Author: Matt Gajtka

BK Selects Girls Bring Back Pride, Medal from U-18 World Championship

by Matt Gajtka

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Young hockey athletes choose to play for BK Selects to grow their abilities and reach their potential.

Thing is, they don’t have to actually be wearing a white, black and red jersey to pursue those goals.

That was the case earlier this month for the eight members of the BK girls program — seven from the United States and one from Czechia — who competed in Sweden at the International Ice Hockey Federation’s annual Under-18 Women’s World Championship.

In fact, BK Selects was the program that contributed the most players to the Team USA U-18 roster, quite the accomplishment for an organization that didn’t exist a decade ago.

“The level of play at the international stage is the best you will get,” said Team USA alternate captain and BK Selects 19U defender Molly Jordan (Berlin, Conn. / Boston College). “It is fast, physical and extremely competitive. Every team and every player has something to prove, as well as a winning mindset.”

And while the United States fell two wins shy of a gold medal — they lost to the host nation, 2-1, in the semifinal round — the Stars and Stripes proudly took home bronze medals after a 5-0 defeat of Finland in the tourney’s third-place game.

“Preparing for the bronze-medal game was just as important,” Jordan said. “We came together as a team and got on the same page before the game, and made it clear that if we didn’t win this game we would go home empty-handed.

“Suiting up for a game that you didn’t initially want to be playing in is tough, but we did it as a team and played for something bigger than ourselves. I am proud of all of my teammates for representing the U.S. the way we did.”

The pride went both ways, of course. The returning players were greeted warmly at the Greater Rochester International Airport by a host of teammates, family members, coaches, support staff and BK boosters.

“It was honestly such an amazing welcome home,” said forward and Webster, N.Y. native Bella Fanale, the only 16U BK player to make Team USA. “It just shows the support system we have created at BK. We’re not just a program and a team, we’re all one big family. It made me so happy coming home to all my best friends, who are sisters to me.”

“It was very refreshing to see all of my teammates, coaches, teachers, and dorm moms at the airport,” Jordan said. “I am a new senior to BK this year, but this team is like my second family and knowing how much they all support us is unreal.”

Let’s just say that after a 35-hour travel gauntlet to get back across the Atlantic, any amount of hospitality would’ve been appreciated. But the presence of the welcome party stealthily assembled by Director of Girls Hockey Cari Coen, complete with local news cameras and promotion by Tipping Point Communications, sent the message that this was a celebration.

“It’s important to celebrate it when you win a medal at the international level,” Coen said. “We did something similar in the COVID year (2021) but we didn’t blow it up like the way we did here. For the growth of the game locally, to have people understand that we have one of the best programs, is big.”

American forwards Lucia DiGirolamo (Woburn, Mass. / Princeton University) and Finley McCarthy (Whitefish, Mont. / University of Wisconsin) paced the BK contingent offensively with two goals and an assist each, while Czech goalie Michaela Hesová (Hovorcovice, Czechia / Dartmouth College) also shined, posting the fourth-best save percentage of the tournament (.897) while starting four games.

This was the second IIHF U-18 experience for Hesová and McCarthy, both of whom were selected for the COVID-delayed 2022 edition held last summer in Madison, Wisconsin.

“I fed off of the ‘returner’ role, and felt that due to my position I was able to make a little more of an impact on my younger teammates,” McCarthy said. “I didn’t feel more responsibility as much as I felt confidence in my ability to play well.”

DiGirolamo scored the United States’ lone goal in the semifinal, and Fanale scored Team USA’s final goal of the tournament to cap the bronze-medal win.

In addition, Jordan was named to the media-selected All-Tournament Team, the only USA player to be so honored. She cited her hockey IQ, “lockdown” defensive play and offensive contributions as aspects of her game she was proud of during the stay in Sweden.

“I did everything in my power to put the spotlight on Team USA, and show everyone watching what a phenomenal team we were,” Jordan said. “I thank my teammates and coaches for always pushing me, because without them I wouldn’t have these kinds of opportunities.

“The pace at which the games are played is backed by tenacious efforts from every player on the ice. The pace of the tournament is addicting, and it leaves you wanting more.”

Now the task turns to the rest of the BK Selects season, both for Fanale’s 16Us and the 19Us, who welcome back McCarthy, Jordan, Hesová, Lucia DiGirolamo, Peyton Compton (Sanford, Fla. / Northeastern University), Megan Healy (South Burlington, Vt.) and Rose Dwyer (Wynnewood, Pa. / Cornell University) for the stretch run.

While several of their teammates battled on international ice, a short-handed BK Selects 19U squad held up quite well in the Fort Laudy Daudy Showcase, going 3-2 against top competition in South Florida. The 16Us excelled, too, in posting a 4-1 mark that included wins over top-10 opponents Pittsburgh Penguins Elite and Detroit Little Caesars.

“It was a strong showing with limited players,” Coen said. “It’s about knowing you have more in your tank when you think you don’t.”

The next big benchmark for both girls teams arrives on the first weekend of February, when they travel to Detroit for Premier Ice Prospects’ Motor City Girls Fest. In the meantime, the second-ranked 19Us (33-6-4) and 11th-ranked 16Us (33-7-6) will take on seeding games for the upcoming postseason.

And for those who competed against the best in the world, the goal is to apply those lessons learned while wearing the BK shield.

“Every day you have to take it as a day to get 1 percent better and give it your all,” Fanale said. “One thing that stuck out to me (from the U-18s) is how important energy is on and off the ice. It’s contagious and makes a difference in team performance.

“Competing at that level forced me to make the simple play and taking that back to BK is very important for our team as we dominate when we work together and simplify the game.”

The author can be reached at matt.gajtka@gmail.com.

Photo credit of Bella Fanale: IIHF/USA Hockey

18U Boys Finish Strong in Calgary, Winning Circle K ‘C’ Division

by Matt Gajtka

CALGARY, Alberta — How did you spend that blessed week between Christmas and New Year’s?

No word on whether the BK Selects 18U boys team made any resolutions for self-improvement, but they clearly left Canadian soil in a better place than they arrived, toting their first banner of the season back to Rochester.

In winning the ‘C’ Division of the prestigious Circle K Classic — touted as North America’s most important midget hockey tournament — head coach David Arduin’s squad showed it has more in the tank than it showed over an up-and-down first half of the season.

“We haven’t been consistent and I think our ranking shows that,” Arduin said, referring to his team’s 18th-place standing in USA Hockey. “The fact we were able to win our first banner, execute in our first final and win four games in a row overall, is big for us.

“You always want to have something (positive) to take away, and I think our team really has that feeling.”

And what better day than Jan. 1 to turn the page?

