The community mourns the loss of hockey player W. Warwick killed in a car accident
Justin Lake didn’t know if Matt Dennison could hear him, but he didn’t care. The West Warwick/Exeter-West Greenwich men’s hockey coach wanted to tell his captain, lying unconscious in his hospital bed, how much he meant.
“No one will ever wear number 16 again,” Lake told Dennison. “No. 16 will forever hang on the West Warwick rink as a representation of your hard work and dedication, but most importantly to always have you with us and a reminder to never stop fighting.
Dennison, the pupil at West Warwick High School who was the passenger of a car hit by a suspected drunk driver on February 12 in Exeter, died on Thursday from injuries sustained in the accident. He was 17 years old.
“It was absolutely heartbreaking,” said Lake, who was with the Dennison family on Thursday. “…He’s not just a captain and one of my players, but he’s a kid who looked up to me. He wanted to be a policeman and do things in life that I did.
“He had his life cut short and he won’t be able to do this.”
“We hold Matt close to our hearts as we remember him as a wonderful young man who will always be part of our WWPS community,” West Warwick Superintendent Karen Tarasevich wrote in an email to parents. “His strong character, leadership, friendship and kindness will be sorely missed as so many have been touched by his presence at WWHS.”
Dennison was the passenger in teammate Kevin MacDonald’s car which was hit by a car driven by Alexander Krajewski, 30, of North Kingstown. MacDonald was released from hospital five days later with arm and leg injuries while Dennison was in intensive care.
Krajewski, a Newport firefighter, was arrested and charged with driving under the influence and driving in danger. With Dennison’s passing, more charges may be forthcoming. He has been out on $10,000 bond since February 14 and is due in South Kingstown District Court on Wednesday for a bail review hearing. The case will be heard on May 20 before going to Superior Court, which deals with felony cases.
News of Dennison’s death quickly made its way to Schneider Arena in Providence on Thursday night, the site of Game 1 of the boys’ state championship series between Bishop Hendricken and East Greenwich. Both teams had players who grew up playing hockey with Dennison.
After the shootout victory, Hendricken coach Mike Soscia gathered his team, arms intertwined, in a circle in the locker room. Soscia then broke the news to his team. Then a few players sat in chairs outside the locker room, their heads buried in their hands.
“Even if you didn’t know the person, being a hockey family we’re all in this together,” said Soscia, who coached Dennison at Providence Junior Friars Hockey Club. “…There’s no playbook for this and it’s such a crazy situation.”
Lake skated his WWEWG hockey team to the Benny Magiera Rink in West Warwick on Friday to help them grieve. He was sitting in Dennison’s locker as he spoke to the Journal.
“It’s heartbreaking to watch children go through this at such a young age and having to explain how to grieve and grieving just isn’t easy for anyone, let alone someone going through it themselves.” , Lake said. “They were all obviously heartbroken as they all thought there was still hope and a miracle could happen.
“We were waiting for this miracle to happen. Unfortunately, it just happened.”
The Rhode Island Interscholastic League planned to honor Dennison and his family with a moment of silence before Game 2 of the Championship Series on Friday. Since the accident, Soscia and some of his squad have been wearing orange ties (the West Warwick colour) while some players have used orange tape on their sticks and planned to do so on Friday night. This season, the East Greenwich student section Instagram account @EGHelmetMafia had supporters wearing themed clothing for every game – Thursday was a beach theme – and Friday posted that he wanted EG fans wear orange in honor of Dennison.
Lake said the family is handling Dennison’s passing as best they can and appreciates all the love and support from across the state.
“They really want to remember Matt the way he was as a leader and a hard worker and with the strength and happiness he had in their lives,” Lake said. “They can talk when they are ready. They really want to be able to do whatever they can…to remember, honor and commemorate Matt.
Details on Dennison’s services were still being worked out. Lake said he was trying to put together a plan for state hockey teams to gather at Magiera for a drive-in on the day of the funeral.
Magiera Rink was Dennison’s rink and where he and his teammates listened intently as Lake acted out a speech by Al Pacino’s character in “Any Given Sunday” about fighting for every inch.
While this film was about football, the point remained and was one that Dennison always took to heart.
“Matt was always ready to fight for the puck in the corner and fight,” Lake said. “We hoped that he would win every little battle and come back here with us. It was every one of those kids’ dream.
“Now, more than ever, this speech that we play before games is going to mean a lot more.”