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.
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.”
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.”
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