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.