BY RANDY SCHULTZ –
To find a hockey team at any level of the game these days that has a top scoring line made up of the same three players game after game is almost impossible. In many cases a center and a winger will play together for several contests, but the third player, usually a winger, can vary, depending on the team’s situation.
Back in the day National Hockey League team’s had several memorable scoring lines that made history. There was the Production Line in Detroit (Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsey and Sid Abel), the GAG Line with the New York Rangers (Jean Ratelle, Rod Gilbert and Vic Hadfield) and Buffalo’s famed French Connection Line (Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin and Rene Robert).
But this past high school hockey season saw one team, the Starpoint Spartans boy’s hockey team, who had a center along with a left and right winger, who played together as a unit from the team’s first game through their final contest of the 2022-23 campaign.
They played so well together as a unit with Starpoint that when it came to post-season honors, the trio was selected to play together in both the WNY Sr. Boys High School All-Star Game as well as the Bowman Cup.
Those three players included: Alex Kirk, Justin Bull and William Mainstone. All were seniors in high school and had played on the Starpoint varsity team in previous seasons, but never on the same line.
Until this season.
The man responsible for assembling the line at the start of the season was Spartans boy’s hockey head coach, Clayton Wilson.
“All three of these boys, along with one other senior, were going to be captains on this year’s team,” recalled Wilson. “We got this group of boys together at my house at least eight to 10 times before the season started.
“I asked these three boys if they had any interest of playing together as a line. As captains, they have a voice on the team.
“They said that ‘coach, we would like to play together.’ All I told them is that they had to learn to divide that puck by three. If you only have one puck that’s selfish and we won’t win.
“As you can see by their success this season, they were phenomenal with it. It started in practice to see how they would jell.
“They had fun and fed off each other. They understood how each other played. They all brought a little different something to the game. I think that’s why they played so well together.
“But I threatened them all year. If the rest of the team was struggling and we’re not scoring and they weren’t producing, I was going to break them up.
“But it worked and they stayed together right to the end of our season. The success we had as a team was due to 99.9 percent of those three. I’m not dishing anyone else on the team.
“But as your studs go, your team goes. And they won.”
Was there a point in the season where Coach Wilson might have thought about breaking up the team?
“Mentally, yes, I thought about it,” responded Wilson. “Our team was in a little bit of a rut in the middle of December. I was frustrated with the team.
“I put a lot of heat on these three guys and told them if we didn’t turn things around soon, I would have to break the line up. As you can see, I didn’t have to do that.”
Bull is the son of Jim and Lenee Bull. He has a sister, Jenna. Alec is the son of Matt and Kara Kirk. He has a brother Aidan. William is the son of Aaron and Amy Mainstone. He has a sister, Ashley.
Did any of the players feel pressure being captains on the team?
Yeah, you always know that you want to do good for your team,” responded Bull. “At the end of the day it’s a team sport.
“Being a captain you’ve got to lead the way, but you’ve got to expect that out of the rest of the team.”
Linemate Mainstone agreed.
“No matter if your team does good or bad, it reflects on the captains,” said Mainstone.
“People look at you when you have the good moments,” added Kirk. “People look at you when you have the bad moments.
“You have to be accountable. Coming off the great season we had last year (2021-22), there was a little bit of pressure on all of us to have another great year.
“The three of us knew we were going to be playing together this year. We knew we were going to be successful this year.”
Kirk admitted that the trio did have some discussions among each other when Coach Wilson thought about breaking up the line.
“We knew that it was our first year of playing together,” continued Kirk. “It was going to take some time and that there would be some growing pains.
“We had some talks together without the coach. We discussed different things.
“But we did figure it out and it was smooth sailing after that.”
Mainstone said that there was a point in the season when all three felt that they were made to play on the same line together.
“There were a few moments, even in the first game,” remembered Mainstone. “We could tell that there was something special about the three of us playing together.
“Probably the real moment we all realized how good we were playing together was in a game against Williamsville East. We had a big game and people realized that ‘wow,’ this line is here.
“And it was a big moment for us as a team as well.”
While there was a lot of emphasis on the line’s offensive abilities, they didn’t do that badly defensively either.
“We would be playing well offensively most of the time,” said Bull. “But sometimes that wouldn’t work out well for us.
“That’s when you would hear coach yelling at us to get back there, backcheck and take care of the other end of the ice.
“The three of us had been playing with coach for awhile and knew his system and where we needed to be at certain times on the ice.”
Interestingly, the trio had played travel hockey together over the summer. They knew then there was something special about the three of them on the same line.
And it didn’t seem to bother them that game-after-game they would face the oppositions best line or best defensive line.
“We knew what we would be facing beforehand,” said Kirk. “We knew that no matter what team we faced, we had to play the way we knew how to play.
“I think we had so much confidence in our playing ability that our motto throughout the year became, “play how we know how to play.’
“As a team, we knew we had the skill to beat every team we played.”
“We knew the job we had to do and we went out and did it,” added Bull. “We didn’t worry about the other team’s line.”
Kirk admitted that there was a bottom line to the trio’s success as a line this season.
“Nothing comes easy,” stated Kirk. “We put a lot of practice and work in to get the point we were at where we were successful on a regular basis.”
The work paid off, knowing where each other would be on the ice during a game.
“I always had a pretty good idea where my teammates were on the ice,” commented Bull. “I knew what area they would be in and I just tried to get the puck to them.”
All three players are very proud of their personal accomplishments, but even more proud of what the team has done in three of the past four hockey seasons.
“Going to the State Championship game and winning three out the last four Section VI championships (Section VI, small school, Division championships) is crazy,” stated Bull. “To me it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we did it three times. Not many people get to do that.”
“I think high school hockey is really special,” added Kirk, who was named to the Section VI All-Federation Team and the only Section VI player to be named to the First-Team All-State hockey team. “I played for a lot of travel teams.
“But I think my favorite team I ever played with is the varsity high school team. That was the best experience I’ve had so far.
“Just to know that every time you hit the ice you were playing for your teachers, students, for everyone at the school and for your family and friends. It just gives you that extra push to always do the best you can.”
“The memories that have been made over the past couple of years, I’m never going to forget them, both on and off the ice.”
Statistically, this trio rewrote the Spartans boys hockey record books. They finished the season with 154 points as a line.
Bull finished his career with 131 points, first on the Spartans all-time scoring list. Kirk concluded his career with 117 points, good for number two on the all-time list, while Mainstone finished with 93 points, fourth on the school’s all-time list.
But the one stat that is even more important on the players comes from in the classroom from the academic side of their lives. Kirk has an overall grade point average of 99.83. Mainstone’s is 99.56 while Bull is at 96.56.
Kirk was just awarded the prestigious Thomas E. Hewitt Scholar-Athlete Award.
All three players are making their final decisions of their future academic endeavors. Will hockey be a part of it? That remains to be seen.
But for now the Starpoint Spartans varsity hockey team of 2022-23 has those memories that will last a lifetime. As for Bull, Kirk, Mainstone and Wilson, they will be linked together for a long time to come.
Coach Wilson may have summed it up the best.
“You don’t get players like these three that come around every year,” concluded Wilson. “This was special.
“It was something special that a lot of people will never forget.”
(Photos by Janet Schultz Photography/NY Hockey OnLine)