Harry Meredith in action during a 10-0 win over Nottingham High School on Dec. 18, 2017. (Photo by Mike Schwartz Photo/mssphoto.com.)

If voting was held at mid-December for the most pleasant surprise in Colonial Valley Conference ice hockey, the unanimous winner would have had to been Harry Meredith.

The Hopewell Valley Central High School senior never played ice hockey until last year, and never played goalie until this season. But after five games the Bulldogs were 4-0-1 and Meredith had three shutouts and saved 71 of the 77 shots taken against him.

“He’s done a tremendous job so far,” Bulldogs coach Jeff Radice said. “He’s only been playing goalie for a month now and made tremendous leaps and bounds. He’s got a long way to go, but he’s getting there. Each practice he gets a little bit better.”

Two weeks into the season, Meredith was still on a high of being the No. 1 netminder, let alone being so successful at it.

“To win the starting job after just one pre-season worth of experience was surreal,” said Meredith, whose twin brother Teddy was HoVal’s top cross country runner. “It meant a ton to me because all I had wanted was to be able to help the team. Being named the starting goalie after working so hard meant that I would have an excellent opportunity to contribute.”

It’s not a complete stretch to think Meredith might succeed as a goalie. Technically, he has played the position since fifth grade — in lacrosse. His interest came by accident, as he was playing the midfield, stepped in front of a shot and had the ball dent his shaft.

“I thought it was the coolest thing ever, and after that I wanted to put myself in between the shooters and the back of the net,” Meredith said. “The feeling of saving a shot was, and still is, something that I love more than anything in sports.”

Harry Meredith

Harry began to dedicate himself to lacrosse and became the Bulldogs starting goalie last season. His considerable talents have landed him a spot with Division III Elmhurst College next year.

All the while, Meredith admired ice hockey from afar, saying “I always thought it was an incredibly cool and fast paced sport.”

Up until last year, however, he admittedly lacked courage to try it. Harry had never even held a hockey stick. When he finally pitched the idea to his mom, she was “less than thrilled,” but finally relented.

“He bought equipment online and some of it didn’t even make it there by the first tryout,” Radice said. “He was borrowing other kid’s gear, stuff like that.”

Meredith made the practice squad, but did not see any varsity time last year. Instead, he filmed the games, which may help his future as that is one of several endeavors he thinks about pursuing.

“He never got down, he just kept showing up every day and at the end of the year he said ‘Coach, I’m gonna be your best skater next year when I come back,’” Radice said. “I said ‘OK, I’m gonna hold you to it Harry.’ He worked hard on his skating.”

Despite frustrations over not playing, Harry took video his job seriously.

“I convinced myself that I was helping the team win games and at the same time put my head down in practice and worked hard,” he said. “The idea was that I could maybe develop into someone who could actually contribute if I worked hard enough. I didn’t doubt for a second that I was coming back to play my senior year. In fact, I was looking forward to it because I saw a potential role as a senior leader and someone that could maybe make a difference.’

He had no idea that difference would be between the pipes. After losing his only experienced goalie to graduation, Radice asked Meredith if he would like to give it a try. His mindset was, Harry was already a goalie, now he had to do it wearing skates. Also, the coach is a former hockey goalie, so he has been able to help the progress.

“I think it takes a certain mindset to be a goaltender,” Radice said. “You gotta be able to bounce back. If you let in a goal; if you let yourself down or let your teammates down, you have to realize the puck’s coming back down on you when they drop it in about 15 seconds. There’s no time to feel sorry for yourself. I thought he had that personality just for this experience from lacrosse.”

Meredith agreed, that playing goalie in a lacrosse helped his confidence in hockey, as he is able to stare down shots without flinching or actually moving out of the way from them. Nor did the impact of shots bother him, since he took so many off his body with minimal padding in lacrosse.

“Furthermore, I felt that the coordination required for lacrosse would carry over to hockey goalie and allow me to react to shots,” Meredith said. “Talents that I can transfer from lacrosse to hockey are reading a shooter’s body language and reacting; coordination and reflexes, and understanding how a play is developing.”

And the biggest differences?

“How I approach a shot and the movement in my crease,” he said. “In lacrosse I’ve always been taught to attack every shot and throw my body in front of the ball to make the save. But in hockey I’ve had to completely change my approach to where I let the shot come to me and then absorb it with my pads in order to minimize the rebound. In terms of movement in the crease, a hockey goalie is much more active because of sliding from post to post, shuffling as opposed to stepping, and coming out to challenge shooters.”

It is that kind of detail to attention that impresses Radice, who says Meredith is a true student of the game.

“He’s still learning from the goaltending standpoint,” the coach said. “He asks a ton of questions, which is always helpful. Sometimes I have to tell him ‘Harry stop asking questions,’ but it’s definitely a problem I’d rather have than if he doesn’t care at all. He really tries to get better every chance he can.”

He seems to be succeeding at it.