When Middlebury College and Williams College met for a home-and-home hockey game series, it was two Solonites leading their respective college teams.
EMack Bentley captained the Middlebury Panthers and Connor Kucharski the Williams Ephs. Both hockey players grew up in Solon, even playing at the same rink as 4- and 5-year-olds, but went their separate ways in youth hockey, junior hockey and now college hockey.
That is until Feb. 10, when their teams met for a New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) series, a series that would see each team win one of the games, but on the other team’s home ice.
“It was really fun to meet up with EMack,” said Connor, 23. “He’s a year older than me, so it was the first time we both were captains and we were both kind of leading our teams.”
“I am really honored to have been chosen the captain. It means so much to me,” said EMack, 24. He added that being Middlebury’s captain was one of the highlights of his hockey career.
“Emack, well, he beat me to getting the captain’s ‘C’ on his jersey, but when I was picked as captain this year, it just meant a lot. It meant that I was able to do for my teammates what so many mentors had done for me,” said Connor.
When EMack and Connor first saw the game schedules for their senior years -- their final years of college hockey -- both looked forward to the Feb. 10-11 weekend game series.
EMack said he was very excited to see Connor on the ice, especially when Middlebury won the first game, 3-2.
“We won the first one, and I saw him afterward, and my Dad said we should get a photo the next day. He said how cool it was for us both to be representing our schools, and that we would like to have it to look back on,” he said.
EMack’s dad is Solon Ward 1 Councilman Macke Bentley, who is something of a hockey star himself, having played at Shaker Heights High School. He and his wife, Pamela, often travel to Vermont to watch their son play, so they offered for the Kucharskis to stay with them for the two games both their sons would be playing.
“The hockey community is really tight, so it was really cool that we got to play against each other, and really great to see the Bentleys,” said Connor, whose parents, Tim and Carolyn, also travel to Massachusetts to watch their son play home games at Williams College.
EMack added that it is always good to see a familiar face from your hometown in the crowd.
While EMack plays forward, Connor is a defenseman, so of course, there was bound to be a little rivalry when both were on the ice.
“There was this time where Connor was trying to defend the goal, and I was trying to shoot the puck in, so we were kind of jousting with each other,” said EMack. “When the goalie covered up the puck and the play stopped, we kept jousting. The refs flew in to stop us, until they realized we knew each other and were just pretending to fight.”
Afterward, the college players met up on the ice, posing for a photo and discussing what the chances were that two Solon players would be opposing each other in both Vermont and Massachusetts that weekend.
“When they announced the starters at the beginning of the game, they said something like starting for Williams is Connor Kucharski from Solon, Ohio, and then they said starting for Middlebury is EMack Bentley from Solon, Ohio. It was like a really big moment for Solon,” said Connor with a laugh.
When not at their respective colleges, both play summer league hockey, sometimes training together.
Connor completed his college classes in December and is finishing up the hockey season at Williams College. EMack will graduate from Middlebury in May.
The hard-working athletes are also good students and have secured jobs post-graduation.
Connor will be joining the McKinsey Company in Cleveland as a business analyst. EMack will work in real estate development in Boston.
First, however, Connor is taking a month-long trip to Europe, and hanging up his skates for a little while.
EMack plans to take his gear to Boston and find a men’s league team to join.
Both said hockey will continue to be a part of their lives.
“I plan to play again soon, play with my friends back in Cleveland. And maybe someday, way down the road, I could coach my kids or something,” Connor said.
EMack had a similar thought.
“My dad really taught me everything I know about hockey, from when I was really little,” said EMack. “I guess someday I would like to teach my own kid the game.”
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