On the heels of two playoff wins, the 18Us put their grit on display in a New Year’s Day championship showdown with Edmonton Oilers Blue, a game that featured a three-goal BK Selects rally from 2-0 down in the second period, then a late tying goal by defender Trevor Berg (Sugarland, Texas) in the third to force overtime.

When nobody could score in sudden death, a shootout goal by 16U call-up forward Nate Delladonna (Brewerton, N.Y.) clinched the title.

When you factor in that the 18Us started the tourney with a pair of close losses, the fact they emerged with something tangible to show for their weeklong stay in Alberta is even more encouraging.

“We saw how good we can be if we are all in it together,” defender Chris Magovern (Summit, N.J.) said. “The most encouraging part of the tournament was the being able to see the future success we have in our team.”

Magovern was named Player of the Game in the final and also in the 7-2 semifinal victory against Chicago Mission, which left BK Selects as the last American squad remaining of the five who were invited to the 32-team field.

Arduin said playing against the more physical Canadian teams was a change of pace from the speed-focused style they see in most USA Hockey events. He noted that a couple opposing coaches remarked that BK presented the fastest game they’ve played all season, which gave a hint as how the 18Us countered the checking-heavy approach.

“We were really able to use our speed and turn the defenders to create plays,” Magovern said. “We definitely wanted to match their physicality from the start, so we had to always take it up a gear for the Canadian teams.”

Speaking of Canada, Toronto-native defender Brendan Gilmore’s OT winner in the quarterfinals against Saskatoon Blades was another pivot point in the week.

“The most encouraging thing was seeing how well our team bonded and fought through the hard times,” said forward Owen King (Webster, N.Y. / Providence College). “If we stay consistent we are going to win a lot of games.”

Of course results are going to resonate with players, but as far as coaches are concerned, Arduin said BK Selects was thrilled to accept the invitation to the Circle K because of the exposure opportunities it presents.

As one would expect at a storied 45-year-old tournament that can boast over 200 National Hockey League alumni, the two game venues were crawling with representatives from junior teams across the continent. On top of that, many teams included multiple major-junior draft picks, so the Circle K was a prime chance for evaluators to see how BK Selects players matched up against that caliber of talent.

“You always would love to have the best team,” Arduin said, “but our main job here is player advancement. It was a gratifying feeling to see the players showcased well.”

Now standing at 25-18-4 on the season, the 18Us still have some time to climb the national rankings, but the long-term focus remains on peaking for the New York state playoffs in several weeks.

That process continues this weekend in Rochester as all four BK Selects boys teams host a Northeast Pack event — the final league tournament before the playoffs Feb. 10-12 on Long Island.

The author can be reached at matt.gajtka@gmail.com.

BK Selects 14U Boys Bonding Through Trials and Triumph

by Matt Gajtka

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Compared to the three older BK Selects boys teams, the 14Us face a built-in challenge at the start of every season.

It might seem obvious, but it bears mentioning that nearly every player on the youngest squad is new to the program, new to living away from home, new to a higher level of hockey.

And when the season starts with a heavy travel schedule — to take advantage of both pre-winter weather and showcase opportunities in front of coaches and scouts — that hill becomes steeper still.

So the fact that the 14Us sit at 31-11-2 in mid-December, ranked ninth among American 2008 birth-year teams and the proud owners of the USHL American Cup championship banner? That’s quite a credit to the group.

“It’s been a pretty heavy fall,” head coach Greg Collins said. “It’s a good group of kids coming from all over the place, but they’re away from friends and family, dealing with a lot of stuff on and off the ice.

“The fact that they are still being successful is really impressive.”

Notable in the 14Us’ grueling American Cup win on the first weekend of December is that they did it with just 15 skaters, and just four of those listed as defensemen. The roster is currently smaller than usual due to a few players leaving the program a couple of months ago.

BK Selects 14Us pose with the USHL American Cup banner. (CHRISTINA COLONTINO/BK SELECTS)

One thing that helped counteract the lack of numbers is the fact that forward Nolan Duskocy (Ellington, Conn.) and defender Cameron Chartrand (Montréal, Quebec) recently played a handful of games with the 15O team — including ice time during the older group’s Silver Stick Invitational championship last month.

“It was an awesome experience to play up with the (15Os),” said Duskocy, who comes to BK via the Mid Fairfield Rangers program. “They have a great group of players, and it was really interesting for me to see how they push and train themselves.

“Competing against the top 15-year-olds in the country and it was very cool to see how they play as well, as with how fast the game is played from just a years difference.”

Duskocy is certainly holding his own at the 14U level, ranking fourth on the team in both goals (20) and total points (41) in his first 41 games.

He said his energy is still high, even through all the busyness of the first half of the academic year. He attributes that resilience to the off-ice preparation BK Selects provides, both physical and mental.

“Our training program gets us prepared for the grind of the schedule through in-season workouts, practice time and rest days,” Duskocy said. “We trade off team workouts for team- and character-building sessions, which help with the mental focus for not only the hockey, but also for our schooling.

“It’s busy but we are prepared to be at our best with energy on the ice and in the classroom.”

Chartrand, who has 20 assists from the blue line in 41 games, also lauded his experience with a “great group of guys” on the 15O team. He took quite a bit from jousting with older competition, as well.

“On the ice, I saw that the skating and speed of execution were much faster at that level,” said Chartrand, who most recently played for the Lac St-Louis Arsenal. “I found that the players at that age are stronger and hard to battle, and the hockey was much more physical.

“You really have a lot less time and space to make plays so you have to make quick decisions and move the puck fast.”

Cam Chartrand handles the puck at the USHL American Cup. (CHRISTINA COLONTINO/BK SELECTS)

With Duskocy and Chartrand back in the fold at the USHL American Cup — one of the rare times this season the BK Selects didn’t have to leave Rochester to compete — the 14Us battled early in the weekend to earn shootout and overtime victories, setting themselves up for the single-elimination playoffs.

In the 14U final, BK beat the Halton (Ontario) Hurricanes, 4-2, in a rematch from the round-robin portion of the tourney.

“The coaches had us well prepared for the weekend and the players were all buying into playing as a team,” Chartrand said. “We also got better and better every single game throughout the weekend. What I think helped us, too, is that we faced adversity early.”

That lesson could also apply to the season at large. Not that racking up 31 wins before Christmas is necessarily a struggle, but all involved seem to think the best is yet to come for the 14Us.

“It has been really cool to see our team grow the past couple of weeks, as chemistry and team effort are the keys to success,” Duskocy said. “I think we have a great group on the ice, and we have a lot of future potential as we enter the back nine of this season.

“One thing I will say that is going to help us finish the season is staying positive together as a group and coming a little more together.”

