MARLBOROUGH, Mass. — Bolstered by nearly a dozen players from a club that sustained an agonizing loss at the hands of the Alaska North Stars in the 2017 national title game in Troy, Michigan, the 16U Vermont Shamrocks carved their collective way to Marlborough, Massachusetts, for the Chipotle-USA Hockey Girls Tier II Nationals by registering five consecutive victories during the recent USA Hockey New England District Tournament.
In an intriguing twist, Head Coach Steve Young’s squad squared-off against the fresh-faced North Stars in the opener Thursday afternoon. The heartbreak of last spring’s defeat ebbed quickly as the Shamrocks built an early two-goal edge on the way to a robust 6-0 victory. By contrast, the Alaskan squad arrived in Massachusetts with a lone member of the 2017 championship roster.
For the Shamrocks and its corresponding web of efficient volunteers, the journey is less about funneling financial resources into a club setting and more about utilizing available community assets.
“We keep the costs down but it’s really about the split season; we don’t impact our local youth organizations or high school programs,” said Young of the model his Shamrocks have ridden to a heightened national presence. “The main goal of our system is for our girls to be student-athletes playing a fall and spring sport. We’re juggling spring sports right now, but we feel the most important thing is to make them rounded.”
Occasionally, said model leads to the logistical quirks.
“When we get to this level we try out for the [split] season so in the fall we have to get our games in before Thanksgiving, so it’s a little tough to get them done, but luckily, we’re able, through our scheduling efforts.”
Young said that the Shamrocks, who regularly cycle four lines and dress seven blueliners, had a total of two practice sessions before the district tournament. Regardless of the lack of on-ice time prior to their trek to the 2018 edition of the national championships, the nuances of the two recent teams remain indiscernible, according to Young.
“To tell the truth, there’s not that much difference between last season’s team and the current one. They’re real similar; they connect and move the puck well and with their overall speed and knowledge of each other, we’re able to generate a lot of offensive opportunities.”
With the lofty level of talent in tow, Young believes that the mental aspect of preparation will be a key component to the success of his club as the tournament plays out.
“That’s the tricky part,” he said. “We try and get them focused on what we do well. Our Shamrock style of fast, precise hockey from the fall and transition to the spring has been our biggest asset. I believe that the happier they are the better they play and one of the biggest things is to keep them in the right place where everything is smooth where they can eliminate any issues that might cause friction before a game. We like to keep it intense and positive at the same time.”
With a win etched in the books, Young remains optimistic but strikingly aware of the unknowns associated with the highly-charged setting.
“In a tournament of this nature, it’s hard to tell how deep we can advance until you hit the ice,” he said. “Last year in Troy we were rolling right along [five wins] and Alaska proved to be our toughest matchup. We were a little bit disappointed because we never really played the type of hockey that we had been playing coming out of regionals. You could feel the momentum from Alaska, they came ready to play, however.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.