For many of the 18U Southern CT Stars, this year’s appearance at the Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth National Championships has an extra special meaning.
A season ago, many of these same players competed at the Tier II 16U tournament. They came up just short as they lost in the national championship game. This year, the Stars will compete in San Jose, California, in the Tier II 18U tournament looking to avenge last year’s heartbreak.
After winning the state tournament in November, the guys have played together since in playing a split season schedule. Head coach Erik Roos is hoping his players can pick up where they left off and do well at nationals.
“If we play like we were in November, we’ll do just fine,” Roos said. “If we come out there and play with some of the habits that we can play with, we can get knocked out in the preliminaries. What kind of habits and what kind of camaraderie are we going to come back with after not playing together for three-four months?”
The Stars (23-3) opened state competition by downing Hamden 6-1 in their first game. That set up a rematch with Wonderland, which downed Southern CT 10-2 – its worst loss of the season – in September.
“I would say we got embarrassed,” Roos said. “As coaches we do little quirky things with them and we gave them a little notecard with that score on it and a picture of the scoreboard and said, every game you’re going to look at this. They rose to the occasion.”
Trailing 2-1 early in the third period, the Stars killed off a 5-on-3 power play. Late in regulation, Matthew Walker picked off a pass and scored to tie the game. Then about nine minutes into the extra session, it was Walker again who lit the lamp at about the nine-minute mark to give the Stars a 3-2 victory.
“It was really dramatic, so a really nice effort from them,” Roos said.
Heading into the tournament, Roos isn’t trying to put any added pressure on his players. He wants them to enjoy their experience.
“For the players, a lot of them it’s going to be their last hurrah in youth sports and some of them are going to go onto prep school,” Roos said. “There are a few kids that are going to move onto Tier I, which is great for them and glad we were a stepping stone for them and others are just going to move onto college. It’s a nice last enjoyable experience. Yeah, we’re coming out to do the best we can but I don’t look at the tournament as win or bust.”
Central CT Selects Tier 15O takes care of business
For Jon Hutcheon and his staff, everything has been a new experience this season as first-year coaches at 15O.
But for the Central CT Selects Tier I 15O youth group, a couple of the players have been to nationals and are craving another strong playoff push. They will get that shot at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Michigan.
“The guys are tight and seem to like each other a lot,” Hutcheon said. “The last time I had a team that was this close was back in 2013 at the U18 level and we won a national title then. It’s an exciting time for us and it will be kind of fun to see what comes of it.”
Central CT took the New England District title in convincing fashion, winning its five games by a combined score of 36-7.
In pool play, Central CT beat Mid Fairfield (9-2), New Hampshire Northern Cyclones (8-2) and New Haven (6-1). The team downed the Providence Hockey Club 8-2 before beating the Yale Jr. Bulldogs 5-0 in the title game in Marlborough, Massachusetts, on Nov. 11.
“At that point you have the pressure to win and expectation to win, which can carry a heavy burden on 15-year-olds,” Hutcheon said. “It was kind of a sigh of relief back in November when we had the district tournament, just to get that opportunity to get it out of the way and qualify early and not have to worry about that later on down the road.”
After a successful season, Hutcheon is looking for his guys to do well at nationals.
“We’re expecting to have six games left to play and as we kind of get through each game we check one off and move onto the next one,” Hutcheon said. “We just kind of stay focused on the task at hand as the one game ahead of us and not worry about the sixth game of the week.”
Yale Tier I 18U clicking on all cylinders
The Yale Bulldogs Tier I 18U youth team made it all the way to the national quarterfinals last season before being stopped in its tracks.
The team is back at nationals this year looking to advance a couple more steps. They will compete alongside some of the other top 18U programs in the country in Grand Rapids, Michigan, from April 3-8.
“It’s our goal every year,” Yale coach Jon Bellonio said. “That’s what they play for.”
A handful of this year’s Bulldogs 18U team also was a part of the 15O national championship team in 2017.
“They all know what it’s like to be at nationals and how important every game is,” Bellonio said.
The Bulldogs (21-8) dug themselves a hole to start out New England District play. Central CT scored a 3-0 and Yale had to beat the Northern Cyclones 11-0 and the CT Riverhawks 6-0 to advance to the championship game. Against the Northern Cyclones split squad, Yale earned a 4-1 victory on Nov. 11, to punch it ticket to nationals.
Yale is going into nationals with great results in mind.
“We go in it thinking we’re going to win, that’s our goal,” Bellonio said. “Anything else isn’t what we’re looking for.”
2019 USA Hockey New England District Girls’ Tournament Champions
15O: Central CT Selects
16U: Yale Bulldogs
18U: Yale Bulldogs
Tier II Participants
14U: Darien Youth Hockey, Maine Gladiators, Providence Hockey Club, Burlington Bobcats
16U: Maine Moose, New Hampshire Avalanche
18U: Southern, Maine Moose, Manchester Flames
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.