The start of a new year is never easy on a hockey program, but the Valley Jr Warriors ’98 Elites are making a seamless transition into the 2009-10 season.
Just three weeks into the regular season, the Warriors have looked as sharp as ever as they are 6-0-2 and stand in first place in the New England Hockey League’s Peewee Minor American Division.
The team’s first four victories came during the NEHL Qualifying Jamboree held the weekends of September 19-20 and September 26-27. With the pressure high (the performance of each team in the qualifying jamboree determined the divisional seedings for the rest of the season), the players performed well as they came through with four key wins to guarantee them a spot in the Peewee Minor American Division.
“I was pleased with how we have started the season,” said head coach John Cusack, who is entering his ninth season with the Valley Jr Warriors program. “Our team needs to gel a bit more as we are still tweaking lines. We haven’t hit our stride yet, but we are off to a great start.”
Following the program’s annual summer camp in August, the Warriors took part in the 2009 Warrior National Showcase held at the Haverhill Valley Forum. The team passed that pre-season test with flying colors as the players collected first-place honors after posting five wins including a 4-1 championship victory over New Brunswick.
In order to better prepare themselves for the challenges ahead, the coaching staff scheduled a weekend scrimmage series against Team Comcast. After falling behind 2-0 in its first game, the Warriors went on to win both games and outscore the Maryland-based powerhouse by an 11-to-3 margin. Team leading scorer Jonathan Folsom netted six goals that weekend.(Click here to see how other VJW teams fared against Team Comcast)
The team then set its sights on the NEHL Qualifying Jamboree where it registered two wins and two ties. The two big victories came against the Glades ‘98s and Albany ‘98s. In those two games, the Warriors outscored their opponents by a 10-0 margin. Gutsy ties were posted against strong squads from Nashua and Assabet.
With the NEHL seedings finalized, the Warriors continued where they left off this past weekend by winning its two weekend contests against the Seacoast Spartans on Saturday and then the Vipers on Sunday. Cusack’s young squad was stellar on both ends of the ice as the players netted 11 goals and allowed just five.
Impressive early-season results can be attributed to a strong core of returning players who have been together since their mite years as well as a group of newcomers who have embraced the program and the teachings of the VJW coaching staff.
“Everyone has been contributing which is helping us a great deal,” said Cusack, a multiple state champion who brings more than 20 years of youth hockey coaching experience to the program. “From top to bottom the players are working hard.”
While newcomer Nate Ash has quickly established himself as a force between the pipes, he is assisted by a solid corps of defensemen in front of him. Colin Murphy has been a big play maker for the Warriors, while John Lyman has been a rock along the blueline.
Teamwork and determination have been the keys offensively. Ryan Verrier has the ability to move the puck and find an open teammate, while Drew Cioffi is gaining strength with each passing game. The team has also found a way to combine finesse and strength. Joey Silva, for example, is a player who excels at the forecheck and can finish off plays. Ross Wahl has become a force in the league with his intense and strong play game-in and game-out.
Drew Merrick is another player who is a key cog as his ability to move the puck and make pinpoint passes will be needed as the season wears on and the competition becomes even fiercer.
The team will need everyone to come together as it faces a challenging stretch of league contests this fall. In addition, the players will need to be top form come November when it will take on the nation’s top talent at the 2009 Warrior Thanksgiving Tournament. The Warriors will face off against talent such as Assabet Valley, Connecticut Clippers, Connecticut Lazers, Middlesex Braves, North Jersey Avalanche, Northstar Selects, Red Rangers, Seacoast Spartans and Wilkes-Barre.
Here is a list of the 2009-10 VJW ’98 Elites Team: