Bantam Major Squad to Represent the Bay State at USA Hockey Nationals
It was one of those weekends that you can never forget. No matter how many tournaments the Valley Junior Warriors ’93 Elites may have won over the years, each victory is simply that much sweeter.
This past weekend at the Massachusetts Hockey Tier 1 Bantam Major State Championship, the Warriors knocked off the South Shore Dynamos, 5-3, in Sunday’s final game to earn themselves the title of champion once again. This marks the fifth time that the ’93 Elites have won the Massachusetts Tier 1 State Championship and the second time the team will advance to the USA Hockey Nationals.
Looking back, it’s hard to imagine such an unbelievable outcome at last weekend’s Massachusetts Hockey Tier 1 Bantam Major State Championships, which was hosted by the Warriors at the Haverhill Valley Forum.
The top four teams in the regular season standings – South Shore Dynamos, Valley Junior Warriors, Boston Patriots and the Central Mass Outlaws – came together to compete for the right to represent Massachusetts in the April 2008 USA Hockey Nationals. What transpired was an outstanding weekend of hockey that was capped off with a dramatic, come-from-behind victory by the underdog ’93 Elites.
The Warriors got off to a strong start with a 6-0 win against a big, physical Boston Patriots team.
“Everything went our way,” said Jim Blackwell, Warriors assistant coach. “We moved the puck extremely well, capitalized on our speed and played some fundamentally solid hockey.”
The Warriors struggled in the second game and found themselves facing an early deficit. The players regrouped, however, and battled back for a 3-3 tie with the Central Mass. Outlaws.
The third game of the tournament pitted the Warriors against the league-dominating South Shore Dynamos. The chance to move on to Sunday’s championship game brought out the best in both teams as they displayed some impressive hockey through three periods. South Shore netted an empty netter with just over a minute remaining in regulation to knock off the Warriors, 3-1. The outcome of the preliminary round of the tournament set up a rematch between South Shore and the Valley Junior Warriors in Sunday’s Championship game.
“What can you say… everyone in the youth hockey community expected South Shore to win,” said Warriors Assistant Coach Gary Stahl. “They were undefeated in the regular season, big, talented, and had hand-picked their players. By contrast many considered the Warriors too small to even compete,”
“The players knew they were the underdogs going into the final”, added Warriors Assistant Coach Steve Daniels, “They have been there before and knew a victory would mean so much more when others have already counted you out.”
The Dynamos jumped out to an early 3-2 lead following the first two periods. Just when the Warriors appeared to be showing signs of fatigue during the early stages of the third period, the team exploded offensively by scoring three unanswered goals to capture the 5-3 victory and leave a stunned Dynamos team in their wake.
“We just played in the Nike Bauer Invitational in Chicago and people were calling us ‘the little team from Boston with the big yellow shirts’”, explained Warriors forward Mathew Baldino, who netted four of the team’s five goals on Sunday. “After playing against some big Canadian teams and staying right with them they were calling us ‘the tough little team with big yellow shirts and even bigger hearts.”
“[Baldino] is just a fun skater to watch,” said Warriors Assistant Coach Tom Kulevich. “He bobs and weaves like a prize fighter when you think he’s going to be knocked down he just stays on his feet and keeps going.”
The Warriors tandem goaltenders – Chris Eiserman and Tim Cooney – were simply unbelievable as they made every key save and were stingy with rebounds.
“The Warriors played like a team should”, said Warrior Head Coach Peter King. “Moving the puck, back-checking, fore-checking… there’s not a selfish player on the team. “You knew by the fourth game they were tired but you could also see it in their eyes that they were determined not to give in to fatigue. They were going to win this or leave everything they had on the ice.”
“We have some pretty talented forwards,” continued King. “Colin Blackwell, Joey Czarnota, Gaven Lavalley, Tyler Whitney, Devin Albert, Matt Baldino, John Russolillo, Luke Walker and Sam Kurker.”
“All too often the defensive part of the game is forgotten. Everyone commented how we’re undersized and too small, but I wouldn’t trade these players for anything. What they lack in size they more than make up for in heart.”
The Warrior’s defensive core is made up of Josh Gallagher, Nick Renzi, Derek Stahl, Alex King, Chris Welch, Johnathan Daniels and the injured but always present Jake Kulevich.
The Warriors must now prepare for the 2008 USA Hockey National Championships, which will be held on April 2-6 at The Ice House in Hackensack, New Jersey.