Tag: 18U boys

Sweet Sixteens: Bishop Kearney Selects Win Program’s First National Title

by Matt Gajtka

ROCHESTER, Mich. — With four seconds left in Monday’s 16-and-under USA Hockey national championship game and his Bishop Kearney Selects team up 3-1, Dan Collins called timeout.

But even though the ensuing faceoff was in the defensive zone, it was all but impossible for the Long Island Gulls to score twice and spoil the party.

In other words, this wasn’t about tactics. This was about recognition of what was about to happen. In a sport that seldom allows its participants to catch their breath, the head coach of the BK Selects 16Us gave his players the opportunity to savor the moment before The Moment.

“As a coach it was one of those things you dream about,” said Collins, still grinning 15 minutes after his team won Bishop Kearney High School’s first national hockey crown.

“At that moment they needed to know that they were about to win a national championship,” Collins continued. “It was a special moment for us to enjoy it together. Understanding the work we put in, (and) that we were about to get there. That’s what that was for. It was awesome.”

After the most raucous 60 seconds you’ll ever see from a team that hadn’t yet technically won, the puck was dropped and hacked safely to the end boards.

Officially, at a few minutes before noon, they had done it.

And gloves and sticks weren’t the only things that fell to the playing surface at Suburban Ice Rochester.

“I started bawling,” forward Matthew Lee (Fort Erie, Ontario) said. “Being out there with my brothers … Our thing was to be a family this year. To go in the (dressing room) and celebrate with gold medals on our necks, it was awesome.”

Ironically, the 16Us were the only BK Selects squad — boys or girls — to not win a New York state title last month. Collins’ bunch needed a (much-deserved) at-large bid to make it to America’s top youth hockey showcase.

“This year we didn’t even win states, so that’s the chip on our shoulder,” said goalie Paul Dalessio (Burlington, Mass.) after stopping 29 shots in the final. “It’s so special. We’ll never forget it.”

After arriving in this northern suburb of Detroit last week, the team known as the Rochester Saints for USA Hockey purposes swept their round-robin group, collecting wins against the Yale Jr. Bulldogs, Arizona Jr. Coyotes and Boston Jr. Eagles. The first of those came in overtime, with defenseman Josh Player (Thorofare, N.J.) scoring in the final minute of sudden death.

That portended the tight battles to come in the single-elimination portion of the 16-team tournament.

BK edged Culver Military Academy, 2-1, in Saturday’s quarterfinals, guarding the lead for 2 1/2 periods. Goalie Florian Wade (Anchorage, Alaska) denied 25 shots, including 14 in a batten-down-the-hatches third period. That allowed Mikey Bartkowski’s (Fort Mills, S.C.) short-handed tally late in the first to hold up as the winner.

The script was much less tidy in the semis, when Chicago Mission rallied from two goals down after two periods to force overtime. But it didn’t take BK long to rebound, as Lee set up Christian Humphreys (Pittsburgh, Pa.) for a nifty finish and a berth in the national championship.

“I think getting knocked out of states motivated us to do all we can do to win a national championship,” said Humphreys, who led the 16Us in scoring this season after getting bumped up from the 15O team last fall.

For all the talk of using a previous failure for motivation, a success might have actually been more impactful for the 16Us — at least when it came to the last game. Back in February, BK defeated the Gulls in the final of the Northeast Pack playoffs, successfully protecting a one-goal lead in the third period.

This time, BK was in front for the final two frames, after scores from Jack Plandowski (Halifax, Nova Scotia) and Owen King (Webster, N.Y./Providence) in quick succession overcame an early 5-on-3 goal for Long Island. Plandowski redirected a Player shot during a power play, then about a minute later, Nicholas Shaw (Fulton, N.Y.) stole the puck in the neutral zone and sent King away on a partial breakaway.

Remarkably, the 16Us didn’t allow a single odd-man rush the rest of the way, and defenders did a wonderful job fending off Gulls attackers intent on bulling their way to the net.

“It was comedy,” Lee said of the familiarity between the final combatants. “We knew their system. They knew ours. It just came down to details.”

Dalessio was rock-solid throughout, but much to his teammates’ credit, he didn’t have to come up with anything spectacular to preserve the lead. By the time Brendan Boring (Waxhaw, N.C.) guided home an empty-netter with a minute to play, the virtuoso defensive performance was complete.

“They did exactly what we asked,” Collins said. “We had to take (the Gulls’) number one option away, which is to get to the interior. The boys bought in and packed in the house. Ultimately, when you’re up, you shouldn’t be giving leads back if you’re focused.

