By Mike Shalin January 4, 2005
The high-flying Peewee Minor Elites captured the 2005 Bell Capital Cup Herb Brooks Division Peewee Minor AAA Championship played December 30th through January 2nd in Ottawa.
The Warriors were the sixth seed in the "Herb Brooks Division" with an overall record of 45-1 coming into the event. Teams are seeded in the tournament by their records at the beginning of tournament play. Twenty-six top teams from Europe, Canada, and the United States made up the Division.
On Thursday, the Warriors opened with a 5-2 victory over the Port Huron Flags from Michigan. "You could see the players were a little tense for their first game,? said VJW coach Peter King. ?They had a very long bus ride a restless first night in the hotel and were playing at a tournament with some pretty unbelievable teams."
Friday, the Warriors had two matches and they were both strong, solid teams from Canada.
The morning game with the Kingston Predators, the ninth seed overall in the tournament, was a very well-played, hard-fought game, with the Warriors prevailing 3-1. "You could see the team was more relaxed for this game. The butterflies were gone they were having some fun and playing the type of hockey they were capable of." said King.
That night the Warriors took on the Gloucester Rangers of the Ottawa Minor Hockey Association. The Warriors found themselves down by two goals in the first playing against a very big, physical team. Once again, the Warriors continued to play their style of a quick transition, move the puck -- and it paid off. They were able to get those two back and add another three for the 5-2 win.
The victory allowed the Warriors to continue on to the quarterfinal round, against the St. Louis Amateur Blues of the Mid American Hockey League -- the third seed overall behind the No. 2 Detroit Honeybaked of the Mid Western Elite Hockey League. Warrior assistant coach Jim Blackwell stated it best, saying, "We came to the Bell Capital Cup to play with the best against the best. If we went 0-3 then we went 0-3. What we really wanted was to give the young players a challenge against some very talented teams. This tournament didn't let them down. Every game was played against extremely good competition."
Before the quarterfinal matchup could be played Saturday, the Warriors were notified after the Gloucester game that three of their players had been selected to play in the Chevrolet All Star game that evening -- Nick Heggarty, goaltender from Saugus, Jake Kulevich, defenseman from Marblehead, and Colin Blackwell, forward from North Andover.
"All-Star games are fun," said assistant coach Joe Vecchione, "but since I have been associated with this group of players, coaches, and parents, I have learned this team is not about All-Stars -- it's about 11-year-old children playing a game they really love with a group of children they enjoy playing it with. Any one of those players selected to the All-Star game would have just as gladly let one of their friends play in the game rather than themselves. Coach King always talks about team chemistry, the right fit -- this team has it and they really pride themselves on it."
Fellow Warriors all stayed to watch their teammates play in the All-Star contest but were overjoyed when Heggarty put on an unbelievable performance in net and was selected as MVP of the game. "What can you say,? offered King, ?we have two very talented goaltenders who are the best of friends. Chris (Eiserman) and Nick are the backbone of our team and also are the best of friends. When I found out Nick had been chosen to the All-Star game I knew no better player to represent the Warrior team at the opening ceremony than fellow netminder Chris Eiserman of Newburyport."
Saturday's quarterfinal matchup started fast and up-tempo. The Warriors found themselves playing some great hockey and up by three goals. What the Warriors soon found out was that they were playing a team much like themselves that didn't quit -- and the St. Louis team battled back to within one. With some great defensive hockey, the team hung on for the 3-2 victory.
The semifinal game looked to be a good one pitting the Chicago Chill, in first place in the Mid American Hockey League, against the Warriors, first in the Massachusetts Tier I League. What the Warriors soon learned is they were playing a team with unbelievable speed and skill.
"What I remember most,? commented assistant coach Tom Kulevich, ?was there wasn't what you would consider a big kid on the team -- but they were an extremely skilled and talented team that moved the puck just as well as we did. We knew we had our hands full when we were down 2-0 in the first period and we're facing a 5-on-3 power play. I'm thinking, ?wow, we've met our match.? "When assistant Blackwell turned to the team, he said, ?This is what you guys are here for -- we got ourselves a hockey game and it's time to get down to business pick your heads up and go out and play the game like the Warriors you are."
Mat Baldino of Woburn took this to task and went out and scored the next four of the five Warrior goals ? the final one coming in double overtime to propel the Warriors into the championship game, Sunday morning at the Corel Center against the Pittsburgh Hornets.
It had been a long five days for the Warriors, but when their bus pulled up to Gate 3 of the Corel Center you could see the young players eyes widen in amazement. They had no idea this is where the road had lead them. King remembered the pre-game remarks by the coaches in the locker room. "There were no X's and O's, there was no power play plan or how to play the 5-on-3,? King said. It was a simple message to a team of 11-year-old hockey players from Massachusetts, -- ?We are so proud of you guys. Don't feel this is do or die. Have some fun and enjoy this moment which you will remember for the rest of your lives. The coaches are proud of you, your parents are proud of you and you have nothing to prove to anyone so let's have fun."
The ice was broken and they played the game of their lives. When Paul Russell of Andover blasted one by the Hornets goaltender in the second overtime, giving VJW the 5-4 championship victory, memories were made and the name of the Valley Jr. Warrior from Lawrence, Mass. was added to the Bell Cup Trophy.
?It was truly a great, great weekend ? something we?ll all remember forever,? said a jubilant King.