skip navigation

The Bond Between Massachusetts Spitfires Players Goes Much Deeper Than Hockey

By Craig Handel, 04/04/24, 11:30AM MDT


The team will be honoring Paul Albert Funk, the father of one of the Spitfires’ players, at the Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championships.

When the Massachusetts Spitfires play this week in the 2024 Chipotle-USA Hockey Girls Tier I 16U National Championships in Wesley Chapel, Florida, fans will notice the initials “PAF” on their orange jerseys.

The initials are on their left shoulders because as goaltender Jackie Wright said, “It’s closer to our hearts.”

They stand for Paul Albert Funk, the father of Spitfires right wing Madison Funk.

On April 15, 2023, Funk, 51, died unexpectedly. A principal at Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School, he led the school to the state’s Super Bowl three times and won championships in 2011 and 2017. He was named ‘New England Patriots Coach of the Year’ in 2017.

Paul Funk introduced the game of hockey to Madison.

“He played when he was younger and he wanted me to have the same enjoyment,” Madison said. “My first memory is on the pond skating with my brother, Jack.”

Seeing her teammates and coach Joe Hulbig at her dad’s funeral services deeply touched Madison. It also has created a stronger bond with her teammates.

The Spitfires (21-3-2) qualified for nationals after near misses in years past. Beating ranked Connecticut’s Mid Fairfield Stars and Massachusetts’ Assabet Valley helped the Spitfires earn their nationals ticket this year.

Jackie said Paul Funk has “almost been like a father figure to all of us. Seeing him on the boards, seeing him cheering, his relentless support. We love him.”

Hulbig said in all 26 games, Paul Funk has been in the team’s thoughts.

“It’s changed the whole shift of our team,” he said. “As we set off on this journey to nationals, this has changed our perspective.”

That perspective has been clear for Madison throughout the season.

“I feel this tragic event has made it clear anything can happen and that we shouldn’t take each other for granted and be present in the moment and be happy,” she said. “This drew us closer. We communicate so well.”

Saturday, April 15, seemed like an ordinary day for the Funk family. Madison remembers talking with her mother, Heather, and her dad while he had his morning coffee.

While Madison went to a track meet, Paul was off to practice with son Jack’s baseball team.

Later that day, Paul Funk called his daughter Molly and said he wasn’t feeling good. By the time Molly arrived, her father had passed out and couldn’t’ be revived.

“I kept thinking it was a bad dream,” Madison said.

A week later, Madison tried to be stoic as her dad’s casket was placed at Dennis-Yarmouth High’s 50-yard line. Hundreds of past and present students along with parents attended to pay their respects.

That included Madison’s teammates in their orange jerseys.

“We all came together as a team,” Jackie said. “We decided to support Maddie and her family. As teammates, we’re also family.

“Madison, she’s so energetic. She has the most positive attitude. She’s always smiling. Hardworking. She grinds. And she’s a better person off the ice.”

Seeing her coach and teammates took a lot of pressure off her shoulders, Madison said. When she began to cry, Jackie’s mother, Kouri, held Madison in her arms.

“When I’m around them, I’m so comfortable,” Madison said. “They make me feel so special. They care about me so much.”

Madison, along with teammate Violet Carroll, has been with the Spitfires for six years. Jackie has been with them for seven. Teammates Alaina Dunn, Gretta Hulbig and Catie Putt have been with the team since 8U. Abby DeAnzeris, Lilly Shaughnessy, Lindsay Stepnowski and Yasmine McKenzie have been with the team for more than four years.

It can be hard for travel teams to connect because of a constant influx of new players. Once the season gets going, they only get together for games. They attend different schools, often hours apart.

But playing in the same program for years has kept many of the Spitfires players together. On the mornings of some games, they’ll gather at Gunther Tooties for bagels. They also listen to Taylor Swift together.

Paul Funk’s death brought them even closer.

When the team gathered last June to compete in a tournament, Hulbig brought out the jerseys with the “PAF” initials.

“We knew when Madison lost her father after tryouts that the season became much more than wins and losses,” Hulbig said. “Our goal, especially early on, was to make sure Madison could count on her Spitfire teammates.

“We also wanted to make sure Madison’s father wasn’t something the team was afraid to mention.”

Hulbig and Jackie said Madison is a reflection of their team — a relentless rink rat that the other team doesn’t want to mess with.

That personality has shown in the comebacks and late wins this team has had.

“We scored at the buzzer to tie a game with Mid Fairfield then won in a shootout,” Hulbig said. “It just feels like something is different. I can’t put a finger on it. We have that quiet confidence.”

The Spitfires have a lot of confidence and togetherness as they head into national play.

On the inside collar of their jerseys are the words "Us, We, Together - Our Time!" There is a bit of a humorous feel that Paul Funk — while flattered at being an inspiration — also would want that inspiration turned into victories.

“My dad won championships and I got to watch him,” Madison said. “He’s looking down, wanting me to have that same moment. Win something so big you can’t stop smiling or talking about for weeks.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

More Nationals News