Collins said the American Cup title was “great for team morale,” especially since his team fell in the championship game of the Beast playoffs earlier this fall. Getting that winning feeling in a high-stakes game can only help after the new year, he figures.

Collins is also pleased that, before the players adjourn for winter break, they can focus more on building individual skills in addition to team cohesion. Development is where BK Selects believes it has a sizable advantage over other programs that feature only a couple of practices per week.

“It’s kinda nice now, you can get back to working on development,” said Collins, a Rochester native who’s in his first year leading the squad. “That’s a big part of the program. It’s not just about playing games.

“Early in the week, we’re doing a bunch of skills. In the fall, it was mostly getting kids on the same page, but now it’s the development piece.”

After tying a pair of games with the Buffalo Jr. Sabres last weekend, the BK Selects 14Us play one more tournament in Rochester before heading off for Christmas break.

The author can be reached at matt.gajtka@gmail.com.

International Students Thriving for BK Selects Girls — On and Off the Ice

by Matt Gajtka

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — It’s only natural to be curious when someone from another country joins your classroom, workplace, or whatever type of group you might be part of.

But when you grow up playing hockey in North America, you get used to encountering people from certain puck-loving countries, places in Europe like Sweden, Finland, Czechia, Slovakia and Russia.

Leave it to BK Selects 19U forward Nikki Sharp to break that trend. A native of Perth, Australia, Sharp transferred in to Bishop Kearney last summer for her one and only season with the Selects, and her background definitely qualifies as novel for most people she encounters — especially her teammates.

“The girls are definitely interested,” Sharp said earlier this fall after the 19Us’ productive weekend in Detroit at the USA-Canada Cup.

“All of them ask me about Australia. It’s very different from America, I find.”

In what ways?

“Oh, I wouldn’t be able to describe it,” she said, smiling, “but if you visited both places you’d be able to see a difference.”

Fair enough. Not like most of us could call Sharp’s bluff on that, anyway.

But if we could put the shrimp-on-the-barbie stereotypes aside for a moment, Sharp does inject a different kind of mindset to the very Type-A world of elite youth hockey, and it’s a demeanor that seems prevalent among those who hail from Down Under.

“She brings an easygoing, calm, collected personality to the team,” said Cari Coen, BK Selects’ 19U Associate Coach/Director of Girls Hockey. “In North America we’re more chomping at the bit, but she brings a lot of poise. She’s always putting smiles on girls’ faces.”

Ideally, including international students in one’s school serves both sides. The individual brings their unique perspective and abilities, which the institution benefits from, while the school provides opportunity for the person to advance themself in a discipline or course of study.

That’s the goal at Bishop Kearney with its international program in general, but specifically as it relates to the BK Selects hockey teams, literal goals on the ice are also kept firmly in mind. And maximizing the effectiveness of the team means helping someone feel like she’s somewhat less than a full day’s flight from home.

For instance, in the case of Sharp over the recent Thanksgiving holiday, it’s making sure she has some company after all her teammates were able to head back home for a few days.

“We’re always trying to make the team better and more inclusive,” said 19U Head Coach/VP of Hockey Paul Colontino. “Cari (Coen) does an awesome job keeping a pulse on all that.

“We try to raise the girls’ levels of independence and try to be proactive and setting up the appropriate meetings and seeing the appropriate people when assessing what their needs are. It’s necessary to make that effort.”

Sharp is one of two international students on the 19U team, along with Czech goaltender Michaela Hesová. Bishop Kearney permits two on each squad, with Canadians typically taking at least one of those spots. Indeed, on the boys side of the program, every international spot this school year is claimed by a Canadian student athlete.

The girls’ 16U team includes Nova Scotian defender Alara Murphy, but three of the four international girls are from overseas. Denmark-born eighth-grade forward Olivia Olesen rounds out the younger group.

“I was really interested in attending a good academy, so my dad and I talked a lot about it,” said Olesen, who’s been playing hockey since she was 3. “When I heard about BK, it sounded interesting and an awesome place.”

BK coaches often get exposed to potential international students while taking part in outside endeavors with player-promotion organizations like Premier Ice Prospects. That’s how Hesová — about to compete in her second Women’s World Under-18 Championship for Czechia — got on the Selects’ radar, while Sharp actively reached out to BK after spending last season playing for A21 Academy in Ontario.

Sharp, whose family lived in Montréal for four years before moving back to Australia, had played against BK Selects in a couple of showcases that A21 competed in. She came away impressed enough to consider a switch as she entered her senior year still looking for an athletic scholarship.

“I needed a change,” Sharp said, “and I thought it would be the best move for me. I wanted to keep pushing myself and I really wanted to attend college in the U.S.”

Sharp achieved her goal, recently committing to NCAA Division III Nazereth College, located just down the road from Rochester in Pittsford.

Her hockey focus for the rest of the year settles now on further developing her skills, which she hopes to help the 19Us to championships this spring, and her homeland to higher levels of the game in international competition. After competing for the Australian Under-18 team for a couple of years, she’s graduated to the senior team, which is currently fighting it out with fellow fledgling hockey nations like Turkey, Croatia and neighbor New Zealand in Division IIB — four levels below the likes of the USA, Canada, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Denmark and Czechia.

“We’re trying to move up,” Sharp said. “We came close last year but lost in a shootout (in the Division IIB championship game).”

Michaela Hesová (left) celebrates a win at the Roc City Girls Fest. (CHRISTINA COLONTINO/BK SELECTS)

Olesen participated in a couple of Danish Under-18 training camps, but at 13 years old, she’s still very much building the foundation of her hockey career, not to mention her life in general.

“When I got a little older and got better (at hockey),” she said, “I realized I really wanted to play at a high level one day, and I want to be the best I could be.”

Bishop Kearney High School has a system set up to guide international students along their course of study, with special focus on those for whom English is a second language.

“Classwork was tough at first but it progressively got better over time,” said Hesová, who’s in her second school year at BK. “Teachers were always very supportive and understanding and helped in any way possible. And if you ask any of the teachers for extra help, they will happily give you a time so you can come see them and they can help you.

“They always try to make sure and do their best so that you as a student can succeed. Also, we have very good academic counselors who are an amazing help as well.”

For Olesen, who said her favorite subjects at BK so far are “religion and math,” assimilating into the American education system has required some adjustments on her part, but nothing she finds overwhelming.

“It’s going good,” she said. “It’s kind of different from what I’m used to (in Denmark), but it’s going pretty well. Sometimes it’s hard because (the instruction) is in a high level of English but I do my best.”

Fortunately, the language of hockey provides an instant connection for anyone who plays the sport. Coen said that while the spoken word hasn’t been a huge barrier in the several years she’s been on the BK Selects staff, it always helps when certain playing concepts have universal recognition.

