PITTSBURGH — It might not look like it, but the Mid-Fairfield Blues have only been playing together for a month.
The Tier I 18-and-Under Blues won the New England District Regional Championship, punching their ticket for the 2013 USA Hockey National Championships in Pittsburgh, but they have only held three practices since then.
It’s not the team’s fault. It’s a difficult situation for 76-year-old coach Doug Messier, the father of NHL Hall of Famer and Mid-Fairfield assistant coach Mark Messier, but it’s one his team is used to.
“When we come here, we’re playing quality teams that have played together all year,” Doug Messier said. “We know we’re at a little bit of a disadvantage, but that’s the ticket we’re given and we have to play by it.”
Mid-Fairfield players skate together from September until Nov. 10 when the prep season begins. They reconvene in March to prepare for the National Championships.
“You want your players to have a chance to play,” Doug Messier said. “If our players had the chance to put in the time together I think we’d be a lot better, but it just doesn’t work that way for the kids out of New England.”
No worries. Mid-Fairfield has cruised along, posting a 16-5-2 record along the way, advancing to the national championship tournament for the third time in program history.
Doug Messier has plenty of help on the bench from his Hall of Fame son Mark Messier, a six-time Stanley Cup champion with Edmonton and the New York Rangers in 1994. Mark Messier also understands the hand his father’s team is dealt.
“It’s not easy spending that much time away and putting it back together, but the kids have done a good job,” Mark Messier said. “It has always been like that for us. It’s certainly not an advantage, for sure, but we’ve been doing it for a while. That’s the way it is in this area and we don’t make excuses for our kids.
“The team played well and we had a tough battle to get out of the state. The kids had a good year in high school and now we’re trying to put it back together.”
Mid-Fairfield opened the national tournament with a 4-1 victory over the Alaska Junior Aces before suffering a loss against two-time defending national champion Shattuck-St. Mary’s 6-3 on Thursday.
It’s not the first time Mid-Fairfield has clashed with Shattuck St. Mary’s. Two years ago, Shattuck-St. Mary’s defeated Mid-Fairfield to win the national championship.
“They’re well coached, they play with a lot of pace and pressure the puck all over the ice,” Mark Messier said. “They’re definitely going to be one of the teams to beat as we go forward.”
If it doesn’t work out this year for Mid-Fairfield, the next level is certainly an option.
Mid-Fairfield currently has eight players committed to NCAA Division I schools. They are: defensemen Michael Graham (St. Lawrence), Wiley Sherman (Harvard), Quin Pompi (Princeton) and Ryan Segalla (Connecticut); forwards Craig Puffer (Vermont), Charles Corcoran (Brown) and Jason Kalinowski (New Hampshire); and goaltender Sam Tucker (Yale).
“That’s the objective of our program,” Doug Messier said. “Kids come here, play for us, and get a DI commitment.”
They also have the pleasure of being coached by one of the greatest NHL players of all time. That certainly helps too.
“I learn a lot, and I think our players learn a lot from him too,” Doug Messier said.
A humble Mark Messier shrugged it off.
“I think they’re appreciative and respectful,” said Mark Messier, who is second all-time in regular season and playoff points, and the only player to captain two different professional teams to championships. “They’re all great kids.”
He’s more concerned with the work his father does for the players.
“My dad has put a good program together,” Mark Messier said. “He has a huge passion for the game and more importantly he loves the kids and loves helping them.
“He’s been doing this his whole life and it’s great to see him still active.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.