When Mike Grier gets his players together for practice, the guys have one thing on their minds: a national championship.
The Boston Junior Terriers 14U Tier I players will be making their first trip to the tournament after qualifying nearly five months earlier.
The Terriers won the USA Hockey Massachusetts District Tournament by going undefeated and upsetting the rival Boston Junior Eagles at the New England Sports Center in Marlborough, Massachusetts, Nov. 10-12.
Grier, the team’s head coach who played 15 seasons in the NHL, said his players are excited to compete at the 2018 USA Hockey Youth Tier I 14U National Championships in Charlotte, North Carolina, on April 5-10.
“When we first started practicing, I think that was the goal,” Grier said. “I don’t expect them to be in awe of the situation.”
The Terriers might fly under the radar at nationals.
“I’m sure we’re looked at as the underdog,” Grier said. “I think teams might take us lightly or might not think of us as one of the big boys, but that’s fine with us. When we have our whole team and we play our game and we’re competing and ready to go, I think we can beat anyone.”
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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
14U: Assabet Valley
16U: Boston Jr. Eagles
19U: Boston Jr. Eagles
Girls Tier II
14U: East Coast Wizards
16U: Islanders Hockey Club
19U: Boston Shamrocks
It’s a big accomplishment for the Terriers to play at nationals. A confident group of players have helped lead a resurgence in the program.
“We’ve got a good group of kids and a lot of them have been with us for like five years and we’ve kind of kept growing and growing,” Grier said. “I think the year before we got here, they only won one three games. It’s been a nice slow build. I’m proud of them. They’ve put in the work and they’ve all gotten better.”
At districts last November, the Terriers (40-16-5) beat the Springfield Rifles 3-2 in the opener. They then downed the East Coast Wizards 8-1 and the Neponset Valley River Rats 5-2 to advance into the semifinals.
“I feel like we got better in each game of the tournament,” Grier said.
Against the Middlesex Islanders, the Terriers were controlling every facet of the game, but needed a goal by JP Turner to tie the game at 2 with only a few minutes left in regulation. The game went to overtime where Jake Mullahy netted the game-winner for the Terriers.
“That was nice for him,” Grier said. “He’s been hurt off and on through the run and was actually playing with a soft cast. He was just kind of toughing it out and just trying to be there for the group and give his all, so it was a little bit symbolic of the team that someone who was gutting it out came through big for us.”
In the championship game, the Terriers met the rival Eagles. In the previous 4 ½ seasons leading up to the game, the Terriers and Eagles had squared off four times per season and the Terriers had only won once along with a couple of ties.
The Terriers took a 1-0 lead in the first period as Grier’s son, Jayden, tallied a goal. Despite a phenomenal effort by goalie Layne Browning, the Eagles tied the game on a power play goal with a few minutes left in the third period. In the team’s second overtime game of the day, Browning came up huge.
“They dominated overtime, but Layne stood on his head,” Grier said. “He was awesome. He was the difference in the game. He had five or six real, real top-notch saves and saved the game. It was one of those things where he probably had the game of his life, which we needed.”
Turner, the team’s best offensive player, took the puck nearly end to end and went top shelf for the game-winner with just a few seconds left on the clock. The Terriers had punched their ticket to nationals.
“They kind of got that monkey off their back a little bit of not being able to beat that team, and to do it when it mattered most was pretty special,” Grier said.
The team has been without spiritual leader C.J. Monturio since September after he ruptured his spleen.
“I could kind of hear the whispers of the kids on the bench saying, ‘We’ve got to win this for C.J. We’ve got to do this for C.J.,’” Grier said. “They pulled through, so it was a special moment I’m sure they’ll never forgot and I won’t either.”
The Terriers — who have been playing without two of their top forwards and three of their top defensemen since Thanksgiving when they shifted over to play with their high school teams — are a well-balance squad, outscoring their opponents 232-128.
“I think what makes us go is we’ve got four good lines, six good D and two really good goalies,” Grier said. “We play real hard and play 200 feet. We play well in all three zones and I don’t think there’s any real secret to our success and why we do well. … We have talent and we have skill for sure, but I think it’s the work ethic and the commitment of the group.”
Even though they might be underdogs at nationals, Grier’s guys are there to win a championship.
“The kids that went and played high school have all improved and were playing against bigger, stronger, older kids. I think that can only help their game,” Grier said. “At the same time, I think our kids who stayed here have grown in confidence because they didn’t have some of our big guys to lean on to produce. They had to step up and elevate their games. Overall, we’re a strong team and if we’re ready to go and playing our game, I think we’ll be fine.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.