For coaches, the upshot is you don’t have to know how to say ‘forecheck’ in two or three different languages to get your point across.

“What’s really cool about hockey is that it’s very visual,” Coen said. “Watching patterns, understanding concepts and then doing them, and if that individual has questions, we always have that person come up (to the coaches) so we can break it down.”

Indeed, he sport that brought Hesová to America in the first place has quite literally been an icebreaker during her time in Western New York.

“It’s almost like an international language,” she said. “When I first arrived at BK, it was mostly hockey that literally forced me to start building friendships with people around me, because hockey is almost the same everywhere. In general it helps me a lot.”

And once international students get past all the potential cultural challenges, there’s the matter of, you know, actually playing hockey at a high level.

While it’s not an issue unique to those born overseas, someone like Sharp had to make quite the mental shift once she jumped from Australian youth leagues to competition on this continent. She said the class of teammates she now enjoys is just as much of a change as the opposition she faces.

“Hockey’s very small back home,” Sharp said. “I felt like I was one of the better players there. I used to think I was a goal-scorer. On this team I’ve changed roles with such talented girls. I’m trying to figure out what my role is. It’s a very big jump.”

Olesen said her “understanding of the game” is one area in which she’d like to improve over the duration of the season, but that’s more a matter of maturation and experience than it is the fact that Danish is her native tongue.

“I feel like it’s going good so far, but the hockey is at a really high level,” she said.

As Colontino reminds, though, this is the sort of transition any player must face when moving up — both in age and caliber of competition.

“We have a lot of the best players from their previous teams,” he said. “It’s a huge blessing to go through that experience at this age level because it prepares them for the university level.

“With that we have to understand how integral each person is. While your role may be different, you’re just as important as your previous place, maybe even more so. It’s just understanding, fundamentally, that you used to be this and that and now you’ve evolved.”

Hesová has already starred on the international stage at the World U-18s, but she still feels like every game and practice at BK sharpen her puck-stopping abilities.

“Playing here has made me work harder and always compete to the best of my ability, which I then transfer to all of my games and practices whether they are here or at the U-18s,” Hesová said. “The people around me also give me incredible support so every time I go to events like these, I know that I have coaches, teammates and even teachers or classmates supporting me from across the ocean.”

There are also certain calendar checkpoints for international students to look forward to, which help the assimilation process in their own ways. One of those is the upcoming winter break, which is long enough to allow every player to spend some time under their former roofs.

“I do miss my family a lot,” Olesen said, “but I’m happy I’ll see them soon.”

The author can be reached at matt.gajtka@gmail.com.

‘Everyone Buys In’ – 15O Boys Shine At Another International Tourney

by Matt Gajtka

WHITBY, Ontario — The greater hockey world has experienced plenty of 3-on-3 overtime by now, courtesy of its intro to the NHL in 2015-16, and also some NCAA conferences in more recent years.

But how about 2-on-2 OT?

Believe it or not, it’s gaining traction in certain places as a last-ditch effort to decide tied games, with the reasoning that it’s more like ‘normal’ hockey than a shootout.

Hard to argue with that, but it’s still a trip when games are reduced to four total skaters on a 200-by-185-foot playing surface. Just ask 15O defenseman Matthew Judge (Rochester, N.Y.), who scored the 2-on-2 game-winner during the fourth overtime period to push BK Selects to the final of the Silver Stick International invitational last weekend.

“You feel a lot of nerves,” Judge said. “There’s very little room to make mistakes because if you make one, that creates a good chance for the other team.”

Of course, Judge and the 15O BK Selects survived sudden-death against the Toronto Jr. Canadians, advancing to their second final in a Canadian tournament this fall, after their victory in the Wendy Dufton Tournament in London last month.

The semifinal-winning play in Whitby was the result of a 2-on-1 rush featuring Judge and forward Konner Powell (Nashville, Ind.), with Judge deciding to call his own number instead of trying to force a cross-rink pass.

“The defenseman tried to take the pass away and left the shooting lane open,” Judge said. “I shot the puck right over the goalie’s (leg) pad.”

While the Toronto Marlboros proved to be too much to neutralize in the Silver Stick final, ending BK Selects’ six-game win streak by the score of 4-1, the 15Os have put together quite the first half of the 2022-23 season. MyHockeyRankings.com rates them as the fifth-best 2007-birth-year team in the nation, boasting a 29-9-6 record despite playing the USA’s third-toughest schedule to date.

Throw in the two tournament titles in prestigious invitationals and it’s been a sizzling start for first-year 15O head coach Shayne Stockton.

“Just seeing the stuff that we preach (in practice) and seeing the players execute it shows that our model works,” Stockton said. “I think the kids love the tournament style and the playoff games. It’s super-competitive. On the weekends when you have three-game series (against one team), you don’t feel like there’s as much on the line.”

While the OT win in the Silver Stick semifinal round might be the most obvious highlight of the event, Stockton said the final game of the round-robin stage, a 5-3 win against the Halton Hurricanes that clinched first place in their group, showed him that his team was locked in. In the three previous games, BK Selects hadn’t allowed a single goal.

“We weren’t guaranteed a spot in the playoffs (prior to the game),” Stockton said. “Our kids found a way to come back and fought through some adversity.”

In the quarterfinal knockout phase, BK Selects earned another tight decision, this time by a 2-1 score in three overtimes over the Peterborough Petes. Of course, that was just the appetizer for the next round.

“Seeing the kids play in these pressure situations, it’s very cool,” Stockton said. “It’s a blur right now, you almost have to figure out what the heck just happened.”

Cooper Dennis (Ithaca, N.Y.) led all BK skaters with 10 assists and 11 total points at the Silver Stick, while Jack Murtagh (East Greenbush, N.Y.) wasn’t far behind with eight points and a team-leading five goals. Goaltender Ethan Phillips (Rochester, N.Y.) played five of seven games, allowing just five goals and posting two shutouts.

Stockton also lauded Chase Jette (Lake Forest, Ill.) for his competitive fire through all seven games, although the coach — who “got a head start” with most of this group as 14U assistant coach last year — made sure to mention that intangibles haven’t been an issue all season, regardless of player or position.

“It’s a great group,” Stockton said. “Great grades. No issues. Having the team bond this way this year has been important. They have great attitudes and great daily habits off the ice.”

Judge added that the team’s unity has been a difference-maker in high-stakes situations — regardless of whether there’s 10 skaters on the ice or four.

“Everyone buys into our system,” Judge said. “I think we have had success because we stick to our structure, which gives us chances to win games.

“The whole team brings their best when we are in the games that matter the most.”

