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Behind former NHLer, Florida team shines at HS nationals

By Jason Franchuk, 03/26/16, 10:00AM MDT


SALT LAKE CITY -- Peter Worrell is still making a difference in hockey. The 34-year-old former NHL defenseman has taken his Canadian heritage to Florida.

The North Broward Preparatory School from Coconut Creek reached the quarterfinals of the USA Hockey High School National Championships in the capital city of Utah before losing in one of the tourney’s best games, a 3-2 double-overtime ending against Pinnacle (Ariz.). Near Fort Lauderdale, the program is about 10 years old with Worrell in his third year.

The traveling, even to Salt Lake City, isn’t a big deal. The Floridians have to be willing to pile into minivans to find games around the state and region, as the competition is spread out.

“In Florida, football will always be king,” Worrell said. 

The key right now is to take what he grew up learning and apply it to kids who are wholly interested in the sport but are behind the curve in picking up good habits.

“We don’t always have the structure to allow good players to really develop. But when I was a player, I was exposed to that, and that’s what we’re trying to build in our state,” he said.

Worrell, from the Quebec province, was considered a premium enforcer in the game. 

His youth teams, however, aren’t often penalized. The former seventh-round draft pick also agreed in May 2010 to become the head coach for the Florida Atlantic University club team, a role he still holds.

Broward arrived in Utah as one of the most feared teams in the field, if unscientific polling of fans was to be believed. But the game can come down to a strange bounce or two, and it cost the Eagles a chance to get past the quarterfinals.

Pinnacle scored with 10.9 seconds left in double overtime.

Making a better impression 
The two Utah teams may have had home-ice advantage, but neither necessarily expected it to show up on the scoreboards.

No Utah team had won a game in the previous two years of the high school nationals.

But Judge Memorial, a private Catholic school in Salt Lake City — not far from the venue — did win a March 22 game against the Washington (Va.) Hornets.

Overcoming a 3-0 deficit, Judge’s Andrew Bergquist scored the final goal with 33 seconds left. It came on a 5-on-3 power play.

More than anything, Judge and Bingham (West Jordan, Utah) hope to compete.

“We’re not going to win this tournament — we know that,” Bingham Miners coach Brett Blackburn said early in the week. “When we went last year to Chicago, it was an extremely challenging time. It was a new experience for a lot of us.”

In last year’s event, Bingham scored 15 goals but allowed 41 in three defeats. The Miners fared better than fellow Utah invitee Skyline, which managed only two goals in its losses.

Bingham was outscored 33-10 this year, but it did close with an 8-7 shootout loss to Washington (Va.).

Judge had its team outscored 24-8 in three games.

Extra time to breathe
There weren't any altitude-sickness incidents during games to report. But tournament organizers did need just a couple of games in the first round of pool play Wednesday to see that they needed to give teams more time between periods to catch their breath. The thin air was causing some more hands-on-hips action than even the most well-conditioned kids were used to.

Tournament organizer Bob Mathson said the decision to add about five minutes between periods was made early Wednesday among the opening round.

The first two USA Hockey High School National Championships were held in suburban Chicago.

Big finish
Maybe the most scintillating ending came Thursday, when Waterloo (Iowa) rallied from a two-goal deficit in the final three minutes against Pinnacle (Ariz.) Pioneers.

Grant Saul tied the game at 3-3 at 2:40 and Austin Jackson had the go-ahead tally with 8.6 seconds left after a teammate’s blast ricocheted off the goalie's shoulder and left an easy putback opportunity.

Unheard of
The Idaho Falls Tigers didn’t exactly score on a high percentage of shots on goal, but the sheer mass of pepper was enough to defeat a team from Cleveland, N.M.

It was a 97-7 difference. Yes, a 90-shot differential, and Idaho Falls won, 13-1.

Say it right
Volunteers from Utah were laughing with visitors about pronunciations of various town names in the Beehive State. The one that came up the most was nearby “Tooele.” It's two-will-uh, not tool-ey, as a few Utahans pointed out.

Top scorers
Tanner Touhy was the most prolific points producer for the week. The Brophy (Ariz.) Bronco had 14 points in five games — eight goals and six assists. Only one of his scores came on a power play. Teammate Ryan Beneduce was fourth with 12 points.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.