GREEN BAY, Wis. – The young men who play hockey for the Culver Military Academy 18-and-Under team share more than just a bond on the ice.
The guys room together in the school’s on-campus dorms and spend the majority of their time with one another every day, and that has equated into a camaraderie that has paid dividends on the ice.
Culver Academy, from Culver, Ind., is making the most of its first appearance in the Toyota-USA Hockey Tier I Youth National Championships.
“We get a shortened season because we start in late October where a lot of these teams start in August,” Culver forward Nick Curtin said. “We make up for that by living together and being at practice, in class and on sports fields outside of hockey every single day. We’re around each other a lot, we see each other in the dining hall and we eat as a team almost every night. That’s huge for us for building as a team as quickly as possible early in the season.”
Making it to nationals for the first time in program history is huge, especially since it’s only the team’s second year of eligibility.
“We made it our second kick of the can, and it’s very exciting to be here,” Culver coach Steve Palmer said.
Even though Culver hasn’t played on the big stage before, Palmer knows his team won’t be flying under the radar of the other teams. Culver played an aggressive regular-season schedule and faced about half of the teams that qualified for nationals, including tying top-ranked Shattuck-St. Mary’s of Minnesota and beating the No. 2 St. Louis Blues.
“I don’t think that we’re sneaking by anybody,” Palmer said. “I think they pretty much know us, but I think there are a couple teams here that may not have heard of us. But we’ve almost played every team here.”
Forward Karch Bachman, who has verbally committed to play hockey at Miami (Ohio) University, competed in the 16U nationals in 2012 with Belle Tire of Michigan. He knows Culver, which is ranked No. 5 at 18U, isn’t playing an underdog role at this year’s national championships.
“Maybe at the beginning of the year I would have said that, but now as we’ve come along through the year we’ve grown not only as individuals but as a group, and we’ve come together as a team,” Bachman said. “I really don’t think we’re an underdog anymore. I think we’ve got a good shot as long as we stick together and keep getting wins. We’re peaking at the right time.”
Culver has progressed nicely in the postseason. After winning the Mid-American district tournament in mid-March, the team won its opening two national games, beating the Cleveland Barons 5-1 Wednesday and downing the Colorado Rampage 4-3 Thursday.
“We’ve played pretty good hockey,” Palmer said. “We’ve got a lot of good kids who are very, very coachable and they work really hard. You’re going to have success when you have kids like that.”
If Culver wants to continue winning at nationals, players say it needs to keep playing its brand of hockey.
“We just need to have a short memory and keep going,” goalie Nick MacNab said. “We’ve faced a little bit of adversity already, and to me that shows strong character and a strong team, and with the guys we have we can keep finding ways to win games.”
Win or lose, Palmer will inevitably rave about the off-ice character of his players.
“Everywhere we go, hotel managers and if we stop at Burger King, people are coming out and saying these are the most polite, well-mannered kids we’ve seen,” Palmer said. “At the end of the day, hockey’s one thing, but being the part of the development of successful young men is why I got into hockey, and these kids are a great example of that.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.