More big games loom ahead prior to the winter break, and not just for the 15Os. The American Cup comes to Rochester on Dec. 1-4, featuring all four BK Selects boys teams in action, plus a two-game series between the USHL’s Youngstown Phantoms and Green Bay Gamblers.

Games will take place at the Rochester Ice Center and Bill Gray’s IcePlex. For more information, click here.

The author can be reached at matt.gajtka@gmail.com.

Eight BK Selects Girls to Compete in Under-18 Women’s World Championship

by Matt Gajtka

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — For the second time in seven months, the International Ice Hockey Federation will conduct its Under-18 Women’s World Championship, set this time for early January in Sweden.

And for the second time in seven months, BK Selects will have a major presence on Team USA.

Eighth current BK Selects players were selected for their U18 Worlds teams this week, with seven of those picked by Team USA. That group includes 19U forward Finley McCarthy (Whitefish, Mont. / University of Wisconsin), who represented America just this past June in Wisconsin, scored two goals and four total points to help Team USA to a sliver-medal finish.

Joining McCarthy in the Stars and Stripes will be forward Peyton Compton (Sanford, Fla. / Northeastern University), forward Lucia DiGirolamo (Woburn, Mass. / Princeton University), defender Rose Dwyer (Wynnewood, Pa. / Cornell University), defender Megan Healy (South Burlington, Vt.), defender Molly Jordan (Berlin, Conn. / Boston College) and forward Bella Fanale (Webster, N.Y.). All of the above except Fanale — who skates for the 16Us — are on the BK Selects 19U team.

“We are very proud of the players selected to the team,” BK Selects VP of Hockey/19U Head Coach Paul Colontino said. “It is a great honor for the player and the program. We have 40 players here that are tremendously talented, dedicated and highly motivated student-athletes. From administration to coaches to players, we all share in the excitement for their opportunity.

“We are extremely fortunate to have the environment, resources, and culture to help prepare our student-athletes on a daily basis for the next step in whichever path they choose.”

Also, BK Selects goaltender Michaela Hesová (Hovorčovice, Czechia / Dartmouth College) will again suit up for her native Czechia, following up a dazzling performance last summer in her international debut. She started all five games for the Czechs, posting a .944 save percentage and two shutouts as they made a run to the quarterfinal round.

McCarthy, who hadn’t played above the 16U level entering last summer’s tournament, said competing with and against the world’s best under-18 players helped speed up her on-ice mental processing.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with my skill and skating and stick-handling,” she said. “I think the processing is a huge separator between (age) levels. It’s helped me slow down the game mentally and make decisions (more) quickly, even if I have more time.”

Team USA has been placed in Group A with fellow powers Sweden, Finland and defending champ Canada. All four are guaranteed a spot in the playoff round after playing three round-robin games, as two quarterfinal byes will be up for grabs. Group B nations Czechia, Slovakia, Switzerland and Japan will battle for the two remaining playoff spots, with the bottom two forced to play a two-game relegation series for the right to stay in the tourney field in 2024.

Last June, Bishop Kearney alum Laila Edwards won tournament MVP in Madison, Wisconsin, scoring four goals and assisting on four others for Team USA. Current BK Selects 19U goalie Ava McNaughton (Wexford, Pa. / University of Wisconsin) also made the 2022 team, but she aged out of the pool of eligible players this time around.

The 2023 IIHF U-18 Women’s World Championship begins Jan. 8 in Östersund, Sweden and concludes a week later. The 2022 event was postponed from its usual mid-winter timing, setting up this quick turnaround to the next one.

The author can be reached at matt.gajtka@gmail.com.

BK Selects Boys’ Fun-Focused Development Push Helps Players ‘Evolve’

by Matt Gajtka

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The youth hockey schedule can be unforgiving, but in the minds of those in charge of the four BK Selects boys teams, travel and competition can’t get in the way of the program’s overall mission.

Just. Get. Good.

That’s the mantra espoused by Director of Boys Hockey Chris Collins, who stepped aside from the 15O head coaching position over the summer to put his sole focus on the overall development of BK Selects players. Taking the 10,000-foot view has been a way of life for Collins, whose family has made a vocation out of helping hockey players get the most of their abilities.

“Individual development is so important,” Collins said. “That’s the biggest thing we want to build. And that’s the next step for our program.”

Collins spoke on the subject on a late-October morning, just after the BK Selects boys squads had completed an eight-week gauntlet of out-of-state tournaments and showcases to begin the 2022-23 season.

As November began, all four boys teams were ranked in the top 15 nationally. The stretch has been unquestionably fruitful from a competitive standpoint. But, the primary goal of BK Selects is to lift the development tide for all the individual boats in its harbor, so the middle portion of the season provides a welcome opportunity to drill down on skill.

And as an added benefit, coaches have an abundance of game tape to examine, making the identification of strengths and weaknesses a lot easier than if simply relying on the low-pressure setting of a practice or training session.

“We have a lot of film and different things to work on,” Collins said. “You have eight coaches, four head coaches and four assistants, and their job is really to build a team, build a locker room. All the coaches sit back and reevaluate what happened, what went right and what went wrong.

“We put together plans on the individual side and the team side. Each player has things they need to work on, but we can’t tell a lot of it (early in the season) because we haven’t seen everyone play as much as we might want to.”

It turns out, though, that the word ‘play’ has multiple definitions.

There’s the play that occurs between whistles and buzzers, with spectators and officials and coaches all bearing witness and influence in their own ways.

Then there’s the play that evokes childhood. Not necessarily careless, but certainly more carefree, with creative solutions to problems required, and the pursuit of fun ruling the day.

(Photo: Chris Collins/BK Selects)

In the ideal development scenario for BK Selects, the second type of play fuels and enriches the first type, ultimately creating players more adaptable to the controlled chaos of competition. And that’s where the Collins family enters the picture, with their player-development programs at the Evolve training center in Fairport serving a key role in the student-athletes’ hockey curriculum.

The BK Selects’ regular training sessions at Evolve revolve around a modified rink — roughly three-quarters the size of a regulation North American surface — in addition to a similarly-sized turf field for dry-land training. The entire complex is meant to mimic the cozy, spartan atmosphere of a backyard rink.

According to longtime youth sports professional Glenn Collins, the father of Evolve co-founders Chris and Greg, the subtle differences in atmosphere have a way of putting all involved in a more creative mindset.

 

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“The (ice rink) is big enough that you could play a cross-ice mite game on there,” Glenn Collins said, “But it’s the perfect size for a 3-on-3 game for the older guys. The parents are even more relaxed, too. It’s a perfect arrangement for everyone.”

A weekly trip to Evolve for each BK Selects team includes plenty of competition, both external and internal. Of course, no one wants to be the slowest through the obstacle course, or the one who’s not getting more proficient at a certain skill.

