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Tier I 14U Mid-Fairfield Yankees Live up to Reputation

By Mike Scandura - Special to, 04/01/14, 4:45PM MDT


SMITHFIELD, R.I. – What the Mid-Fairfield Yankees accomplished over this past weekend was a microcosm of not only their season but the program since its inception.

“Mid-Fairfield has a history of being at nationals and having strong programs,” coach Ben Bryce said Sunday after the Yankees blanked the New Hampshire Avalanche 6-0 in the New England Tier I 14-and-Under regional finals to clinch a berth at the Toyota-USA Hockey Tier I Youth National Championships next month in Green Bay, Wis. “This current team that we’re coaching went to nationals during their Peewee year as well.

“The program has a reputation. We put out good teams every year.”

How good were the Yankees this year? This good: After going 3-0-1 at regionals and outscoring their opponents by a combined margin of 19-6, their overall record is 50-13-3.

What makes that record even more impressive is that the Yankees are an independent team and play the proverbial cream of the crop.

“We mainly focus on playing ‘Super Series’ tournaments … six high-quality games in a weekend format,” Bryce said.

One of the “high-quality” players on the Yankees is forward Christian LeSueur, who torched the Avalanche for five goals. Including a 9-1 morning romp over the Rhode Island Saints, LeSueur scored eight goals in the span of a few hours.

“I’d say his commitment and work ethic lead to that extreme level of talent,” Bryce said of LeSueur. “It wasn’t just today. It was all weekend. His goal count for the weekend was out of this world.

“He’s an unreal talent who has an extreme work ethic and commitment. He’s a special kid to watch. He’s pretty impressive.”

In the title game, LeSueur scored the only goal of the first period when he deflected in a cross-ice pass from Nick Abruzzese (who finished with one goal and three assists).

Then, LeSueur unlocked the proverbial floodgates in the second period when the Yankees reeled off four consecutive goals.

LeSueur scored 15 seconds after the faceoff and Will Christensen followed with the first of three Yankees power-play goals when he deflected in a slap shot by Phil Kemp.

LeSueur completed his hat trick when he split the defense and scored on a wrist shot and he made it 5-0 with a power-play goal on a slap shot from the left point.

Abruzzese added the Yankees’ third power-play goal, and Tyler Haywood made 16 saves while earning the shutout.

Initially, Bryce was stumped when asked why the Yankees have been so successful. But assistant coach Andrew Billinghurst prodded him into giving a realistic answer.

“I think with past success comes current and future success,” Bryce said. “It breeds it. They do a good job of bringing in non-parent coaches that care about the kids, the game and growing it.

“It ends up building on itself. The history of the program helps lead the future of the program.”

During the course of a season, regardless of sport, invariably there’s an athlete who morphs into a surprise — a player who could be classified as an overachiever.

In Bryce’s opinion, that wasn’t the case this season with the Yankees.

“Andrew and I have been coaching this team for six years,” he said. “Nobody’s really been a surprise to us. We knew exactly what each was expected to do and asked to do, in terms of their roles. We recruited them in for that exact purpose, so there weren’t any real surprises.

“It was just a great team effort and some great individual efforts as well.”

Given the coaches’ familiarity with their players, earning a trip to the USA Hockey Tier I Youth National Championships wasn’t exactly a major surprise.

“We’ve known for the last few years that we’ve got something special here,” Bryce said. “We’ve been building toward this tournament and going to nationals as a goal.

“All these kids are pretty special. It’s been over the last few years we’ve known we’ve had a real opportunity here. Now it’s about going out there [to Green Bay] and earning that.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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