WATERVILLE — They were separated by more than 7,900 miles as children, but only a few minutes as high school students in Connecticut.

The distance between them now is close enough to reach out and huck a smelly hockey sock in one another’s direction after practice at Alfond Rink.

“We’re a great group of three here and we’re just trying to get along,” Colby College senior Phil Klitirinos said Tuesday.

Klitirinos, who led the Mules in scoring last season as a junior, joins fellow seniors Michael Rudolph and Dan Dupont as the trio of captains leading the Colby men’s ice hockey team into a new season with a weekend road trip to Middlebury and Williams on Friday and Saturday.

The three captains all hail from different countries originally, with Klitirinos from Montreal, Dupont from Wallingford, Connecticut, and Rudolf coming to Colby from Risch, Switzerland. They played high school hockey only a few miles away from one another — with Klitirinos at The Kent School in Kent, Connecticut, while Dupont and Rudolf were at nearby South Kent School — yet they didn’t know anything about one another until they stepped on the Colby campus as freshmen.

They were quickly united on a team that won only two conference games in their first season, but they’ve ushered in a new culture at Colby that has seen the program rebound. Last February, after being nationally ranked, the Mules were upset at home in the New England Small College Athletic Conference quarterfinals.

None are willing to let losses define their Colby careers.

“Every year is a different animal,” said Klitirinos, who finished tied for ninth in the league in scoring with 7-18-25 totals in 2016-17. “One of the things we talk about a lot on our team is ‘fail fast’ so that if something that happens goes poorly or goes wrong, you just put it in the rearview mirror. You can’t go back to last February. You’ve just got to focus on the next steps ahead.”

Those steps, despite the loss of eight seniors from last year’s team, are there to be taken. The Mules boast a deep and talented group of forwards, including Rudolf, who led the team with a career-high 10 goals last winter, and a pair of outstanding netminders in sophomore Andrew Tucci and senior Sean Lawrence.

“That’s something a lot of guys in the locker room have is that chip on our shoulder and an underdog mentality to keep proving ourselves,” said Rudolf, who has dual citizenship. “It’s funny because before coming to Colby, I was never really considered an offensive player. Over my three years, especially last year, I’ve kind of grown into that.”

Dupont, who head coach Blaise MacDonald calls a more vocal leader than the Mules’ other two captains, thinks that it can be good for a team to play with something to prove.

“I think so, yeah. We’re a group of guys that play better when we have a chip on our shoulder,” Dupont said. “Riding a chip on our shoulder is something that we will do, and we’re a championship team. Last year was not representative of who we are.

“Yes, we were undefeated at home, and yes, we finished second in the NESCAC. That’s awesome, but it’s not representative of who we are. We’re a championship team.”

MacDonald is hoping another large senior class — nine in all — led by the three captains, will lead to the program’s next big step forward.

“We’re all together, and we’re all in right away,” MacDonald said. “The players are the ones that do that, they’re the ones who establish their standards.”

As captains, the three are as different as the places where they grew up. Rudolf is quiet, a lead-by-example type, with a really good shot and ability to finish. Klitirinos is more of a playmaker on the ice, a thoughtful presence in the dressing room who speaks up when necessary. Dupont is a ball of energy, the type of defenseman imploring his teammates to charge through walls together.

All were recruited to Colby for the same reason.

“Our first two years here, we just had to get so many bodies,” said MacDonald, who enters his sixth season behind the bench and needed large recruiting classes initially to begin putting his stamp on the program. “We were deficient (numbers-wise) in our classes previous, so we were looking for culture changers, rink rats with passion.”

And those rink rats lead by keeping the Colby culture — a new culture that saw the team ranked as high as 13th in NCAA Division III nationally last season — front and center. They aren’t trying to replace what was lost to graduation last spring; instead, they’re trying to keep each individual moving forward.

“Everyone kind of knows their role. Coach MacDonald talks a lot about letting the plumbers do the plumbing, letting the electricians do the electrical work. That’s kind of our team mantra. Whatever each guy needs to do, that’s what he’s going to do.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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