Former BK Selects 18U captain Jack Henry — a Yale University commit who was part of the program’s first graduating boys senior class — said the skill work he put in while in Rochester has helped him get up to speed with the British Columbia Hockey League’s Cranbrook Bucks this season.

“I believe competition is the arguably the most important factor when it comes to training and practice,” Henry said via phone. “It does nothing but make you and others better. There’s no better way to get yourself game-ready than to compete like you would in a game anytime you’re on the ice.

“I’m also a big believer in having fun and enjoying what you do. It makes the process even more enjoyable that way. You’ll make memories that’ll last a lifetime.”

(Photo: Chris Collins/BK Selects)

To that point, there’s always an effort at Evolve to keep the competitive play as constructive as possible. A state-of-the-art music system helps instill a fun-focused, positive atmosphere, but so does the overall mindset of the Collinses. Greg’s background in coaching youth hockey — and his recent appointment as BK Selects 14U head coach — also adds to the focus on building a foundation based on the origins of the sport.

“This all started a few years ago, when my brother and I retired (from pro hockey) and moved home,” said Chris Collins. “We sat down and asked my father why we made it. (Evolve) is us re-creating what made us successful. This is like a glorified backyard rink that so many NHLers talk about growing up on. The idea is for kids to fall in love with hockey.”

That goes for any Rochester-area youngster who wants to pick up the sport, as the programs at Evolve — from Learn To Play on up — are available to the public. But when you combine the principles of Evolve with the caliber of hockey athlete who attends Bishop Kearney, elite potential is the result.

“When we started BK Selects, the girls teams had been going for a few years, but the boys didn’t have a brand,” Chris Collins said. “So we sold the players and their families on Rochester hockey, and part of that is the training center. They fell in love with that. It’s a really important part of BK and our lifeblood.

“That differentiates BK over everyone else. What better resource to have? That’s the value BK brings to the city. You’re going to see a big growth in Rochester hockey because of it.”

Glenn Collins said there’s always the temptation in youth sports to make things more structured, regimented and results-driven, but his longtime aim has been to push back against that. He said he’s grateful to have the trust of BK Selects leadership in order to partner with the program.

Fittingly, it all started on the Collinses’ own backyard rink nearly 40 years ago, when Glenn wanted to provide some unstructured ice time for Chris, Greg and their sister Kelly, who went on to play college hockey and also works at Evolve.

“I would get all the crap I could find in the garage and create obstacle courses in the backyard,” Glenn said, noting that his colleague Mike Callahan’s son Ryan (you probably recognize the name) would occasionally partake in the al fresco fun, among others.

“It’s been almost 20 years now since we started it,” Glenn continued, “but I wanted to replicate what we used to do for the kids in the backyard at a facility like this. We’ve fine-tuned the program over the years. The stuff that we do works. Once they get the hang of it, they have a blast. It’s the ability to bring that love of the game back to the game for these kids.”

Glenn notes that physical training is only one aspect of what Evolve does. Echoing the words of legendary college basketball coach John Wooden, character development is the ultimate aim, and that requires focus on the mental aspects of sport — from preparation to self-evaluation to mindset during games.

The best part for BK Selects is this approach seems to help connect the dots for the student-athletes who make their way through the program.

“The skills and habits that were constantly preached at BK are all useful at the next level,” Henry said. “From minor details in footwork to having the attention to detail when it comes to systems, being sharp makes the game easier.

“BK built a foundation for me and set me up for success.”

The author can be reached at matt.gajtka@gmail.com.

‘It’s a Mix of Everything’ – BK Selects Girls Take Holistic Approach to Development

by Matt Gajtka

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — It’s a well-worn hockey truism that, as long as a team battles hard enough, its talent will play up and shine through.

We don’t let the other team push us around,” said BK Selects 19U forward Naomi Tink (Birmingham, Mich.) last month at the USA-Canada Cup. “And we’re able to show our skill by doing that.”

But team dynamics aside, the fact remains that developing individual skill is critical for a player to go far in a highly-competitive arena like hockey. And it naturally follows that the better a player gets, the more she can bring to the team in its pursuit of a collective goal.

It’s those principles that guide the BK Selects girls program as it navigates through a given season, balancing the rigors of a high-level education and a competitive team travel schedule with the mission of maximizing each player’s athletic potential.

“We’re a development program,” said Director of Girls Hockey Cari Coen, who doubles as the 19Us’ Associate Head Coach. “We’re not just a hockey program that produces wins. We’re working on the skill development, performance over result.

“It’s just like if you’re preparing for a test. You’ve got to do your homework first.”

When it comes to that work, there are several instructors to guide that process. Coen herself is hands-on with multiple development sessions per week conducted both in an on-campus “skills room” and at Bill Gray’s Regional Iceplex, with help from VP of Hockey/19U Head Coach Paul Colontino and 16U Head Coach Jake Anderson, plus their respective staffs.

BK Selects also has a local ace in the hole in former longtime RIT head coach Scott McDonald, who led the Tigers to unprecedented success and multiple championships at the NCAA Division I and III levels before retiring in 2018. Coen calls McDonald “an unbelievable skills coach” who is focusing this season on guiding players through skill sessions that are separate from team practices.

For his part, McDonald said he’s treasured the chance to drill down on helping individual players make strides. That goes figuratively and literally, as much of the early-season work has focused on refining the fundamentals of skating.

“It was, ‘Let’s take a step backward so we can take a couple of steps forward,’ ” McDonald said. “We’re now seeing it come together. My process is to make whatever we’re working on game-relatable. There are no pylons or cones out there during a game.”

McDonald said he’s been refreshed by the commitment level of BK athletes, who take the risk at an early age to move away from home and into a greenhouse for cultivating hockey skills. He related the satisfaction he felt from hearing a player excitedly tell him about a new technique she incorporated into a recent game.

“They’re all here for the right reasons,” he said. “They came to Bishop Kearney to get better and we’re giving them the tools to get better. They’re dialed in and ready to go. There’s no buy-in; they’ve already bought in. There’s so much development to be made at this level.”

Add in the increasing number of players who work with a self-appointed skill coach during the offseason and there’s never been a better place or time to become a better hockey player.

“At the end of the day, it takes a village,” Colontino said. “It’s about different sets of lenses. The more quality coaching they can get from a variety of people, I think it’s better. It’s hard when you’re just getting it from one (source). I think players do come in (to teams) better prepared than before.”

In the end, though, getting better as a player is about more than skating, stickhandling, shooting, passing and developing overall biomechanical power. This sport constantly tests one’s physical and mental abilities, two sides of the coin that feed off each other if honed properly.

“If you can skate, shoot and pass, and take care of yourself off the ice, you’re going to have a lot of assets,” Coen said, “but some of the individual (drill) stuff is great for playing with your head up, but it’s not really game-specific.

