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Morgantown is "A Small Team from West Virginia that has Big Dreams"

By Chrös McDougall, 03/26/23, 5:15PM MDT


The Morgantown Mohawks won the West Virginia state tournament, then swept preliminary-round play at the Division II nationals before falling in the quarterfinals

Morgantown Mohawks

While Robin Anderson waited outside the locker room to join her teammates on Thursday, Morgantown Mohawks coach Rob Rockis stepped outside.

“Hey, put this on,” he told her.

Then he handed her a letter “C.”

Ahead of the West Virginia team’s debut in the 2023 Chipotle-USA Hockey High School Division II National Championships in Plymouth, Minnesota, Anderson — a senior winger, and the lone girl on the team — was taking over as team captain.

“It felt incredible,” said Anderson, who attends Morgantown High School. “I just tried to put everything into the season like everyone else has. It was amazing being able to represent the team as a captain.”

For Rockis, the choice to elevate Anderson was an easy one.

“She just has a senior leadership ability,” he said. “She’s played with most of these guys for three or fours years, and she just works.”

Anderson said her teammates have always had her back — just like she has theirs. Ahead of games, she has a tradition of holding the door and giving everyone fist bumps as they make their way onto the ice. The rest of the team wasted no time in getting behind their new captain Thursday.

“Good job!”

“Go cap!”

“The amount of support on this team is incredible,” Anderson said.

And behind their captain, the Mohawks went out and started winning. After going down 1-0 early against Greenville (S.C.) in the opening game, Morgantown rallied for four straight goals, with Anderson netting the third, in a 4-1 win. Following two more wins in preliminary play, the Mohawks clinched first place in the Liberty Division and a spot in Sunday’s playoffs.

Despite falling to Bishop Canevin (Pa.) in the quarterfinals, 8-2, on Sunday, Morgantown is proud of its debut appearance in nationals.

Rockis has been coaching the Mohawks for the past 10 years. The team, which is made up of players from four area high schools, plays its regular season as part of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League, while mixing in some games against other West Virginia teams.

After putting together a solid season in the PIHL, the team won the West Virginia state tournament to secure a berth to nationals.

“We just seemed to hit a groove right before we came here,” Rockis said. “We had a couple good practices, and the team just came together.”

The team had qualified previously, but this was the first year everything came together to make the trip.

The experience in the Twin Cities has been a memorable one so far. On the ice, Anderson has proved a strong leader, playing more of a defensive role.

“I’m not the fastest player on the ice, so I support my team more with passes and getting in front of the net to get rebounds and stuff like that,” said Anderson, who plans to play for the club team at West Virginia University next season.

Geno Valenti (3-2—5) has paced the team in scoring so far, followed by Nate Rodgers (3-1—4). Rockis called Rodgers “an enforcer.”

“He knows how to go to the net, keep his stick on the ice and finish everything that Geno gives him,” the coach said.

Rodgers and Anderson are two of the four seniors on the team, joining the goalie tandem of Hayden Derk and Brandon Nyga, who have both started at least one game at nationals.

Rockis also called out the play of junior Anthony DiBartolomeo, who had a goal and an assist heading into quarterfinal play.

“He just controls the ice,” Rockis said.

In addition to piling up wins on the ice, the Mohawks have enjoyed one last big trip together. A group of players got to visit the Mall of America and the University of Minnesota campus, while the team marveled at a stop in Blaine, Minnesota, to see the Super Rink, which with eight sheets of ice is considered the largest arena of its kind in the world.

“Coming from West Virginia, we have three rinks in our state alone, and up here we’re surrounded by ice pads,” Rockis said. “It’s just awesome.”

Ironically, Morgantown came all the way to Minnesota to face one of its PIHL rivals in the quarterfinals, Bishop Canevin, who beat the Mohawks soundly in two previous meetings this season before falling in the quarterfinals.

Rockis said that the teams take pride in being able to represent the PIHL on the national level.

For the Mohawks, there’s also pride in representing the Mountain State.

“We're just a small team from West Virginia that has big dreams,” Rockis said.

“We all know it’s starting to get toward the end of the season,” Anderson added. “We’re not just here for ourselves; we’re here representing all of West Virginia. We came in as the underdogs. We know we’re looked as, ‘They’re just the team from West Virginia, there’s not much they can do,’ but we’ve always looked at it like, ‘we can win this game’.”

Spoken like a true captain.

The outcome didn’t turn out how Morgantown had hoped, but the experience will stay with the team for a while.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.


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