The start of the season is challenging for even the best Junior A programs. After all, every September, coaches peruse their roster and see more than 75% new faces. Finding a way to meld that talent together and create a winning product is daunting to say the least.
Just 13 games into the Eastern Junior Hockey League (EJHL) schedule, Valley Jr Warriors head coach and general manager Andy Heinze sees a lot of promise in his players. Following a bumpy start, the players are beginning to come together and find a way to win. This past weekend, the squad posted what was the team’s best weekend series to date. Highlights included coming back from a 4-0 deficit to steal a tie against the New England Huskies and a 5-3 win over the league-leading Bay State Breakers.
“Being four goals down and coming back gave our guys a lot of confidence scoring wise,” said Heinze, a two-time EJHL Coach of the Year. “Some guys have been pressing offensively so it was nice to score those four goals and be able to come back from such a big deficit.”
On Saturday afternoon, the Warriors battled back from that early 4-0 deficit to salvage a tie and earn a key point against the New England Huskies. In that contest, the Huskies dominated during the first two periods as they notched two power play and two even strength goals to hold a 4-0 lead heading into the final period. The Warriors refused to give up, however, as the players responded well by scoring four unanswered goals to force an overtime period. Anton Bernard scored twice, Chris Cowles added a goal and one assist and Tom Kader contributed two assists to lead the way offensively. Also adding a power-play tally – his first of the year – was Bryan Glynn who notched his team’s third goal at the 15:12 mark of the third period.
Heinze notes that his team began turning that corner offensively back on October 17. Although the team suffered a 4-1 defeat to the Syracuse Stars that day, the coaching staff saw the signs of what was to come.
“That was one of our better games,” said Heinze. “Since then we have produced and scored more which has been helpful to us. A lot of the effectiveness has been on the power play. They are picking up a lot of the subtleties of the man advantage and doing a better job killing penalties.”
The momentum from that tie against the Huskies continued on as the Warriors came through with their biggest win of the season – a 5-3 decision over the Southern Division leading Bay State Breakers. Once again the Warriors fell behind early but – thanks to three unanswered goals in the third period – collected the victory for a three-point weekend. Anton Bernard scored twice and Mark Jackson, Tom Kader and Derek McCoy added solo tallies for Valley. Chris Cowles registered three helpers to cap off a five-point weekend for the Georgetown native.
“We lost to [the Breakers] 7-0 earlier in the season,” said Heinze of the experienced Bay State team that welcomed back many of its players from the 2009-09 season. “In the course of six weeks we went from losing 7-0 to winning a game at home. That helps our confidence in playing some of the top teams in the league.”
The line of Cowles, Bernard and Jackson has been the offensive catalyst as of late.
Cowles currently leads the team in scoring with three goals and eight assists. Although new to the Warriors program, the 19 year old is no stranger to success on the ice. Just two seasons ago, Cowles was named the Boston Globe Hockey Player of the Year to cap off a stellar four-year career at St. John’s Prep in Danvers. During his senior campaign, Cowles led the state's best league, the Catholic Conference, in scoring, and finished as the Prep's leading goal scorer (23) and points champion (41). For his Eagles' career, Cowles had 44 goals and 44 assists for 88 total points. Following a post graduate year at The Kent School, Cowles joined the Warriors in order to turn the heads of many Division I programs.
“He started the year with a knee injury that he was getting over from the summer,” said Heinze of the 6-0, 185-pound Cowles. “He is starting to get into a groove and understand that at the junior level you don’t have a lot of time and space.”
Bernard is another rookie who is enjoying a solid start to the season. Through 12 games, the Italian product has posted a team-leading seven goals… four of those coming this past weekend. There is no question that his presence on the ice is a lift for the Warriors since the team boasts a 3-2-1 record when Bernard gets in on the scoring action.
“Anton is a great skater, handles the puck well and can certainly shoot,” said Heinze. “He was looking to come to the States and play in the EJHL and hopefully gain the attention of some college coaches. He has a lot of potential and should be a real draw for the top programs in this area.”
The third member of that explosive line is Jackson, who is enjoying his second full year of play with the Warriors. He is a nationally-regarded right winger who finished fifth on the team in scoring last season.
“Between those three kids, they have what Division 1 schools look for,” said Heinze. “They are getting more settled and not rushing things and not passing up shots. They are seeing lanes that early on in the season they were missing because it was all happening too quickly for them.”
Next up for the Warriors is a home-and-away series against the South Shore Kings. Later in the month, the Haverhill Valley Forum – the home ice arena of the Valley Jr Warriors – will welcome 10 EJHL teams and six Independent squads as part of the Annual Warrior Classic Tournament. The marquee Junior A event will be held on November 13-15.
“I hope that they will continue to build on a good weekend,” said Heinze of the upcoming challenges. “They need to learn that they can play with any team in the league and have success. They have to play consistently and play solid hockey in all three zones to win. They are starting to get that and that is why we have had this recent success.”
Here are a few helpful links to help fans keep track of the Valley Jr Warriors this season.