Category: 14U Boys

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.

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.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Evolve Hockey (@esgsports)

“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.

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.

Echoes of BK’s First National Title Still Reverb at USHL Fall Classic

by Matt Gajtka

PITTSBURGH — We’ve just crossed from summer into autumn, but BK Selects’ 16U USA Hockey national championship run of last spring might as well have been five years ago.

Not that it’ll be tossed forever into the memory hole, but with roughly 20 games to be played for each of BK’s boys teams before September is out, the present moment demands considerable attention.

That goes for both the 16U team — still coached by Dan Collins but featuring a fresh roster of players — and the 18U squad, which features a handful of young men who earned gold medals in April, plus several returnees and a few newcomers to the BK family.

Sure, there’s no such thing as a true title defense at this level, but there’s an unmistakeable aura that surrounds this program now.

“Looking back, it still doesn’t feel real,” said 2005-born 18U forward Owen King (Webster, N.Y. / Providence College), not long after the Selects’ oldest boys squad started the USHL Fall Classic showcase with a pair of wins.

“I can’t even describe it. You get goosebumps looking back at it, even how many months later.”

King, who scored 70 points (26 goals) in 69 games for the 16U squad last season, is one of those national champions now adjusting to the 18U level. Through 18 games this month he’s popped in five goals and 14 total points.

Moreover, he’s part of what 18U head coach David Arduin calls a “great leadership core” from last year’s 16Us: King, plus fellow forwards Ryan Bunting (West Deptford, N.J.), Michael Bartkowski (Fort Mills, S.C.) and Nick Shaw (Syracuse, N.Y.), and defenders Josh Player (West Deptford, N.J.), Trevor Berg (Sugarland, Texas), Dexter Kichline (Henderson, Nev.) and Brendan Gilmore (Toronto, Ont.).

“I’d like to say I’m a three-year vet,” King said. “I know my way around. Helping the new guys is huge and even some returning guys who haven’t been here as long, I help them and lead the way.”

With the BK Selects boys program just starting its third season, players like King and his ilk have quite literally seen it all.

But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to learn, either for the returning champs or second-year 18U forwards J.C. Humphreys (McMurray, Pa.) and Jett Otwell (Frisco, Texas), both of whom have also been at BK for three seasons. (Also, New Jersey-born D-man Chris Magovern returns to BK after a year with the Rockets AAA program.)

The fact remains, though, that the newcomers attracted to BK’s precocious winning ways are going to need some help in getting up to speed.

“I think we’ve established some success year-over-year here and you get a lot of kids who want to be part of the program,” Arduin said. “When they come, it’s a lot harder to be successful than I think they think. We have to get them to believe in playing the right way, buying into the habits, the culture, the systems, and really seeing the improvement week over week.

“It’s not about wins and losses, especially if you’re able to take the losses and learn from them as a coach. Over a long season, I think that’s the goal. Just getting them to believe and the quicker they can do that, the quicker we can improve.”

There’s a good chance the improvement is already underway. Carrying a 7-6-1 record into Pittsburgh, the 18Us rattled off a 3-0 record in round-robin play, outscoring their opponents 16-4. While they fell to the Penguins Elite, 3-2, in Monday’s semifinals, Arduin felt his team hit an upward trajectory after shifting out of “practice mode” in the middle of their opening game against familiar regional foe Buffalo Regals.

I spoke with Arduin early Sunday morning, after his 18Us blanked the Oakland (Mich.) Jr. Grizzlies, 7-0, despite having less than 12 hours to recover from a 6-2 comeback win over the Regals. Add in the myriad college scouts in attendance and just the general buzz of the team’s second national showcase tournament in as many weekends, and Arduin could only shake his head.

“I don’t know how they do it sometimes,” he said. “This is our 17th game in the first four weeks. But as far as scouts and everything, that’s why they come to BK. That’s why they come to play at this level and be showcased the way that they are. The kids put enough stress and pressure on themselves as it is. The scouts and everything is just part of it.”