“We want you to be an athlete and not a robot. It’s about reading and reacting, and not being told what to do.”

To help achieve that objective, BK Selects players have personalized access to video breakdowns of every game they play, with the ability to pinpoint even-strength, power-play and short-handed shifts via a simple search.

As any performance coach will tell you, objective feedback is critical to the process of improvement.

“In the past, players had to wait for coaches or were reliant on them to go through video,” Colontino said. “Now, if they want to watch, they can do it. It’s allowed them to take more ownership in that portion and develop the skills, where they can teach themselves just by watching.”

For all the tools that are available, though, the individual player has to take the initiative. Fortunately, every week at BK provides a feedback loop that allows for both an honest self-assessment and an avenue to get better.

“The kids that are doing the extra stuff, the cream rises to the top,” Coen said. “You’re working on your game and understanding what the coaches are telling you, so when it does come down to the end of the year, we’re all together and everyone is pulling the weight.”

Naturally, some players will ‘make the jump’ more than others over the course of a given week, month or season. The task for coaches — especially in a developmental program like BK Selects — is to always keep the door open for more players to lift their levels.

While the end of the season brings an organic pecking order when it comes to certain high-leverage game situations, there’s always room for someone new to step up.

“There might be times that one individual plays over the other, because they’re putting in the work, but if a kid falls short in a game situation, they’re not written off,” Coen said.

“They’re going to get another opportunity. We don’t really have first, second, third and fourth lines. You see it weekly in practice, who is prepared and putting their best foot forward.”

Coen, who got her hockey start playing for both girls and boys teams in her native southern California, said there’s no doubt “the demand for skills is higher” than it was 10 or 15 years ago. In her words, there’s a higher proportion of “hockey-serious” athletes picking up the sport than ever before.

Like it has with society in general, social media has changed the world of skill development, too. Platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and TikTok make it easy to share tips and techniques for improvement, but it can also encourage some empty-calorie indulgence if an athlete isn’t careful.

“Social (media) can be a great learning tool,” Coen said, “but sometimes it can be about ‘Who’s gonna see my sweet toe-drag or bar-down goal?’ You still have to be able to skate at an elite level and make decisions when moving the puck.”

That’s a process BK Selects aims to improve every year.

“It’s expanded because we’re older as a program,” Colontino said. “It’s a mix of everything.”

The author can be reached at matt.gajtka@gmail.com.

BK Selects 19U Girls Take Setbacks in Stride at USA-Canada Cup

by Matt Gajtka

FRASER, Mich. — When a hockey team goes more than a month without losing, like the BK Selects 19U girls did at the start of this season, the inevitable letdown can be a shock to the system.

When that shock repeats less than 24 hours later, there can be a compounding effect if a team isn’t careful.

Fortunately for BK, the format of last weekend’s USA-Canada Cup in Detroit’s northern suburbs didn’t allow for dwelling on the past, and the 19Us finished the showcase-style event with back-to-back victories over Ontario Hockey Academy and a 13-2-4 overall record.

Most teams would love to be in that position. But even though USA Hockey’s second-ranked 19U girls team wrapped up the tourney winning three of five, outscoring opponents 17-7 in the process, all involved with the team seemed determined that their first two defeats of 2022-23 wouldn’t be in vain.

“We thought we weren’t strong (in the first loss), and then you come back the next morning and you drop another one,” said 19Us head coach Paul Colontino. “I like how we responded in that we played well got back on the horse. Now we just have to keep rolling on what we picked up on.”

Specifically, that first loss of the weekend, by a 3-1 count to No. 1-ranked Canadian club Durham West Jr. Lightning on Friday, could be a candidate for an early-season turning point. The general consensus among the coaching staff was that BK gave Durham West too much respect, to the point they played too passively.

There might have also been some emotional carryover to Saturday morning, when BK allowed a couple of power-play goals in a 3-2 loss to Burlington (Ont.). The bright side? There were just a few hours to wait at Big Boy Arena before they ran it back against OHA.

The result Saturday afternoon was an 8-1 romp, keyed by a dominant first period that left no doubt the losing streak would end after two games.

“After this game this morning it stung more after having been undefeated for so long,” said forward Greta Brezinski (Waunakee, Wisc./Clarkson University). “It was something we needed, and as coach Paul said, we played with a little chip on our shoulder knowing that we are very skilled, but that doesn’t mean we’re unbeatable.

“We got to keep going and find that next level.”

Angelina DiGirolamo (Woburn, Mass./Princeton University) and Izzy Krause (Calabasas, Calif.) led the 19Us on the weekend with three goals and four points each, while Kiara Kraft (Churchville, N.Y./Providence College) and defender Brooke George (East Montpelier, Vt./University of Vermont) chipped in four points apiece as well.

BK’s successful bounce-back, however, might’ve been best exemplified by the performance of the newly-configured forward line of Olivia Rubinstein (Glencoe, Ill./Wesleyan University), Nikki Sharp (Perth, Australia/Nazareth College) and Naomi Tink (Birmingham, Mich.).

The three had played together briefly in practice the previous week, but Colontino told them he didn’t think they would play together in Detroit. Nevertheless, they were united midway through the weekend and helped set a productive tone with a no-frills, cooperative manner of play.

“All-around, we’re very similar players so we worked well together,” said Sharp, who enrolled at BK this summer after a year playing at a Canadian academy. “We each communicate really well. We had a really strong forecheck.”

Greta Brezinski (21) stickhandles through traffic. (CHRISTINA COLONTINO/BK SELECTS)

That trio capitalized in crowd-pleasing fashion midway through Sunday’s 4-0 win against OHA. With the score just 1-0, Rubinstein rifled a shot from the left circle that Sharp deflected off the goaltender’s pad and directly to Tink, who was crashing the net from the right post.

Tink, who grew up about 30 minutes away from Big Boy Arena, tapped the rebound into the open net and immediately sprinted to jump into the right-wing glass, behind which her parents were standing and cheering.

“I really didn’t have to do much,” a grinning Tink said of her fundamental finish. “It was hard, the game before I had a lot of chances, but couldn’t bury. I knew I had to do something this game.”

Tink, a senior who’s in her third year at BK, said she thought her line could have some longevity, simply because they have similar mindsets about playing the game.

“No one thinks they’re the best on that line, there’s no big personalities,” Tink said. “We play systems and it works. We listen to coach and it pays off.”

Regardless of how the 19Us got the ship back on course, the important thing is that they did it.

That goes the same for someone like forward Finley McCarthy (Whitefish, Mont./University of Wisconsin), who’s coming off a summer during which she contributed — two goals, two assists in four games — to Team USA’s silver-medal performance at the Under-18 Women’s World Championships.

