Jackson LaCombe and Matthew “Mackie” Samoskevich have played in some important hockey games over the past year.
LaCombe, a defenseman from Eden Prairie, Minnesota, played with the Under-18 Men’s Select Team this summer at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta. After advancing to the semifinals of the tournament under the bright lights of Rogers Place in Edmonton, the U.S. fell to Canada in overtime and returned to the U.S. with a fourth-place finish.
LaCombe representing the U.S. at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
Samoskevich, a 16-year-old forward from Newtown, Connecticut, played in the Under-17 Five Nations tournament in Piestany, Slovakia with the Under-17 Men’s Select Team. The group walked away with a third-place finish after defeating Slovakia, 5-0, in the final game of the tournament.
Now, the two are competing alongside each other with Shattuck-St. Mary’s at the Chipotle-USA Hockey Tier I 18U National Championship tournament in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“It’s the biggest tournament of the year,” said LaCombe. “This is what we have all been looking forward to and working for the whole year. We get the opportunity to represent our school and we are all excited to play.”
So far, things are going great for LaCombe and Samoskevich, as Shattuck-St. Mary’s is undefeated through three games at the tournament, defeating its opponents by a combined score of 24-6. LaCombe has scored a goal and added three assists while Samoskevich has scored once and added a helper of his own.
Today, the two will take on the Central Connecticut Selects in a win or go home contest. A victory will secure Shattuck-St. Mary’s a spot in the semifinals on Sunday. After representing the United States over the summer, these big games are nothing new for LaCombe and Samoskevich.
“Playing internationally was a pretty cool experience, to say the least,” said Samoskevich. “Playing against top talent from other countries and seeing how well you compare definitely helped me learn a lot of things as a player.”
Both LaCombe and Samoskevich are using their experiences playing internationally to the fullest, as both are enjoying career seasons. LaCombe has recorded 81 points (20G, 61A) in 50 games this year, while Samoskevich has tallied 71 points (34G, 37A) in 47 contests.
“This year has been great for us and our team,” said LaCombe. “We are a very close group and will do anything for the guys next to us. It’s a great culture and everybody wants to win.”
Samoskevich echoed LaCombe’s comments.
“This year has been the best by far,” said Samoskevich. “The group of guys we have are closer than any group that I’ve played with in my whole hockey career.
Samoskevich celebrates a goal with his teammates at the Five Nations tournament.
"Every guy wants to win and that’s why I think we’re doing so well. We’re constantly on the same page with what we want to do.”
With three wins down and three more to go to reach the ultimate goal, LaCombe and Samoskevich have a good idea of what they need to do to return home as national champions.
“I think, individually, I just have to play my game and I think I’ll do well,” said Samoskevich. “However, there’s not just one guy on the team that we look to take charge when we are down. We’re a deep team that’s tough to handle for three periods. I think if we just stick to the game plan, we’ll be very difficult to beat.”
LaCombe agreed that the depth of the team provides potential for a deep run in the tournament.
“We just need to keep playing our team game like we normally do,” said LaCombe. “We are very deep and anyone on our team can take a game over. For a lot of us, it is our last time wearing an SSM jersey. We want to win more than anything.”
Time will tell if Shattuck-St. Mary’s will walk away from Grand Rapids as national champions. As for the future, LaCombe and Samoskevich both agree that the desire to represent the United States remains high.
“I’d love to play for my country again,” said LaCombe. “It’s a really special feeling playing with great players and everyone represents the U.S. very well. I look forward to having the chance to play for them again.”
Samoskevich’s feelings about playing for the United States are mutual.
“Obviously, representing the U.S. was very special to me,” said Samoskevich. “Every time you get to wear that crest, it means more than anything. Although we fell short of our goal at Five Nations, it was a very special experience that I will never forget.”
While representing the U.S. was a huge honor for LaCombe and Samoskevich, the dream, for now, is winning a national championship. With just three more wins in Grand Rapids, those dreams will become reality.