As the saying goes, nothing beats experience.
Just ask coach Scott Fusco, whose East Coast Wizards Tier I 14-and-Under girls’ team annexed the Massachusetts state championship.
“What’s unique about our U-14 team is that seven players started with us when they were 8,” Fusco said. “They were on our first U-8 team. A total of 11 out of 18 girls have been with us since they were 9.
“The core group has been together with us. It’s a pretty stable group so they’ve developed all the way up.”
The flip side of that coin is that all 18 girls will have aged out by the time the 2013-14 season rolls around. But Fusco said he isn’t overly concerned about having to build a new team.
“We have a good group behind them,” he said. “We have five U-14 teams in our organization [which is based in Bedford, Mass.]. Part of our success is because we have an older, experienced team at this level.
“I think because so many of these kids have been in our program for so long we knew we had a good team. But you never know how they’re going to play because every team is different.”
That being said, Fusco realized he had a potent team when it won the organization’s U-14 tournament that was held over the last Columbus Day weekend.
“A number of teams that are going to nationals are in it,” he said. “The competition is good. Winning that tournament set us up so we knew we had a chance to do something this year.”
What Fusco’s team did in the 2013 state tournament was lose its first game and then rebound and win its next four to earn a berth in the USA Hockey National Championships, which begin April 3 in San Jose, Calif.
“U-14 is a difficult age in some ways especially around here because the kids play high school hockey all winter,” Fusco said. “They get to us three days before the state tournament. Sometimes you have a focus issue because kids are pulled in multiple directions.
“It takes time for them to gear up to where they’re playing. Sometimes the U-14 level in New England is better than it is in high school. Once we got locked in, we played well for the rest of the tournament.”
A primary reason for the Wizards’ success is that the girls played well at both ends of the ice rather than being just an offensive-minded team.
“I think we have a pretty balanced team,” Fusco said. “We have a strong set of defenders and solid goaltending. We have some good skill players up front. We probably score more than some teams we play.
“We don’t give up a lot of chances. We have a bunch of kids that know how to play so we don’t give up a lot of chances. We don’t give up a lot of odd-man rushes and we have players who can finish in the offensive zone, which a lot of teams don’t.”
If the name Scott Fusco sounds familiar, it should.
Fusco won the Hobey Baker Award during his senior year at Harvard and then played on the 1984 and 1988 U.S. Olympic teams. And, eventually, he was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.
“I don’t find it difficult at all to relate to my players during the season in terms of how they’re developing,” he said. “The one thing I try hard to teach is the mental part of the game and game sense. It came easy for me as a player but it’s hard to teach.
“We spend a lot of time on those aspects, especially as players get older and the game gets faster. It’s important to realize how the pieces fit together. It’s not just a matter of shooting the puck and passing it along the boards.”
What Fusco brings to the proverbial table is a major plus for the Wizards.
“The biggest thing is the perspective of it all,” he said. “It’s a long road and you’re not necessarily going to get to the end of the rainbow today. You take the long view so that four or five years from now you get to where you want to get.
“I’ve played with a lot of players that have had success and some that have not, and I’ve found that perspective has helped.”
Fusco is reluctant to single out some girls more so than others for praise.
“In our case, it’s hard to single out players because everybody contributes in a different way,” he said. “Some have more skill than others. Everybody on our team has a role and a job to do. It doesn’t do you any good if you score and our goaltender doesn’t make saves.
“We play our girls equally. All 18 players were locked in for the state tournament whether they were on the ice or on the bench. They were focused and willing to do what they had to do on each shift.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.