By Jake Seiner, Globe correspondent
t's hard to believe, but at this time last year, John Grenier had already packed away his goalie pads for the winter.
The junior goaltender, who spent the last two years at Xaverian Brothers in Westwood, has been a saving grace in his first season at Hingham. The Harbormen are off to a 4-2 start, and Grenier's 2.33 goals-against average is a key ingredient to that success.
"He's been great," coach Tony Messina said. "If we didn't have that, we'd be in trouble."
December was an odd time for Messina. The coach usually spends the first month of the season fine-tuning a veteran squad as it embarks into one of the state's toughest schedules.
This year has been different.
Messina knew heading into the season that his most daunting task would be prepping an inexperienced blue line on the fly.
Just as concerning was the goaltending situation. A trio of classmates had rotated through at the position for the last two years, but all three graduated last summer.
Grenier was familiar with the three keepers. It was their presence that drove Grenier to Xaverian, where he hoped to find more playing time. The plan backfired.
As a freshman, he played two periods on the Hawks' freshman squad. Sophomore year, a bout of mono held him out of tryouts. The team let Grenier try out once he was healthy, but elected to let him go after seeing him play.
"The coach said, `Come back and practice,' and I thought I played well at practice, but he cut me there," Grenier said. "I was disappointed. ... I didn't play the whole winter, and then picked it up again in the spring."
Grenier played through the spring with the Junior Terriers and over the summer in the Top Gun hockey league. Messina, knowing his Harbormen needed help between the pipes, asked Grenier to come back to Hingham. The last week of August, Grenier decided to enroll.
"I was getting pressure" from Hingham. "They said they wanted me back," Grenier said. "I knew coming here, I had a better chance. The coaches liked me, and I like the kids, like the school, great school. So I came back to play here."
The junior beat out Jeff Taylor and Alex Bonn in camp, and has been a stalwart since.
"He didn't play at all last year, and we didn't really know what was going to happen," Messina said. "It's surprising that he's been able to adjust to that speed and all the shots and stuff. We just kind of take it for granted now."
It's been a steady assimilation for Grenier.
The Hingham defense took its lumps in December, but the damage was minimal because of the sturdy play of Grenier. Now, the blue line corps is improving, and Messina is hoping for more efforts like last Saturday's 2-1 win over Needham. The Harbormen held the Rockets to 20 shots on goal, and Grenier turned away all but one.
"Every game, I go out and I'm nervous," Grenier said. "It's all new for me. Small or big games. The crowds are different, the atmosphere. It's faster hockey, stronger hockey. You really have to compete with your best."