Most people knew that the Valley Jr. Warrior U-16 team squad would make noise this season. After all, having five team members selected to take part at USA Hockey Player Development Camp during the summer months means that your program is one to reckon with regionally and perhaps even nationally.
With such high expectations placed on a team, Head Coach Mike Holubowich was more than pleased when his squad came through with a championship title at the 14th Annual Massachusetts Tier I Labor Day Face-Off Invitational Tournament held during Labor Day weekend at the New England Sports Center in Marlborough.
Over a four-day period, the Warriors faced tough competition and finished with a 6-1-0 record and the all-important championship title! The team capped off its experience with a 7-4 win over the Minuteman Flames on Monday.
“The boys played some good hockey throughout the entire weekend,” said Holubowich. “There is no question that [after seeing them compete at the tournament] the outlook for this team can be very promising if we learn to play a 45-minute game and make a commitment to the defensive end.”
The Warriors began their championship quest with a 3-2 victory over the Mercer Chiefs. In that contest, the Warriors dominated from the start with Conor Helfrich (2) and ColinBlackwell leading the charge offensively. Had it not been for a red-hot Chiefs netminder and two third-period goals let up by the Warriors, the end result would have been much more one sided.
The following day, the Warriors dropped its first game of the tournament to the Minuteman Flames, 3-2. Much like the game the day before, the team suffered a letdown during the latter stages of the game and saw a 2-1 lead disappear in the final minute of the game. The Flames posted two unanswered goals to negate strong offensive performances by Brian Ward and Steve Caruso.
Showing resiliency and playing with something to prove, Holubowich’s team made a statement with a 7-1 thrashing of the Valley Forge Minuteman from Pennsylvania during the afternoon hours. For the first time in the tournament, the squad pieced together three strong periods of hockey with Brian Ward (3), Colin Blackwell, Kyle Larson and RyanCallahan all finding the back of the net.
“We showed a great ability to bounce back from a disappointing effort earlier the day,” said Holubowich. “This was a very good game from start to finish. We took the ice with something to prove, and we executed.”
From that point on, the team found its rhythm and methodically knocked off its opponents in resounding fashion. The first victim on Sunday was the New Jersey Colonials, who were rocked by a score of 6-1. Steve Caruso scored 3 goals, while ColinBlackwell added two and Aidan Hartigan chipped in a goal. In the team’s fifth round-robin game of the tournament, the Warriors posted a 7-1 victory over the NS Wings with Colin Blackwell leading the way with 2 goals and Joe Czarnota, Ryan Callahan, Conor MacPhee, Dylan Pike, and Brian Ward all getting into the mix with a goal apiece.
The semifinal match on Monday morning was a wild affair with the Warriors capturing the victory over the Connecticut Chiefs by a score of 6-4. The Warriors jumped out to a 3-0 lead, but too many penalties allowed the Chiefs to sneak back into the game. ColinBlackwell was an offensive juggernaut once again by posting two goals. Ryan Callahan, Joe Czarnota, Kyle Larson and Brian Ward all scored once to seal the team’s ticket into the championship game… and a much-desired rematch against the Minuteman Flames.
“The [semifinal game] was one of ebbs and flows,” explained Holubowich. “We started the game by dominating and taking a 3-0 lead but because of careless penalties we allowed them to stay in the game.”
Despite tired legs – the championship match up marked the seventh game in four days – the Warriors continued to find the back of the net with ease as they knocked off the Flames, 7-4, to claim their first title of the young season. Steve Caruso was the hero with a hattrick, while Brian Ward scored twice and Joe Czarnota and Kyle Larson contributed one goal apiece to pace the team offensively.
“That was the match up that we had prayed for following our earlier loss [to the Flames],” said Holubowich. “It was a fairly played game with some very tired boys. The score was closer than we would have liked, but they did what they needed to do to win the championship.”
Brian Ward led the team with eight goals and eight assists in seven games, while ColinBlackwell was right behind with eight goals and five assists. Other offensive standouts included Steve Caruso (7 goals), Conor MacPhee (7 assists), Dylan Pike (6 assists), Billy Eiserman (5 assists), Matt Baldino (5 assists), Conor Helfrich (5 assists) and Kyle Larson (5 assists).
Defensively, the team was paced by strong performances by Michael Holland and JoeKuta. Netminders Chris Eiserman and John Busa were sold between the pipes throughout the weekend and kept the team in each and every game.
For more information about the 14th Annual Massachusetts Tier I Labor Day Face-Off Invitational Tournament, please visit the event’s web site at www.tier1faceoff.com.