SAN JOSE, Calif. — Two years ago, the East Coast Wizards out of Dedford, Mass. made it all the way to the championship game of the 14-and-Under Tier II USA Hockey National Championships.
After reaching a stalemate after three periods, they ultimately fell short 1-0 in overtime.
But here they are this week, back at the National Championships in the 16U division, and this time they are more experienced and hungrier than ever to gain another opportunity at a title.
“I think some of those girls have it locked in that they want another shot at it,” East Coast Wizards coach Mark Lissner said. “There are six or seven of them that have been in the Wizards program since they were 8 or 9. Other than three or four of them, they’ve all been in the program three, four or five years. They’ve a very experienced group.”
The East Coast Wizards came out of a very competitive Massachusetts district tournament to make it back to this point. The Wizards opened the district tournament by losing 3-1 to Assabet Valley. But East Coast came back to win its next two games, and then the Wizards got revenge on Assabet Valley 6-1 in the championship game to earn the trip to San Jose. Jessica Piracini led all scorers with four goals and five points in the tournament.
“We had to fight very, very hard to get here,” said Lissner, who has been involved with hockey for 25 years. “We had a 12-team tournament to get here, there were probably five of them that could have been top teams out here.”
Lissner and the Wizards rely on a team-oriented style of play that involves no players with more than 25 goals, but experience, hockey savvy and chemistry get the job done.
“They’re a very talented group of kids,” Lissner said. “Any day it could be any one of them that is putting the puck in the net. I don’t think we have anybody that’s far and away a leading scorer or anybody that doesn’t contribute. We play three lines and they just go out there and play very well together.
“We just are very aggressive in terms of pressuring the puck and trying to take away time and space and trying to create pressure in front of the other team’s nets. We bring the puck to the net as much as possible. We have a group of defensemen that all play the game very well and move the puck up to the forwards who are very creative and willing to move the puck and share the puck with each other.”
Lissner believes his team is on the brink of greatness once again. However, the early rounds of the national tournament have had mixed results. In the team’s first game on Wednesday, the Wizards lost 4-1 to the Vermont Shamrocks. But the team rebounded to beat the Carolina Jr. Hurricanes 12-0 on Thursday.
After his players had a taste of the championship game just two years ago, Lissner thinks they’re right back in the thick of it, buoyed by being a complete team for the first time all season.
“I think we’re probably one of the four or five teams that you would look at as a team that you think could win it,” Lissner said. “The first game at nationals was the first time all year we had all 17 girls; we always had one missing playing high school sports or hurt.”
If the Wizards continue on this path, they could come full-circle, back in the championship game.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.