She confessed she’s still adapting to the 19U level after starring for the BK Selects 16Us over the past two seasons, but McCarthy knows a good wake-up call when she sees it.

“I think (losing) was a good reality check for us,” she said Saturday, shortly after notching her second goal in as many games. “Every day is not going to be a win, so it’s good to have that slap in the face.”

It may be a clichéd thought, but especially at this stage of the season, what really matters is what happens after the setback.

“It’s good to get us all on the same page,” McCarthy said, “and get our swagger back.”

Meanwhile, the 12th-ranked BK Selects 16Us (13-4-5) continued their recent surge, going 3-0-2 in Detroit against Canadian competition.

Forwards Rae Mayer (Chesapeake, Va.) and Bella Fanale (Webster, N.Y.) paced the squad with four points each in the showcase, with Mayer netting a team-best three goals. Following consecutive 1-1 ties against Durham West and Central York, BK reeled off three straight wins by a combined score of 11-2.

That push included victories over a pair of Canadian 18U teams, sponsored by clubs from OHA and Kitchener (Ont.) Lady Rangers.

“I think this was the best competition of the year,” said third-year BK defender Miami Jones (Chevy Chase, Md.). “We’ve been trying to improve the first period and how we start as a team. We usually don’t start as well, but now we’re starting a lot better. It’s just about focusing.”

Head coach Jake Anderson was particularly impressed with how BK poured on a pair of goals in their 3-1 Sunday win over Waterloo (Ont.) Ravens. Adreanna Stamper (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.) and Fanale scored nine seconds apart in the last minute of the first period, turning a tied game into a major BK advantage.

“We’ve been talking about shifts after goals,” Anderson said. “We always talk about being consistent, and I thought we brought a consistent energy and effort every day. We didn’t have a lull.”

The 16Us have a weekend off from competition, while the 19Us travel to historic Lake Placid next, to take on Northwood School.

The author can be reached at matt.gajtka@gmail.com.

BK Selects Boys Impress, 15Os Take Banner In Return to Canadian Ice

by Matt Gajtka

LONDON, Ontario — The COVID-19 pandemic changed a lot of things. It also took a lot of things away, at least for a time.

But if you can find something wooden to knock on, we appear to be back to ‘normal’ with most aspects of our lives.

For U.S.-based hockey programs like BK Selects, that means no further restrictions on travel north of the border, so this season brings a welcome return to facing Canadian competition.

And for the two younger boys teams on the Bishop Kearney campus, that meant an opportunity to rise to the occasion on foreign ice last weekend. And did they ever, with the 15O squad snagging a title at the prestigious Wendy Dufton Tournament and the 14Us making it all the way to the championship game.

Quite the way to represent, considering they were the only two American teams out of the 60 invited to compete.

“It was an awesome tournament,” said 15Os head coach Shayne Stockton, whose team finished 7-0-1 and outscored opponents 24-3 in the event. “We played eight games in about 3 1/2 days. That’s mentally and physically exhausting, and to see how they stuck to it and competed every game was incredible.

“I couldn’t be more proud of that and it shows the type of character we have with this team.”

Including the 2-0 victory over the Toronto Jr. Canadians in Sunday’s final, the 15Os shut out five of the eight opponents they faced, with Patrick Quinlan (Kennett Square, Pa.) in net for all five of those blankings. Quinlan is in his first year in the program after starting out with the Philadelphia Jr. Flyers.

“The defense played unreal and made my job easy,” Quinlan said. “Most shots came from the outside and they let me see almost every shot. A shutout is a real team effort.”

After going unbeaten in this eight-game gauntlet, the 15Os are ranked seventh in the nation with an overall record of 15-5-4. Stockton’s team hasn’t lost in 13 total games, dating back to the USHL Fall Classic in Pittsburgh.

“It was great goaltending and great team defense,” Stockton said of the performance in London. “We preach the quicker we defend, the quicker we go on offense.”

Cooper Dennis (Ithaca, N.Y.) led the 15Os in goals (six) and points (11) through the event, while Chase Jette (Lake Forest, Ill.) and Jack Murtagh (East Greenbush, N.Y.) each kicked in six points, with Jette scoring the game-winner in the championship game.

Defenders James Odyniec (Wilton, Conn.) and Cam Reid (Alymer, Ont.) also chipped in five points apiece. Reid and forward Jimmy Sutherland (Komoka, Ont.), who also scored in the final, grew up in the London area and played frequently at the tourney’s primary venue, the Western Fair Sports Centre.

“Nothing gets better than that,” Reid told OntarioHockeyLeague.com. “Winning the tournament close to home with all my boys by my side, it’s an incredible feeling and something I will never forget.”

Bishop Kearney came quite close to a two-division sweep, but the 14Us’ run was halted by the York Simcoe Express, 4-0, in the Dufton title tilt.

Still, BK Selects boasted the second-best record (5-2-0) and goal differential (plus-15) in the tourney, capped by a 5-1 victory in the semifinal against the West Middlesex Canucks, who entered the playoff round undefeated. Rudolfs Berzkalns (Cesis, Latvia) scored twice in the victory and Camden Nimmer (Ashburn, Va.) capped his five-goal, seven-point weekend with an insurance tally.

“I think the team came together and played a simple, very unselfish game,” said forward and team captain Walter ‘Dub’ Eunice III (Eagle River, Alaska), who is the only 14U player to have skated for BK Selects last season.

14Us head coach Greg Collins said Eunice’s experience is a valuable asset for the team, which by its nature must concern itself with cohesion early in each season.

“It’s nice to have a guy to show others the ropes,” Collins said. “We’re working with a ton of talent, a good mix of cultures and programs, but it’s not a group that’s played together before.”

Collins himself is new to the BK Selects program, having joined to fill the coaching void left when his brother Chris stepped from behind the bench for the 15Os to a role as Boys Hockey Director. Both Rochester natives, Greg and Chris previously teamed up on the staff at the Rochester Coalition youth program, and now they’re together again at Bishop Kearney.

“Being local guys, it’s cool being here,” Greg Collins said. “I’ve coached everything from midget down to squirt so this is a good group for me.”

Collins said he and assistant coach John Mousso have been focusing on good team-based habits over the course of the first few weeks, which have the 14Us ranked eighth in the country with a record of 13-5-2.

“It’s about playing the right way with positioning and being hard to play against,” Collins said. “It’s not so much Xs and Os. These guys are thrown into the deep end and traveling a ton more than they’re used to, and they’ve all stepped up.”

No better place to show your progress in the country that invented the sport. For the first time in a couple of years, that kind of test is officially back on the table.

The author can be reached at matt.gajtka@gmail.com.