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.
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.”
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.
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