New York has a number of hotbeds for young hockey talent and many organizations to serve them. In Syracuse, however, the Stars organization tends to dominate the region.
According to 16U Stars coach Todd Brost, the Stars have been successful at both developing players and creating a culture of success that players from around the region are drawn to.
“We’ve got kids from an hour-and-a-half to two hours away, but they come to play in this organization,” said Brost, who himself comes in from Elmira, a two-hour drive to the home rink.
That radius paid dividends this year for the 16U Stars team. Syracuse romped through the U.S. Premiere Hockey League (USPHL), going 28-2, with one of those losses in overtime. Thus, they garnered 57 out of a maximum 60 points in the standings, winning their division by 17 points. They averaged 5.4 goals per game while letting up just 1.6.
Out of the league, they defeated Victory Honda in the Team Inn Invitational in Detroit.
This from a program that didn’t exist 18 months ago.
“When we began the 16U and 18U Midget programs for the 2014-15 season, we never dreamed we would be knocking off the No. 1 team in the country halfway through our second season,” said Nicole Kirnan-Kelly, general manager of the Stars organization.
The top three scorers in the USPHL regular season all hail from Syracuse: Zach Taylor (18-39--57), Josef Glamos (35-19--54), and Richard Pichura (21-31--52).
However, there have also been disappointments. After a nearly unbeatable USPHL season, the Stars got bounced in the first game of the league playoffs by an under .500 team.
“It’s been a lot of ups and downs. The travel has been crazy,” Brost said. “We didn’t go as far as we wanted to in our playoffs. Like I said, some of the travel was really tough on the boys. But they are a resilient group and played their best hockey at the right time of the year.”
That resilience and peak form showed up in the New York state championship. Bailey Krawczyk, who broke his leg last year in the state tournament, scored the championship-winning goal in overtime.
The final score was 3-2 over the Buffalo Jr. Sabres, with Pichura scoring the first two goals. Goalie Gabe Vinal kept Syracuse in the game the whole way.
“Gabe Vinal has to be one of, if not the best, goaltenders of his age,” Brost said. “I think we gave up six goals in five games against some of the top teams in the state. He’s a first-class kid and an amazing goalie. We wouldn’t have been here without him.”
During the USPHL regular season, Vinal had a 1.37 goals-against average and a .942 save percentage with two shutouts. He picked up two more shutouts in States.
“The parents have been fantastic, very supportive,” Brost said. “The team chemistry and camaraderie has been exceptional, and I think that’s something you either have or you don’t have, and this group really has.”
This group is heading to the Toyota-USA Hockey Youth Tier I National Championships in San Jose, California, to try and show everyone just how much talent the middle of the Empire State contains.
Brost stated his approach.
“We’ll enjoy this for a few days, take a few days off to rest the bumps and bruises, and then we’ll get ready,” he said. “It’s been a great ride.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.