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Coach Watches From Afar as Vermont Shamrocks Look to Repeat

By Tom Robinson - Special to, 04/01/14, 4:30PM MDT


Teams from around the country will gather at six locations in New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Virginia and Wisconsin on Wednesday through Sunday for Toyota-USA Hockey Youth and Girls’ National Championships.

Families, friends and fans who are unable to make the trip will take to the Internet, choosing such options as following @USAHNationals updates on Twitter or subscribing to Fast Hockey to view live video feeds of their team’s games.

One of those interested observers will be Patrick Burke.

Burke coached the Vermont Shamrocks to the Tier II 16U girls’ national title last year in San Jose, Calif. and guided the team to the New England District title to secure a return trip to the event that is being held in Amherst, N.Y. this season.

Burke met with the players, who include his daughter Anna, when they prepared to leave for the trip to the Buffalo suburbs. He is remaining home to continue chemotherapy treatments for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The Shamrocks players found out about Burke’s health issues prior to the district tournament and learned he would not be accompanying them to nationals after capturing the title.

Vermont will try to repeat despite a losing record, something that can be deceiving.

“We play a lot of U19 teams because there are not a lot of U16 teams in northern New England,” Burke said.

The Shamrocks play a split schedule, before and after the high school seasons, and because of alterations in the Vermont public school schedule this season they had less early-season tournament time than usual. The Burlington-based team got back together in time to play some tune-up games in the two weeks prior to the district tournament.

The district tournament started slowly for Vermont, which had a pair of ties, including one scoreless game, in three round-robin outings. Strong defense, however, carried the team to the title.

The Shamrocks outlasted the 2011 and 2012 Tier II 16U national champion Connecticut Polar Bears 1-0 in the district semifinal. They then handled a short-handed Mid Fairfield Stars team, with just nine skaters, 4-0 in the final to finish the tournament with just two goals allowed in five games.

“We knew that we had strong defenders and goaltenders, so the focus was on playing strong defense in all three zones,” Burke said. “We hoped that the goals would come opportunistically by way of power plays or rebounds and second-, third-chance goals.

“That’s pretty much how it turned out.”

Many of last year’s national championship players have advanced to the 19U level, but the three players who are back — Victoria Gibson, Amy LoTemplio and Whitney Bernier — lead the way.

“We don’t have captains, but if we did, those three girls would serve that function,” Burke said.

The defensive approach makes sense when Gibson’s credentials are considered.

Gibson was recently named Miss Hockey for Vermont, the Player of the Year award on the high school level, after posting 14 shutouts in 20 games to lead Essex to the Division I state championship.

“She’s ridiculously good,” Burke said.

LoTemplio, from the other side of Lake Champlain in Saranac, N.Y., is the only New York resident on the team. The Shamrocks primarily draw from public schools in northern Vermont, between Burlington and the Canadian border. LoTemplio, a vital part of the penalty kill last season, is one of the teams’ top defensive players this season.

Bernier, from North Country High School, is one of the team leaders from her forward position.

The 17-team player roster comes from nine different public high school programs.

“The high school coaches work together with us,” Burke said. “It’s not like a club vs. scholastic tension. It’s a really positive relationship and it helps our girls out a lot.

“Our 19s are placing a ton of kids at the NCAA level. Kids are able to stay home, play for their high school programs and still access NCAA and ACHA programs, if that’s what they want to do.”

That fits well in the area from which the Shamrocks draw.

“A lot of our kids are just regular farm kids and northern Vermont kids,” Burke said. “They’re not really able to access a lot of the things that kids in southern New England or other parts of the country are able to as far as Academy-level hockey.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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