‘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.