In an earlier post (here), Martha chronicled how Henry's hockey team won the Massachusetts State Championship a few weeks ago (photo above) and by doing so, earned a spot in the USA Hockey Northeast Sectional Tournament, held in Plymouth, New Hampshire.
Henry and I traveled to that tournament last weekend. Here's a brief synopsis of how it went.
The tournament for us started on Friday afternoon with a game against, Darien, CT. Connecticut hockey is traditionally very strong, so we were prepared for a tough game. Adding to the challenge was the absence of some key players from our team. Two of our players compete on a club team that qualified for Nationals and were playing in Buffalo, NY for the weekend, while a third, though only a freshman, made varsity lacrosse at the high school and had practice and game conflicts.
Undaunted, Henry's team played a generally solid, though sometimes sloppy game and secured an 8-4 win. A good start to the tournament. Afterward, the fun started.
The rink where the tournament was held is far enough away from our town that we were "forced" to get hotel rooms for at least one night. I say "forced," because for me (and I suspect for a lot of the other parents), this is the best part of youth hockey. The kids spend a lot of additional time together and tend to grow as a team and the parents, well, we have a pretty good time too.
We had a team dinner on Friday night at a nearby restaurant, after which the kids crammed into the 10' x 10' hotel pool and the parents socialized in one of the rooms. With game 2 scheduled for 7:30am the next morning, we had to enforce a 10pm curfew (for the kids), but they still squeezed in some good times.
Game 2 brought a match-up with Barre, VT and we again played a solid, but unspectacular game, doing enough to grab another victory, by the same score as the first game, 8-4.
After a drive back to the hotel, some lunch and a couple of hours to recover, we were at it again, this time against New Hampshire East. Finally we we played a more complete game and put up an impressive 6-1 win. Now, with a 3-0 record in the preliminary round of the tournament, we were assured of a spot in the semi-finals. Good news.
The good news wasn't done coming in either. The two missing teammates playing in Buffalo for the weekend had failed to advance beyond the preliminary round, so they were driving the 7 hours from Buffalo down to New Hampshire and one would join us the next morning in the semi-finals. That's dedication!
That additional player provided a big lift on Sunday morning, as we faced-off against the Connecticut Riverhawks, a talented and physical team, with several players standing more than 6 feet tall. We built a 3-1 lead early, but couldn't stay out of the penalty box and they capitalized, scoring 3 power play goals. With the score tied 4-4, late in the 2nd period, our Buffalo-to-NH traveler pounced on a turn-over from one of their defensemen, broke in alone on the goalie and placed a shot in the top shelf. That gave us a 5-4 lead and we held on for the win by that score.
This meant a trip to the finals to play the Maine Junior Black Bears, who had been plowing through the other side of the bracket, also with a 4-0 record. They hailed from Bangor, ME and I guess they grow them big up there, because they too had a line-up featuring 3-4 players in the 6'2'' range, but these were more agile than the giants on the Riverhawks. Fortunately, we two more pieces of good fortune coming our way though, as our last missing player was done for the day with lacrosse and could come up to join the team for the final game and he was joined by the 2nd Buffalo player, completing our roster.
We're a tough team to beat when we have our full squad and we showed that in the finals. We played a spectacular first two periods and we built a 5-0 lead. The penalty bug bit us again in the 3rd period, which allowed Maine to draw as close as 5-3, but we put the game out of reach with a pretty play on a 2-on-1 break to make it 6-3 and that's how the game ended.
The boys were clearly happy with the outcome and so were the coaches and parents. It's great to see a a group of players with so much individual talent play together as a team and become greater than the sum of its parts.
This is a group that, for the most part, has played together for the past 6-7 years and experienced tremendous success, winning 3 league titles, 3 State Championships and now 2 Northeast Sectional titles and I've been fortunate enough to be there to see it as a parent and frequently a coach. It's been a lot of fun watching them grow as players and as people from their first days of Mites and learn-to-play to now, the official end of "youth" hockey.
The picture below is from 2009. I count 8 players from that picture that are also in the team photo above. It's amazing how fast it all goes, but wow, what a great ride!