Every athlete has a pre-game ritual.
For Ryan Mullin, a senior defenseman on the B.C. High Eagles' varsity hockey squad, each trip to the rink this year included a stop by Cedar Grove Cemetery.
That's where his mom, Jeanne, who died of cancer three years ago when he was a freshman, and his grandmother Mary Kenney, who died last October - have found their final rest.
"My grandmother always told me to say a little prayer before each game. This season, before every game, I went to my mom and grandmother's graves, just to say, 'Give me the strength,' " says Ryan, a 17 year-old born and raised in Saint Brendan's parish.
This year, Mullin's outstanding career in the maroon-and-gold found its pinnacle when B.C. High won the Division 1 state championship on Sunday evening at the TD Banknorth Garden, defeating Weymouth in a lopsided 6-1 showdown. The decisive win capped a stellar season for the boys from Morrissey Boulevard, a squad that boasted 11 seniors, two fine goaltenders and a goals-against average that was less than one per game.
Mullin, one of four senior defenseman who helped keep the puck on the other end of the ice, was a key part of the effort. He was the only Dorchester player on the varsity squad throughout the season, although freshman Eddie Nolan stepped in to fill a vacancy late in the season and was on the ice for last weekend's title win.
"Ryan has had an outstanding career for us at B.C. High," says Mullin's head coach, Joe McCabe. "I think every year he's gotten better and better, and definitely - without a doubt - this was his best year."
Just days into his freshman season, Mullin's 47-year-old mom was diagnosed with colon cancer and, within just three months, had died. On St. Brendan's Road, where Ryan, his two older sisters Kristen and Stephanie and his dad, Steve, still live, the loss hit hard.
Ryan's aunt, Patti Walsh, says that B.C. High was the perfect place for Ryan to be during the difficult days and weeks that followed.
"The teachers, the students, his teammates: They just all came together around him," says Walsh, Jeanne's sister. "The mothers of the other players, too. It's been like a family for Ryan."
Ryan's actual family has been there too. His 86- year-old grandfather, Ed Kenney, was in the stands on Sunday to marvel at his grandson's accomplishment.
Next up for Mullin: Probably a stint in a post-graduate hockey school while he continues to weigh a college career.
According to his B.C. High guidance counselor, Judy Fargo, Ryan is one of the school's brightest and most respected young men.
"B.C High's motto is to strive to be a man for others. Ryan is definitely that. He's always volunteering for service, especially when he sees that things aren't fair in the world."
In addition to logging hundreds of volunteer hours off campus, Ryan serves on the student council and helped to found the Healing Group, a support group for students who've lost a family member.
"He thinks it's the most important thing he's done," says Fargo. "It's amazing the way he's come through it."
The best part of Sunday's win, according to Ryan, was "looking up at my family and seeing smiles on their faces."
"Going through all we've been through, it was really special."
"All of his relatives, the Mullins and the Kenneys, are just so proud of him both for his hockey accomplishments and for the great kid that he is," says Patti Walsh. "I know my sister and mom are looking down smiling."