by Matt Gajtka
BUFFALO, N.Y. — They didn’t need to do it, but they went ahead and did it anyway.
By merit of its top-10 ranking in the country, the Bishop Kearney Selects 14U boys team was almost certainly headed to the USA Hockey Nationals regardless of what it did last weekend at the New York state tournament.
But the 14Us left no doubt, blitzing through Buffalo with a 5-0 record and a 30-8 goal differential, blazing the trail to Nationals for the BK Selects boys program.
“That was probably our best performance of the season so far,” said forward Massimo Santa Maria (Buffalo, N.Y.), who scored three goals and added two assists on the weekend, continuing his strong performance as an underage, 2009 birth-year player.
The youngest BK Selects team capped its clean sweep Sunday with a 6-2 victory over Clifton Park Dynamo in the Empire State title game, improving to 58-16-3 on the season.
On Wednesday, the 15O and 16U teams also joined the Nationals party via at-large bids, spots justly awarded based on outstanding regular seasons. The 15Os (51-13-7) were ranked fourth in their USA Hockey age group and the 16Us (43-17-3) were ranked seventh, via My Hockey Rankings.
While the ultimate goal for every BK Selects team is to compete for a national championship — a goal successfully completed last spring by the 16U squad — the New York tournament is a reliable litmus test, with programs like the Long Island Gulls and Buffalo Jr. Sabres providing a consistently high level of competition.
“We put a lot of emphasis on states,” said 14U Head Coach Greg Collins, echoing the approach of the program on the whole. “A lot of emphasis on playoff games, in general. Most teams we were playing against (last weekend), they had to win states to move on, so the two weeks before we worked on putting the mindset together, details and habits.”
Despite the desperation of their opponents, the 14Us clearly proved themselves to be New York’s finest, defeating every foe by at least four goals.
Tourney-leading offensive outputs by Canadian-born Austin Brekelmans and the DMV’s Camden Nimmer (four goals, three assists apiece) paced the attack, while goalie Gavin Weeks (Goffstown, N.H.) posted a .929 save percentage while continuing his crucial role as the lone netminder on the roster.
“While I think I’ve handled the workload well, I still think I could have done better,” Weeks said. “But that’s where you learn. Overall, I think the team played great and I’m excited to see what we have for this last push.”
Ditto for the 15O and 16U teams, who can take solace in the knowledge that last year’s 16U squad was the only BK Selects boys team to not win New York in ’22, yet they went on to clinch to first national championship in program history.
This time around, 16U Head Coach Dan Collins is feeling a similar vibe in at least a couple of ways, even if he also knows there’s no guarantee it translates to the same glorious result.
“Right now, we’re getting a lot of the same feelings,” Collins said. “Feeling we can be better than we have been and feeling thankful to still have another opportunity to play together.”
Like many of the BK Selects — coaches and players alike — Dan Collins credits his team’s participation in Northeast Pack events throughout the year for toughening the squad ahead of high-leverage games this time of year.
“With those (Northeast Pack) weekends and battles all year, against some of the best teams in the country, that’s something we lean on as experience and preparation going into Nationals,” he said.
The 15Os came closest to joining the 14Us in the New York winner’s circle, getting all the way to the championship game before falling, 2-1, to the Long Island Gulls. BK Selects forward Cooper Dennis (Ithaca, N.Y.) paced all players in the tourney in assists (eight) and total points (13).
Meanwhile, both the 16Us and 18Us also fell to the Gulls in the semis of their respective state tournaments. But while the 16Us had a likely at-large Nationals bid as a fallback, the 14th-ranked 18Us had to win New York to extend their season.
Even though the 18Us (34-28-4) were knocked out before the championship, they still featured three of the top five scorers in their age group — led by Ryan Bunting’s (West Deptford, N.J.) four goals and three assists in four games. Grant DeNuccio (Leesburg, Va.) scored four and helped on two others, while Mikey Bartkowski (Fort Mills, S.C.) also lit the lamp four times.
In the 16U New York bracket, Geno Carcone (Woodstock, Ga.) led all BK skaters with nine points, and his seven assists were the second-most in the tournament. Nate Delladonna (Brewerton, N.Y.) notched four goals to help the squad, including two in the semi loss to Long Island; BK led 3-1 early in the second before the Gulls scored the final five goals of the game.
Fortunately, that won’t be the last time Dan Collins’ group takes the ice this season. Once again, the BK boys will have multiple shots at a national crown.
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Top photo: Camden Nimmer hunts on the forecheck. Credit: Christina Colontino/BK Selects