Unlike at the Minnesota Blades showcase the previous weekend, when — in a program first — all four BK boys teams traveled together via plane, the USHL Fall Classic was divided into a younger half and an older half. The 14U and 15O divisions were competed in various rinks around Pittsburgh on Thursday, Friday and the first part of Saturday, then the 16U and 18U divisions took over from Saturday evening through Monday afternoon.

There was some welcomed BK Selects symmetry on both ends of the weekend, with the 14Us also going undefeated in round robin before losing a tight semifinal decision, to NE Pack rival Mount St. Charles in this case. That three-win showing lifted the squad coached by first-year bench boss Greg Collins to 8-3-2 on the season, the best record among BK boys teams at this early juncture.

The 15Os stand at 5-5-3, but are ranked fifth in the nation by MyHockeyRankings.com, while the 16Us jumped to 6-6-0 after a 3-1 showing at the Fall Classic.

Dan Collins’ team started its stay in Pittsburgh with a bit of revenge, spanking Buffalo Regals, 4-1, in a game that wasn’t even that close. Buffalo had served up a similar margin of defeat to BK over Labor Day weekend, but the Selects played a pristine team game, even while shaking off some bus legs.

A loss to Little Caesars on Sunday evening kept the 16Us out of championship contention, but an 8-1 thrashing of the Colorado Thunderbirds on Monday morning capped what Collins hopes is an early turning point.

“The whole thing with this group is that they’re just so talented they can play an individual game,” Collins said. “But this is the level for me where you have to start playing a team game. They’re starting to click in. They’re understanding what we want to do and how we want the game to be played.”

Collins admitted that coming off a national championship run has the tendency to make a coaching staff impatient, but it’s easy to forget that no team in the history of hockey has ever had all its ducks in a row before October.

“In my mind, because of how last season ended, I want things faster than it is right now,” Collins said. “But the hindsight of looking over the past few years, every team is in this spot right now. They’re kind of up and down and everything starts to solidify as you go.

“I want it to be farther along, but that’s OK. It’s all part of the process and they’re in a much better spot and they’re starting to buy in.”

Collins explained that his group needs to stay in the mentality of creating two-on-one matchups all over the ice, translating that puck support to extended possessions and offensive-zone time. Especially in grueling weekends like the last two, that can help a team conserve energy and actually gain momentum as games approach their conclusions.

Metaphor for the season on the whole, too? Hey, it worked out well last time around, didn’t it?

Beyond the Xs and Os, though, there’s more support within BK Selects that has nothing to do with the puck.

“It’s crazy,” King remarked. “You live with all the other teams, so it’s one big family. I never thought before I got here that it could be such a family.”

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

Sweet Sixteens: Bishop Kearney Selects Win Program’s First National Title

by Matt Gajtka

ROCHESTER, Mich. — With four seconds left in Monday’s 16-and-under USA Hockey national championship game and his Bishop Kearney Selects team up 3-1, Dan Collins called timeout.

But even though the ensuing faceoff was in the defensive zone, it was all but impossible for the Long Island Gulls to score twice and spoil the party.

In other words, this wasn’t about tactics. This was about recognition of what was about to happen. In a sport that seldom allows its participants to catch their breath, the head coach of the BK Selects 16Us gave his players the opportunity to savor the moment before The Moment.

“As a coach it was one of those things you dream about,” said Collins, still grinning 15 minutes after his team won Bishop Kearney High School’s first national hockey crown.

“At that moment they needed to know that they were about to win a national championship,” Collins continued. “It was a special moment for us to enjoy it together. Understanding the work we put in, (and) that we were about to get there. That’s what that was for. It was awesome.”

After the most raucous 60 seconds you’ll ever see from a team that hadn’t yet technically won, the puck was dropped and hacked safely to the end boards.

Officially, at a few minutes before noon, they had done it.

And gloves and sticks weren’t the only things that fell to the playing surface at Suburban Ice Rochester.

“I started bawling,” forward Matthew Lee (Fort Erie, Ontario) said. “Being out there with my brothers … Our thing was to be a family this year. To go in the (dressing room) and celebrate with gold medals on our necks, it was awesome.”

Ironically, the 16Us were the only BK Selects squad — boys or girls — to not win a New York state title last month. Collins’ bunch needed a (much-deserved) at-large bid to make it to America’s top youth hockey showcase.

“This year we didn’t even win states, so that’s the chip on our shoulder,” said goalie Paul Dalessio (Burlington, Mass.) after stopping 29 shots in the final. “It’s so special. We’ll never forget it.”

After arriving in this northern suburb of Detroit last week, the team known as the Rochester Saints for USA Hockey purposes swept their round-robin group, collecting wins against the Yale Jr. Bulldogs, Arizona Jr. Coyotes and Boston Jr. Eagles. The first of those came in overtime, with defenseman Josh Player (Thorofare, N.J.) scoring in the final minute of sudden death.

That portended the tight battles to come in the single-elimination portion of the 16-team tournament.

BK edged Culver Military Academy, 2-1, in Saturday’s quarterfinals, guarding the lead for 2 1/2 periods. Goalie Florian Wade (Anchorage, Alaska) denied 25 shots, including 14 in a batten-down-the-hatches third period. That allowed Mikey Bartkowski’s (Fort Mills, S.C.) short-handed tally late in the first to hold up as the winner.

The script was much less tidy in the semis, when Chicago Mission rallied from two goals down after two periods to force overtime. But it didn’t take BK long to rebound, as Lee set up Christian Humphreys (Pittsburgh, Pa.) for a nifty finish and a berth in the national championship.

“I think getting knocked out of states motivated us to do all we can do to win a national championship,” said Humphreys, who led the 16Us in scoring this season after getting bumped up from the 15O team last fall.

For all the talk of using a previous failure for motivation, a success might have actually been more impactful for the 16Us — at least when it came to the last game. Back in February, BK defeated the Gulls in the final of the Northeast Pack playoffs, successfully protecting a one-goal lead in the third period.

This time, BK was in front for the final two frames, after scores from Jack Plandowski (Halifax, Nova Scotia) and Owen King (Webster, N.Y./Providence) in quick succession overcame an early 5-on-3 goal for Long Island. Plandowski redirected a Player shot during a power play, then about a minute later, Nicholas Shaw (Fulton, N.Y.) stole the puck in the neutral zone and sent King away on a partial breakaway.

Remarkably, the 16Us didn’t allow a single odd-man rush the rest of the way, and defenders did a wonderful job fending off Gulls attackers intent on bulling their way to the net.

“It was comedy,” Lee said of the familiarity between the final combatants. “We knew their system. They knew ours. It just came down to details.”

Dalessio was rock-solid throughout, but much to his teammates’ credit, he didn’t have to come up with anything spectacular to preserve the lead. By the time Brendan Boring (Waxhaw, N.C.) guided home an empty-netter with a minute to play, the virtuoso defensive performance was complete.

“They did exactly what we asked,” Collins said. “We had to take (the Gulls’) number one option away, which is to get to the interior. The boys bought in and packed in the house. Ultimately, when you’re up, you shouldn’t be giving leads back if you’re focused.

“We knew that’s how the game would end up being, so I’m not asking them to change anything. I was asking them to execute exactly what we’ve talked about. Very, very happy for these guys that they got that reward at the end for all that hard work.”

Allowing just eight goals in six games, the 16Us (44-16-8) were indeed playing their best structural game at the most important time of the season. Lee (3g, 4a) and Humphreys (2g, 5a) co-paced the team in points across the tourney, while captain King was the top finisher with five goals.

“Throughout this tournament, we’ve been the most structured team defensively,” Humphreys said. “After getting up 2-1, all of us knew we were going to win the championship. Same thing happened in the Northeast (Pack) playoffs. We knew we didn’t need any more offense, so everyone was back-tracking.”

Christian Humphreys (left) and Owen King celebrate with championship hardware. (BK SELECTS)

It all added up to a national championship in just the second year of the BK Selects boys program, a remarkable achievement for all involved.

“It’s the best feeling in the world,” defenseman Lenny Greenburg (El Segundo, Calif.) said. “This year, from the start, this was our goal. We knew we could make it here and win it, and it feels awesome.”

And as has been the case throughout the season when a BK Selects team went deep in a tournament, the black-and-red cheering section included a healthy contingent of players and coaches from squads who had been previously eliminated.

Not that those teams had anything to be ashamed of. The 18Us made the quarterfinals in the same rink before getting knocked out by second-ranked Mount St. Charles — another Northeast Pack rival — while the 15Os and 14Us each reached the semis, losing to Shattuck-St. Mary’s teams in Plymouth, Mich., and Chicago, respectively.

“Just incredible,” said 15O head coach and Director of Boys Hockey Chris Collins. “You’ve got four teams competing at the highest level, it’s an incredible feat. The only team that didn’t win states, won nationals. 

“It’s massive in Year 2 of the program. You can’t describe it.”

Indeed, only perennial powerhouse Shattuck-St. Mary’s could match Bishop Kearney’s total of four teams in the national tournament. The 16Us might’ve been the only BK Selects squad to carry hardware back to western New York, but they weren’t the only squad to make a statement.

Plus, the players who’ll return to campus in August will carry the knowledge of what it’s like to try to bring your best hockey when all eyes are on you, from friends and family to hundreds of scouts from the NHL, NCAA and high-level juniors.

“There’s nothing like the nationals aura,” said 18U bench boss and Director of Player Placement David Arduin. “It’s the best teams in the country and then there’s the (pressure) of trying to win it. There’s nothing quite like it.”

The same could be said for the taste of a national title. Not that it doesn’t take its toll. Dan Collins had the look of a man just crossing the finish line of a marathon — a marathon that went extremely well, but a marathon nonetheless.

“I’m exhausted,” he said with a laugh. “I feel like I’ve been here a month. I always feel like I’ve been through it all, but for this, you feel the nerves. Everything was as heightened as it possibly could be, but as a competitor, that’s why you play.

“For me, for the players, everything, that’s why we wanted to be here.”

They’re here, alright, but the BK Selects grand plan is to stay here.

So far, so great.

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

Triple Crown: 18U, 15O, 14U Boys Teams Rule Over State Tournament

by Matt Gajtka

AMHERST, N.Y. — Ryan Conmy looked up, seeing nothing but open ice between him and the net.

Nothing, that is, except Nichols School goalie Lawton Zacher, who had stopped 48 of 49 Bishop Kearney shots through 3 1/2 periods of a deadlocked 18U New York state championship game.

With a defender bearing down in pursuit, though, Conmy didn’t have time to think about the implications. After pulling in a lead pass from Miles Meltzer (Frisco, Texas) leaned in and powered a forehand shot past Zacher, lifting the BK Selects to a 2-1 sudden-death win as his teammates sprinted off the bench.

“It was all reaction,” said Conmy, a native of Alexandria, Virginia, and a University of New Hampshire commit. “I just hopped off the bench when Miles made a perfect pass.

“It all happened so quickly I really just remember calling for the pass and then celebrating.”

Conmy’s third goal of the tournament capped a wild ride: After beating the Syracuse Nationals (14-0) and Nichols (5-1) comfortably in the first two games of the round robin, the 18Us fell 4-3 to the eighth-ranked Long Island Gulls — only to turn around and stifle the Gulls 3-1 in the single-elimination semis.

“I’m close to the coaches on the (Gulls’ staff) and they said they’ve never seen our guys play that well,” Arduin said. “It might have left our guys a little hungry, to lose in the round robin, as well.”

And all that was only a prelude to the title-game dramatics, when Zacher and Co. threatened to steal the show at Northtown Center.

Not only did the BK Selects outshoot Nichols by a 2-to-1 margin, they went 0 for 9 on the power play through three periods, leaving a first-period penalty-shot goal by J.C. Humphreys (McMurray, Pa.) as the only puck behind Zacher in regulation.

For a team that had lost three tournament title games this season, negative thoughts had to have been creeping into the minds of players and coaches.

“It’s just human nature,” Arduin said. “The message before overtime was that we have to be the most confident team in the country, because we’ve put in the time and the effort to deserve to feel that way.

“We all know what we’re expected to do, so all it comes down to is confidence and effort. Keep putting your head down and making the right choice.”

Fittingly, the winning goal was born from a strong backchecking effort and a quick transition to the attack.

“Just knowing how good the celebration was going to feel was what helped us stick to our game,” Conmy said. “We knew that all we had to do was play our game and do our thing. It took a bit longer than we may have hoped but it came. It felt great to do it with an awesome group of players and coaching staff.”

The raucous win not only locked up a berth at nationals for the 18Us, it meant Bishop Kearney won states in three of four age groups. Prior to Conmy’s winner, both the 15Os and 14Us cashed in titles of their own.

The BK Selects 15O team poses with its state title banner. (BK SELECTS)

There was similar drama in the 15O bracket, albeit one round earlier, as Nate Delladonna (Brewerton, N.Y.) scored the lone goal of BK Selects’ semifinal against Buffalo Jr. Sabres at 13:12 of overtime. Nicholas Wellenreiter (Dundas, Ontario) set the table on the winning 3-on-2 rush, with Delladonna finishing bar-down.

While the Selects — ranked third nationally with a 54-16-4 record — would’ve likely gotten an at-large bid to nationals either way, the Jr. Sabres had to win to extend their season, making the effort required to vanquish them even greater.

“You’re trying to end their season,” 15O head coach Chris Collins said. “It’s always tough against them and it was another great hockey game.”

Despite playing on just 3 1/2 hours’ rest, BK Selects got a hat trick from Will Shields (Falmouth, Nova Scotia) in the final to power a 7-4 triumph against Buffalo Regals and a second straight trip to nationals for most of the group, who won states in the 14U bracket last spring.

“Last year taught us what it takes as individuals, but more importantly, as a team,” said team captain James Chase (Williston, Vt.). “It gave us knowledge on everything that goes into winning a state title. It was nice to have that guidance and expectation for the team this year.”

The Selects scored five goals in the final’s third period to rally from a 3-2 deficit, with Grant Dillard (Champagne, Ill.) and Justin Dumais (Montréal, Quebec) lighting the lamp 90 seconds apart early in the frame to put the good guys ahead for good.

“The Regals are a hard-nosed team and they were playing well, but we battled back,” Collins said. “We’ve been a great third-period team all year. That makes it easier to close out these games.”

Geno Carcone (Woodstock, Ga.) led all players in the tournament with eight points (4g, 4a), with Delladonna’s seven (5g, 2a) ranking second. Patrick Curtatone (Sommerville, Mass.) backstopped three victories, including the championship and a 25-save shutout in the dramatic semi, while Jackson Silverberg (Beverly Hills, Calif.) denied all 42 shots he faced in a pair of wins.

“We had a few slow periods in some games, but when we pulled things together and played the right way, we dominated,” Chase said. “States weekend is always very emotional and I thought we did a good job keeping our cool and making sure we didn’t get wrapped up in anything.”

The BK Selects 14U team celebrates its state title. (BK SELECTS)

Much like the 15Os, the 14Us also went unbeaten in their championship run, although Ben McManama’s squad never trailed after the first period while piling up a 25-8 scoring margin across five games.

“We were focused on doing the little things and the details,” McManama said. “I think we’re starting to get it. We’re simplifying our game and it makes us hard to play against. Playing the game the right way has brought us to the next level.”

Chase Jette (Lake Forest, Ill.), Jack Murtagh (East Greenbush, N.Y.) and Cooper Dennis (Ithaca, N.Y.) finished 1-2-3 in 14U tournament scoring, piling up 14, 13 and 10 points, respectively. Ethan Phillips (Rochester, N.Y.) started three of the five games, stopping 71 of 74 shots for a .958 save percentage.

After Jette buried a hat trick in a 4-2 semifinal win over Clifton Park Dynamo, Murtagh scored twice in the final, a 4-1 decision against the Long Island Gulls. Now 47-22-3, the 14Us have risen to sixth in the nation according to MyHockeyRankings.

“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs this year, and that’s taught us a lot,” Jette said. “During this last push at the end of the season, everyone has been more focused and strict at our practices and workouts, especially the coaches. This has helped us play to our maximum potential during big and upcoming games.”

Ironically, the 16Us were the only BK Selects team to claim a Northeast Pack title last month, but they were the only BK squad to come up short at states. After going 3-0 in the round-robin stage — highlighted by a 4-2 victory over the second-ranked Long Island Gulls — the 16Us fell 3-1 in the semifinal round to Buffalo Regals.

Including the 16Us, all four BK Selects boys teams will continue to practice through the month, although only the 18Us will play again before nationals. Ranked sixth in the country and sporting a 44-17-5 record, Arduin’s team will welcome St. Andrew’s College from Ontario on the final weekend of March.

A tune-up will be welcomed after two weekends off, since the 18Us seem to be playing their best hockey right now. For example, seven players averaged more than a point per game in the state tournament, paced by defenseman Drew Hansen (Mahwah, N.J.), who posted two goals and six assists.

On top of that, many of the 18Us made nationals last year as part of the first-year 16U squad.

“The way we can play against the most skilled teams and the tougher, more physical teams will help this team be successful at nationals,” Conmy said. “We play the same way every game, with tons of confidence.”

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

‘That’s a Big Deal’ – BK Boys Hold Their Own at Shattuck-St. Mary’s

by Matt Gajtka

FARIBAULT, Minn. — The challenge was rather obvious for the Bishop Kearney Selects boys 16U, 150 and 14U teams.

Those three squads settled an hour south of the Twin Cities last weekend for three games each against their age-group counterparts from Shattuck-St. Mary’s.

Yes, the same Shattuck-St. Mary’s that’s produced the likes of Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Nathan MacKinnon and Zach Parise, to name just a few NHL-veteran alumni. More relevant to this season, it’s also the same Shattuck-St. Mary’s that’s currently icing the top-ranked teams in the 14U and 16U age groups, and the second-ranked side in 15O.

Expectations among the BK traveling party had every right to be humble, but after the three Selects teams went a combined 3-4-2 at SSM, that’s all the more reason to believe in the rise of the boys’ squads in just their second seasons of existence.

“We rolled in there with three age groups and competed with them,” said 15O head coach Chris Collins, whose team won 8-1 in its series opener, believed to be the biggest margin of victory ever for a visitor on the Shattuck campus.

“That’s a big deal. The most historic hockey academy in the world, arguably, and our guys showed up.”

Not only did the 15O squad, now ranked third nationally after moving to 48-15-3, deliver a powerful opening statement, it came up just a couple goals shy of sweeping the entire weekend.

Despite trailing 3-0 after two minutes of Saturday’s rematch, the Selects came back to tie the game, 5-5, only to see SSM net the winner with less than two minutes to go. BK then carried a 5-4 lead into the late stages Sunday, but had to settle for a 5-5 tie.

Forward Nate Delladonna (Brewerton, N.Y.) was “a force all weekend,” per Collins, scoring a hat trick in the opening blowout win, providing more than enough offense to make a winner of goalie Jackson Silverberg (Beverly Hills, Calif.).

But when a team tangles with one of the big dogs, everyone on the roster must make contributions. Throw in what Collins called a “daunting environment” at the storied SSM campus and let’s just say the three-game performance was almost as good as it gets.

Not that their coach was shocked after his team’s season-long perseverance, which has produced several wins after trailing by multiple goals. Plus, the same core group made it all the way to the 14U national championship game last spring, falling only to Shattuck in the postseason.

“Even if we go down, we never stop fighting,” Collins said. “We could’ve folded up the tent (Saturday).”

14U goalie Quinn DeBruyn (Ho-Ho-Kus, N.J.) defends his goal at Shattuck-St. Mary’s. (BK SELECTS)

The BK Selects 14U team could’ve done the same thing, after absorbing a 7-1 defeat in its series opener Friday. Instead, Ben McManama’s ninth-ranked squad pushed back — literally — for a 4-1 triumph Saturday, before falling 6-0 in the Shattuck finale.

“We got beat up in the first game and played much tougher in the second game,” McManama said. “You see all the history up there and it’s a little tough coming out (for the first game).

“That’s why I thought that second game was great and we knew we could play with them and we had to cancel out all the noise.”

The 14Us’ two top scorers came through in the win, as Jack Murtagh (East Greenbush, N.Y.) ripped in three goals in the middle game and Cooper Dennis (Ithaca, N.Y.) picked up three assists. Defenseman James Odyniec (Wilton, Conn.) netted the other BK goal Saturday and Ethan Phillips (Rochester, N.Y.) earned the win in net.

According to McManama, the Sunday shutout defeat didn’t take much luster off the trip, even as the team, now 41-20-3, will try to use it as a lesson.

“We take away that we are really good and we can beat anyone in the country,” McManama said. “We just need to learn that we can do it on a consistent basis.”

Coming off winning the Northeast Pack championship the previous weekend, the 16U team held its own at Shattuck as well, picking off a 3-3 tie in the first game and a 4-2 win early Sunday.

“Great games and great overall experience,” said coach Dan Collins, whose team is ranked fifth nationally with a 40-14-7 record.

Chris Collins, who doubles as the Director of Boys Hockey, said he tried not to sweat the results in the moment, but he admitted it was a relief to see the student-athletes deliver on a true showcase weekend for BK Selects.

“I was proud of the boys, the coaches, and the program as a whole,” he said. “That was big of us to make a statement. That’s why we went.”

After five full months of hockey, not much remains on the boys’ schedules besides the state and national tournaments.

Following this week’s customary February break, BK Selects will welcome the Lac St-Louis Lions from Montréal for a weekend series March 5-6, wrapping up the regular season.

The author can be reached at matt.gajtka@gmail.com for story tips and feedback.

16Us Rise to Occasion, Claim Northeast Pack Championship

by Matt Gajtka

NORTHFORD, Conn. — The Bishop Kearney Selects 16U boys team entered the Northeast Pack playoffs last weekend as the lowest seed, after going 4-7-1 against league foes in the regular season.

But BK’s standing as the sixth-ranked 16U team in the nation indicated they were a major threat to take home the NE Pack title at Northford Ice Pavilion.

Turns out the Selects were primed for the challenge. They edged the second-ranked Long Island Gulls, 2-1, on Sunday in the NE Pack championship game, finishing on top in their first season in the league.

And for a team that’s now 37-13-7 on the season and harbors dreams of a national title, the Pack might be the most difficult gauntlet they’ll have to run.

“It’s the best competition in the country,” said 16Us coach Dan Collins. “I was telling the team that to win the Pack is harder to win than states and most likely even nationals.”

The proof is in the rankings. All five NE Pack teams — the Long Island Gulls, Pittsburgh Penguins Elite, Mount St. Charles, the New Jersey Rockets and BK Selects — are in the top eight nationwide, per MyHockeyRankings.com.

