With their backs against the wall, the Cape Cod Whalers came up big when they needed to the most.
The 18U Tier I Whalers lost their second game of the round-robin USA Hockey Massachusetts District Tournament, forcing them to win out if they were going to advance. They did exactly that, winning the next three games by a combined four goals to capture the district title at the New England Sports Center in Marlborough, Massachusetts, Nov. 10-12.
“The state tournament was a good culmination of that work that they’ve put in,” said Andrew Orpik, Whalers coach.
The Whalers will play April 5-10 in the 2018 USA Hockey Youth Tier I 18U National Championships in Philadelphia.
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Youth Tier I
14U: Boston Jr. Terriers
15O: Boston Advantage
16U: Boston Jr. Eagles
18U: Cape Cod Whalers
Youth Tier II
14U: South Shore Kings
16U: Neponset Valley River Rats
18U: Springfield Rifles
Girls Tier I
16U: Boston Jr. Eagles
19U: Boston Shamrocks
Girls Tier II
16U: Islanders Hockey Club
19U: Boston Shamrocks
Cape Cod opened the tournament by beating Boch Militia 4-2, before the Neponset Valley River Rats downed the Whalers 8-4. Needing a win in the final pool-play game, the Whalers beat the Springfield Rifles 3-2 in a shootout.
“Our guys did a really good job of refocusing as we sort of played our way into the semifinals,” Orpik said.
The Whalers (27-6-5) defeated the Eastern Mass Senators 5-3 in the semifinals, and had an epic battle with the Boston Little Bruins for the title. The Whalers, who beat the Bruins twice during the regular season, scored a 4-3 victory in a back-and-forth affair.
Whalers goalie Matt Lane had some big saves in the title game to help preserve the lead.
“It was one of those games that came down to a bounce or what team was fortunate to be on the right side; it happened to be us,” Orpik said. “It really could have been the other team.”
Cape Cod, which has outscored its opponents 155-97 this season, is comprised of a very balanced group of players. Despite having seven NCAA Division I commitments — forwards Ryan Stevens (Yale), Reilly Moran (Army), Aidan McDonough (Northeastern), Jay O’Brien (Providence), Jerry Harding (Providence) and defensemen Jack Rathbone (Harvard) and Jayson Dobay (Massachusetts) — the team relies on each one of its players equally.
“We got a lot of depth at both forward and D, and I don’t think at any point in the year we had five guys that were a power-play unit,” Orpik said. “We just really relied on a next-man-up mentality that I think, at the end of the year, allows us to play 11 or 12 forwards and six defensemen consistently. At the end of a long weekend, we haven’t ridden the top six forwards so hard that they’re just gassed and really have nothing left. By playing all 12 forwards, six D and both goalies in such a way that you get into a fifth or sixth game of a weekend, I think we allowed our guys to be as fresh as anybody else.”
Orpik said his team has been so successful this season because they’ve come together and played sound hockey. It starts from the very basic fundamentals.
“We don’t put a ton of emphasis on systems or trying to teach guys a certain way to play,” said Orpik. “It’s really about the skill development and getting guys ready to play for their fall season.”
After the Whalers won the district title, all the players dispersed to their high school teams. Now they’ll reunite at the end of March and prepare for nationals.
“There’s something about playing against a guy in the month of February and then, a month and a half later, you’re going to be wearing the same jersey again,” Orpik said. “Some would say it’s a disadvantage because we get a lot less prep time, a lot less continuity through our season. But I think something about it can also work in your favor, too.”
For the past three years, the Whalers 16U squad advanced to nationals — last year finishing 1-2 — so the majority of the guys have experienced the big stage. That should be key when they hit the ice in Philadelphia.
“Not that it’s old hat for the guys, but it can definitely be a determent to guys if it’s the first time they’ve gone,” Orpik said. “It’s just a new experience, the adrenaline can almost work against you a little bit. I think our hope is the familiarity of the process allows us to not get overly excited for the opportunity.”
Orpik knows his team will be taking on the best teams from throughout the country. His guys will be up to the challenge.
“We expect to play teams that are extremely disciplined in terms of positionally and how they play the game,” Orpik said. “Power plays and penalty kills become so important.”
With so much talent on his team, Orpik believes if his guys can play their game they’ll be right in the hunt to take home a national championship.
“Our expectation is to go out there and play a fast, hard, heavy style and rely on our talent to do the best that we can,” Orpik said. “Mix in some defensive responsibility, and hopefully have some success.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc