Sentinels' Martin, Byrnes win high school hockey’s top prizes

Sentinels' Martin, Byrnes win high school hockey’s top prizes

Smithfield High seniors Sean Martin, left, and Emma Byrnes.
Smithfield seniors earn R.I. Reds Heritage Society’s Chuck Scherza Awards

PROVIDENCE – Smithfield High seniors Sean Martin and Emma Byrnes are two of the five Rhode Island Interscholastic League hockey players who were recently named recipients of the Rhode Island Reds Heritage Society’s annual Unsung Hockey Hero Awards.

According to the Heritage Society, “Unsung Heroes are high school hockey players who contribute to their teams in ways that perhaps only their coaches and fellow players are aware of. Often, they exemplify the term ‘student-athlete’ but there is usually more than that. Many are civic minded and go above and beyond to serve their community while maintaining their focus on academics and hockey.”

Awards are presented to male and female hockey players in memory of three former Rhode Island Reds standout players. The Chuck Scherza Award is given to forwards, the Fernie Flaman Award is presented to defensemen, and the Gil Mayer Award is given to goaltenders or defensive players.

Martin and Byrnes captured this year’s Chuck Scherza Awards, and for good reason. Martin attained a 4.2 GPA on a 4.0 scale and is a member of the National Honor Society while playing two varsity sports at Smithfield, and Byrnes was vice president of the National Honor Society, a four-year member of the French Honor Society, and a Science Olympiad member.

Martin, who had been a defenseman throughout his hockey career, switched to forward this past season to give the Sentinels a lift in that department and contributed two goals and five assists. Head coach Rob Jackson noted that Martin “always has a smile on his face and the ability to pick others up when they are down.” Martin is known for his determination, positive attitude, and ability to react to setbacks.

Martin also tutors other students in math and science, participates in donation drives, such as sending supplies to soldiers overseas and jackets and blankets to those in need during winter, works on the Holiday Parade for the hockey team, and helps his church.

Byrnes, meanwhile, had field hockey and some skating experience before joining the Smithfield/Coventry/Moses Brown co-op girls’ team, but never played ice hockey before. During her one season as an ice hockey player, she got head coach Kerri Nadeau’s attention by coming to practice and games full of enthusiasm for her teammates and ready to work hard, learn, and improve.

When Byrnes was on the bench, she was the loudest one cheering her teammates, especially when a player who didn’t get a lot of ice time was playing. Due to her work ethic and enthusiasm, Byrnes quickly advanced from the third line to the second line. She became a stronger skater and competed comfortably at that level, and she was one of the team’s most improved players.

Her happiest moment in RIIL play came when she scored her first career goal, which turned out to be a game-winner against the second-place team. That helped her squad move up in the standings, where it eventually ended its season with a 5-8-1 mark that was one of the best records in the program’s decade-long history.

During the season, Byrnes suffered an injury to her ankle, but continued to play in pain because she wanted to help the team reach the playoffs. She now hopes to play on a club hockey team in college.

Another Smithfield High player, 2019 graduate Joe Catarina, had won the Chuck Scherza Award last spring.

Also receiving the Chuck Scherza Award is Barrington High’s Alexis Malnerich. The Fernie Flaman Award will be given to Toll Gate High’s Rose Flaherty, and the Gil Mayer Award will be presented to La Salle Academy senior Sarah Lisa.

Unfortunately for the Heritage Society, its 20th annual Reunion Weekend that was supposed to take place in August at Warwick’s Goddard Park has been postponed until next summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic.