GREEN BAY, Wis. – Reliving last year’s run at the Toyota-USA Hockey Tier I Youth National Championships helps the Honey Baked 16-and-Under players get motivated.
In 2013, the Honey Baked 14U squad won nationals, and more than half of this year’s 16U team was part of that title team.
Experience in big games is on the side of Honey Baked, which is based in Hazel Park, Mich., a suburb of Detroit.
“It’s definitely a good feeling to have because going into this national championships, we know what it takes to win and we really have to step it up if we want to win it twice in a row,” said Honey Baked forward Nick Pastujov, who was a part of last year’s national championship team.
Playing on the big stage is nothing new for Noah LaLonde, who has already verbally committed to play hockey for Michigan State University. LaLonde said he doesn’t get as nervous before games at nationals, and the little bit of nervous energy he does have quickly turns into excitement once he hits the ice.
“Going into it, we know what to expect, we know how good the teams are going to be and if we want to win we have to bring our A game,” LaLonde said. “We know that if we bring our A game and win, it’s going to be a fun time.”
Honey Baked assistant coach Kevin Hatcher, who was the 14U head coach last season, knows a thing or two about experience in big games. The former 17-year National Hockey League veteran believes his players know what it takes to play in key situations under pressure.
“It puts confidence in certain players that scored big goals for us last year,” Hatcher said. “Once you have that feeling where you can tie up a game late or score a game winner in overtime, I think that only benefits you the further along we go this year.”
Honey Baked, the top-ranked team at 16U, is stacked with talent and features six players who have verbally committed to NCAA Division I schools.
Five players will attend Michigan State — LaLonde and fellow forwards Mitchell Lewandowski and David Keefer and defensemen Ryan Bederka and Mitch Eliot — and defenseman Nick McKeeby will head to Western Michigan University.
Honey Baked has a great pipeline to Michigan State and coach Tom Annattos.
“Michigan State’s definitely popular within our team,” Pastujov said. “For a lot of guys it’s right next door and they can see their family all the time, so it’s definitely a good place to be.”
Honey Baked features a nice balance of offense, defense and special teams. In the first two days of the national tournament, the team is 2-0, having outscored its opponents 7-1. Goalie Dylan St. Cyr — who is the son of former goaltender Manon Rheaume, the only woman to ever play in an NHL exhibition game — has been stellar with a save percentage of 98.1.
“We play a full game,” LaLonde said. “We can adjust to whatever the other team brings us. If we play in the offensive zone and control the puck, that’s our game. Handling the puck and having it for a large amount of time, getting shots on net and going to the net hard; if not, we can play in our defensive zone.”
Pastujov believes the team is playing its best hockey at this point in the season and is ready for a deep run at nationals.
“This is all we’ve been working for since the beginning of the year and this is our goal,” Pastujov said. “Now we’ve just got to make it happen.”
Winning another national championship is in the forefront of LaLonde’s mind.
“Obviously, it’s going to be a challenge, but in our eyes it’s either we win or anything else is failure at this point,” he said.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.