By John W. Gearan
Holy Cross Magazine
His curly-topped head would bob along through the stands like a purple buoy on a concrete-grey sea. The women hockey players would follow his path with amusement. Here he comes: Little Jeff Reppucci picking up speed, bubbling over, arriving just in time to open the rink door and high-five his sister and her teammates as they skated off the Hart Center ice.
"We ordered him a team shirt to wear with my number 22 on it,'' recalls big sister Dara Reppucci '04. "The girls all loved him. He'd open locker room doors, make 'Go Holy Cross' signs and hold them up during games. He was our special mascot, the most enthusiastic kid on the planet!"
Dara played at the dawning of Crusader varsity women's ice hockey, a first-year student in 2000 when the College joined the Division 3 ECAC, and coach Peter Van Buskirk took command of the fledging program. Fans were few, so jubilant Jeff was easy to spot. Shellackings were not uncommon, so his cheering was a welcomed echoing noise.
Fast-forward seven years. Jeff '14 is all grown up. He's 5-foot-9, but a rock-solid 170 pounds. The "mascot" is now a sophomore, a spark-plug defenseman for the Crusaders. His parents, Linda and John Reppucci '78, are rinkside for every game, often there with sister Dara and brother John, cheering for the baby in their ice-bound family.
Dara and Jeff are the first Crusader sister-and-brother hockey act to perform at Holy Cross, and that oddity came about in a rather strange way. "I was the baby in a basket, being dragged to Dara's endless figure-skating lessons,'' says Jeff, nearly nine years younger than his sister.
Heading off to The Groton School in Groton, Mass., Dara wanted a break from the demands of competitive figure skating. Here fate intervened when Dara jumped into a roughhouse pickup soccer game on the quad with the Groton boys. She crashed into a beastly lad and tore her ACL knee ligament. "That injury (and surgery) sealed the deal,'' she says. There would be no more fancy skating or landing twirling jumps. Yet her competitive fires would not die. Fortunately Groton had a girls hockey team. "I fell in love with hockey right away. I had never played team sports and enjoyed the injection of a little violence," she quips. Her dad played hockey briefly at Holy Cross before an injury sidelined him. Her brother John played club hockey at Georgetown University. Now she was one of the Reppucci "boys." She attended her brothers' camps and workouts back home in Newburyport, Mass., sharpening her slap shots and stick-handling skills.
Holy Cross with women's hockey under construction provided a perfect program for Dara. "She was a gifted skater and could shoot," says Van Buskirk. "I remember my recruiting visit to the North Shore and seeing her brother scooting around the house.'' Early on she took some ribbing. When she flashed her figure skating prowess, Van Buskirk would holler, "Dara, go get your tutu on!'' She moved from defense to forward at Holy Cross, playing 97 career games and, as a junior, helped the 17-7-1 Crusaders to an ECAC title.
Jeff's hockey talents developed at a much higher level.
His father, a real estate developer, and his mom, a high school English teacher, carted Jeff all over creation to play at the best camps and for the best youth traveling teams. "My dad coached a lot of the teams. We'd travel to Canada maybe 10 times a year to play in weekend tournaments in Montreal, Calgary, Toronto, Edmonton," says Jeff. "We'd head out with teammates and their dads and have a blast."
After graduating from Phillips Exeter Academy in N.H., Jeff took an academic year off to play 80 games for the Alberni Valley Bulldogs in the British Columbia Junior Hockey League. "I lived on an island with a host family in the tiny mill town of Port Alberni," he says. "Playing against 27-year-old Canadians made me a stronger player and gave me time to focus and prepare for Holy Cross."
Jeff is excelling on the Hill. A Russian major, he made the Atlantic Hockey All-Academic team and its All-Rookie team as a freshman defenseman. Coach Paul Pearl's icemen ran off a 12-game unbeaten streak during that successful season. This season Reppucci assisted on junior Brendan Baker's winning power-play goal as the Crusaders pulled off a stunning 5-4 road upset over national power Boston University.
Meanwhile, enduring the rigors of hockey and Jesuit educations continue to be a successful formula for the Reppucci kids. John is an analyst for a private equity firm in Philadelphia. Dara, a Northeastern Law School grad, is serving a prestigious federal clerkship in Boston for Judge George O'Toole, who hails from Boston College.
As for the little mascot, Jeff is still darting about the Hart Center, only now he is inside the rink wearing his own purple shirt, number 24.
John W. Gearan '65 was an award-winning reporter and columnist for the Worcester Telegram and Gazette for 36 years. He resides in Rhode Island.