A SPECIAL SEASON, A SPECIAL MAN

Raiders dedicated year to the Godfather of Watertown hockey, Arthur Venezia

Joey Kelland, Raider Times correspondent

I always expected my senior hockey season to be memorable, but it wasn’t until opening night that I realized how special it could be.

As captain, my coaches and teammates entrusted me with a number of responsibilities, most importantly to display remarkable sportsmanship at all times. Good sportsmanship can be defined by a number of things: effort; being a team player; and respecting your opponent, the officials, and your coaches. But to me, the most important thing about good sportsmanship is putting the team before yourself and nobody personified this idea more than the man we honored before our first game.

Putting on the Watertown jersey has always given me a great sense of pride, but this year we were playing for much more than just our town. Last July, we lost a member of our hockey family, Mr. Arthur Venezia. Known around town as “The Godfather of Watertown Hockey,” Mr. Venezia was an incredible man that meant a lot to our community.

You can’t wish to be good, you have to work to be good.”

— ARTHUR VENEZIA

It is impossible to overstate how much he loved, and gave back to the kids of Watertown. Mr. Venezia raised money for a new fitness center in the high school and, in the early 2000s, he took over as head coach of the high school team after two straight winless seasons.

I remember Coach Venezia telling stories about people around town laughing at him when he promised to turn the program around, but, after five years, the team qualified for the Division 1 state tournament for the first time in over a decade.

Even though he was retired, he was still a larger-than-life presence in town. I remember going to watch my brother’s football games and seeing him there. He was at every field hockey and basketball game, and when I got to high school he was volunteering his time to coach the youth hockey team in the fall.

I consider myself lucky to be one of the many athletes to be able to call Mr. Venezia, Coach.

“You can’t wish to be good, you have to work to be good,” he always preached. I have never had a coach that pushed us harder toward success as both athletes and people. Every Monday night we met at the gym for a workout.

“It’s all about the core! You need a strong core to play hockey!” he would yell before telling us how proud he was of us for how hard we worked.

It was an easy decision to dedicate the 2013-2014 season to Coach Venezia. Everybody on the team wore a black patch with the initials “AV” stitched over our hearts.

Pulling on the Watertown sweater for opening night was unlike any of the 60 or so times before. As I stepped on the ice for warmups, I could not believe the amount of people who were there. There was not an empty seat in the building.

The team and I lined up on the blue line for a moment of silence. As I took my helmet off, I looked toward the bench where the Venezia family, including our coach Jamie, was standing and fighting back tears. It was the first time I shed tears before a hockey game.

The patch we wore over our hearts this season represented a selfless man and all he stood for. Playing with values like hard work, determination, and putting the team before the individual, we were able to have an unbelievable year. It was a year I know he’d be proud of.

In the last game of the regular season, we beat Burlington to clinch the Middlesex League championship for the first time in 29 years. I’ll never forget being in the locker room after that game as coach Jamie Venezia fought back tears to say the one thing we were all thinking: “Man, I hope my old man was watching this game. He would have loved it more than anyone.”

–March 24, 2014–

(RAIDER TIMES EDITOR’S NOTE: The above story finished second in the 12th-grade division in the 10th annual Will McDonough Writing Contest, sponsored by the Sports Museum at TD Garden. This is the fourth consecutive year a WHS senior has been honored in the contest, following Cameron Anderson (2013), Margaret Antonellis (2012), and Katie Carlson (2011), who each were awarded top honors. This year, six WHS students received Honorable Mention recognition: 10th-graders Joel Krislov, Nick Martino, and Daniel McCurley, and 12th-graders Shannon Cafua, Cody Hecht, and Brianna Hayes. Congratulations to all of the winners!)