For elite boys hockey in the United States, you’d be hard-pressed to find a deeper group of rivals.

“The skill within the Pack is why (the playoff) is one of the most-scouted events in America,” said high-scoring forward Christian Humphreys (Pittsburgh, Pa.), who buried goals in each of the final two games.

After going 1-1 in the two-game round-robin portion of the tournament, beating the Rockets (4-0) and falling to the Gulls (2-0), the Selects earned a spot in Saturday’s semifinals, where they outlasted the Rockets, 3-2.

Humphreys and Matthew Lee (Fort Erie, Ontario) scored six minutes apart in the second period of the semi, breaking a 1-1 tie and setting up a rematch with the Gulls. Both had also netted goals in the round robin, as well.

“We had guys skating back and creating turnovers for us, so we could have a fast, transitioning offense all weekend,” said Humphreys, who has 97 points in 40 games since getting bumped up from the 15O team.

“We’ve played like that throughout the year, but last weekend we did it at a whole new level, and it paid off for us.”

The championship played out similarly to the semi, with the Selects taking command in the second. Humphreys finished a 2-on-1 rush off a dish from Brendan Boring (Waxhaw, N.C.) to make it 1-0 early in the frame, then Nicholas Shaw (Fulton, N.Y.) scored his second of the tournament on a net-front deflection during a late-period power play.

Much more work was required, though.

With Paul Dalessio (Burlington, Mass.) backstopping as he did all weekend, the 16Us stifled the potent Gulls in the third. As the final seconds ran out, gloves and sticks soared toward the ceiling.

“Discipline was what we talked about,” Collins said. “We knew we needed to force them to come through all of us. The puck was in the right areas of the ice, not putting it in the wrong place so they could create offense.”

As Humphreys mentioned, Collins felt there was a higher level of commitment throughout his team this weekend.

“Our team bought in to doing things a team-first way,” Collins said. “It was always up and down (this season). We would talk after the downs, that we can’t be there, and then not there.

“They showed they truly wanted to win. They trusted what I was telling them.”

The 18Us came close to making it an NE Pack double crown for BK Selects, but they fell in the championship game to No. 2-ranked Mount St. Charles (R.I.). The score was 4-2 after a late empty-netter.

David Arduin’s squad competed admirably through the weekend, erasing three separate deficits along the way. On Friday, Ryan Conmy (Alexandria, Va./New Hampshire) scored with nine seconds left in a round-robin matchup with Mount St. Charles, forcing overtime.

If that wasn’t dramatic enough, the 18Us rallied from 3-0 down to the Rockets in a Saturday semifinal to win, 5-3. The seventh-ranked Selects (36-14-5) trailed by two with seven minutes left and still got it done in regulation.

“I’m proud of the effort, for sure,” Arduin said. “The biggest thing we learned is that we’re able to manage our way through the game.

“If you look at pieces of the game, we’ve already shown we’re capable of beating the best teams in the country, but that’s not how it works. All in all, proud in that we showed the capability to come back.”

What made the weekend even more memorable? Both the 15Os and 14Us decided to stick around in Connecticut after they were eliminated, so they could support their BK Selects peers in their hunts for championships.

“That’s what makes BK what it is,” Collins said. “It’s about the culture and the environment. These guys live together, eat together, sleep 10 feet from each other. This was the perfect start to the final push.”

Arduin noted that this was the first time all the BK Selects boys teams were present in the same rink, as the teams didn’t compete in the NE Pack last year because of COVID-19 restrictions.

“The best part of the weekend was that the younger kids decided to stay back,” Arduin said. “It was a huge come-together trip for our program.”

The 18Us will not return to game action until Senior Night on March 5. The other three BK Selects boys teams will travel to Minnesota this weekend to face storied Shattuck St. Mary’s before heading into winter break.

The author can be reached at matt.gajtka@gmail.com for story tips and feedback.