a man.
“It was extremely tough and I was considering not even playing in the game to be honest,” Sankey said. “I knew he would want me to come out here and give it all I’ve got and that’s what I did. I knew I needed to come back so I stayed strong and came back and played my heart out for him.”
Sankey didn’t just playing in the Knight-Wizards’ 5-1 victory over the Tigers to clinch the program’s first title in 25 years, he played great. The senior forward notched a pair of goals, including the game-winning tally early in the second period, and he also had an assist to help his team complete its perfect season.
It was a perfect way for Sankey to honor his grandfather, who didn’t come to a lot of games but was at Sankey’s championship game when he played for the Rhode Island Rams.
“This means the world to me,” Sankey said. “This is everything right here.”
Smith, 57, owned Smith-Ridge Farm on 670 South County Trail in Exeter. For Sankey, Smith wasn’t just a grandfather, he was a father figure who used his farm as the place to teach Sankey the right way to live life.
“He was pretty much like my father. I was with him every day,” Sankey said. “I lived with him on the farm and he pretty much taught me everything because my dad wasn’t around a lot when I was younger. He taught me how to be a man.”
When Sankey entered Exeter-West Greenwich High School hockey wasn’t a big part of his life because the school didn’t have a hockey team, but before Sankey’s sophomore year EWG and West Warwick formed a co-op team and Sankey’s dream of playing in high school became a reality.
Sankey scored just eight points in his first season with the Knight-Wizards before failing to score a point last season.
This season Sankey became part of the highest scoring line in the state. West Warwick senior Antonio Rei led the state in scoring and West Warwick freshman Brett Coski was a revelation, scoring 19 goals and finishing with 47 regular-season points. And there was Sankey, the consistent winger who notched 31 points during the regular season.
Sankey and the Knight-Wizards entered Saturday’s championship series with plenty of confidence, but Sankey played the game knowing Smith had just been rushed to the intensive-care unit. Sankey played well in the game, scoring a goal, but when he found out later in the day his grandfather had died he wasn’t sure he wanted to play Sunday.
“His grandfather was a hardworking man and he brought Troy up,” WW/EWG coach Pete Ethier said. “He always told Troy to finish the job. I told him to do what your Pap would want and go out there and finish the job.”
To honor Sankey’s grandfather the players all wore helmet stickers with the word ‘Pap’ on it. Ethier and his assistant coaches, Keith Mosca and Joel Lake, wore the stickers on their suit jackets.
Sankey played and it didn’t take him very long to make his presence felt. Just 6 minutes, 54 seconds into the opening period Rei made a perfect cross-ice pass to Sankey, who one-timed a close-range shot past Jared DaSilva.
“I was thinking about him out there, but this separates it because you can’t always think about it because you’re thinking about the game,” Sankey said. “He was always in the back of my head.”
Tolman tied the game later in the period, but Sankey had an answer for the Tigers. Just 2:27 into the second period with the Knight-Wizards on the power play, Sankey took a pass from Marco and placed a perfect shot past DaSilva.
Many of Sankey’s teammates, who only know him through hockey because they go to different schools, were happy they could win the title for Sankey and his Pap.
“We wanted to do it for him because we stick together,” senior defenseman Austin Barlow said. “Troy may be a man of fewer words than others, but he brings something special to the team. We’re really glad to have him because he’s such a big part of our team.”
“Our whole team is with Troy and his Pap,” sophomore goalie Ivan Forcier said. “He played great and it’s all for Pap.”
Sankey made sure to score one more point before his high school career was over. With the victory already assured, Sankey and Marco combined to spring Rei free for a breakaway. The senior, who won the MVP award for the series, easily scored to increase the lead to 5-1 with 30 seconds left.
Sankey said he knows his Pap would be proud of him, but the EWG senior wishes his grandfather could be around to continue to mold him into a great person.
“There’s a lot of stupid stuff he would yell at me for,” Sankey said. “I wish he could yell at me for stuff like that again.”