“We knew that’s how the game would end up being, so I’m not asking them to change anything. I was asking them to execute exactly what we’ve talked about. Very, very happy for these guys that they got that reward at the end for all that hard work.”

Allowing just eight goals in six games, the 16Us (44-16-8) were indeed playing their best structural game at the most important time of the season. Lee (3g, 4a) and Humphreys (2g, 5a) co-paced the team in points across the tourney, while captain King was the top finisher with five goals.

“Throughout this tournament, we’ve been the most structured team defensively,” Humphreys said. “After getting up 2-1, all of us knew we were going to win the championship. Same thing happened in the Northeast (Pack) playoffs. We knew we didn’t need any more offense, so everyone was back-tracking.”

Christian Humphreys (left) and Owen King celebrate with championship hardware. (BK SELECTS)

It all added up to a national championship in just the second year of the BK Selects boys program, a remarkable achievement for all involved.

“It’s the best feeling in the world,” defenseman Lenny Greenburg (El Segundo, Calif.) said. “This year, from the start, this was our goal. We knew we could make it here and win it, and it feels awesome.”

And as has been the case throughout the season when a BK Selects team went deep in a tournament, the black-and-red cheering section included a healthy contingent of players and coaches from squads who had been previously eliminated.

Not that those teams had anything to be ashamed of. The 18Us made the quarterfinals in the same rink before getting knocked out by second-ranked Mount St. Charles — another Northeast Pack rival — while the 15Os and 14Us each reached the semis, losing to Shattuck-St. Mary’s teams in Plymouth, Mich., and Chicago, respectively.

“Just incredible,” said 15O head coach and Director of Boys Hockey Chris Collins. “You’ve got four teams competing at the highest level, it’s an incredible feat. The only team that didn’t win states, won nationals. 

“It’s massive in Year 2 of the program. You can’t describe it.”

Indeed, only perennial powerhouse Shattuck-St. Mary’s could match Bishop Kearney’s total of four teams in the national tournament. The 16Us might’ve been the only BK Selects squad to carry hardware back to western New York, but they weren’t the only squad to make a statement.

Plus, the players who’ll return to campus in August will carry the knowledge of what it’s like to try to bring your best hockey when all eyes are on you, from friends and family to hundreds of scouts from the NHL, NCAA and high-level juniors.

“There’s nothing like the nationals aura,” said 18U bench boss and Director of Player Placement David Arduin. “It’s the best teams in the country and then there’s the (pressure) of trying to win it. There’s nothing quite like it.”

The same could be said for the taste of a national title. Not that it doesn’t take its toll. Dan Collins had the look of a man just crossing the finish line of a marathon — a marathon that went extremely well, but a marathon nonetheless.

“I’m exhausted,” he said with a laugh. “I feel like I’ve been here a month. I always feel like I’ve been through it all, but for this, you feel the nerves. Everything was as heightened as it possibly could be, but as a competitor, that’s why you play.

“For me, for the players, everything, that’s why we wanted to be here.”

They’re here, alright, but the BK Selects grand plan is to stay here.

So far, so great.

The author can be reached at matt.gajtka@gmail.com.

‘Lucky and Thankful’ – BK Selects Boys Reflect on First-Ever Graduating Class

by Matt Gajtka

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — In the scheme of a season, last weekend produced a pair of momentum-building victories for the Bishop Kearney 18U boys hockey team.

With the New York state tournament coming up this weekend, that’s no small result.

The fifth-ranked 18Us will have to get past the No. 6 Long Island Gulls, No. 7 Buffalo Regals and the No. 23 Nichols School, among others, in order to advance to nationals, so beating the Philadelphia Hockey Club twice by a combined score of 13-2 can only be a good thing for collective confidence.

But in the grander scheme of what BK Selects is trying to build, last weekend held greater significance than what happened on the ice. Prior to Saturday’s game, Bishop Kearney celebrated the first-ever boys hockey graduating class.

“The more I think about it, the more I realize I’m a part of something really special,” said captain Jack Henry (Auburn, N.Y./Yale). “I get to leave my mark here at BK and hopefully it impacts others in a way that excites them to come here as well.”

As Henry alludes to, joining BK Selects was a leap of faith for the 12 boys who make up the Class of ’22: Henry, Tyler Stern (Plainsview, N.Y.), Jaden Dyke (St. Johns, Newfoundland), Miles Meltzer (Frisco, Texas), Steven Reganato (Holbrook, N.Y.), Michael English (Smithtown, N.Y.), Dillon Cooney (Marlton, Pa.), Hans Ulvebne (Oslo, Norway), Michael Kadlecik (Lansing, N.Y.), Josh O’Connor (Halifax, Nova Scotia), Luke Cimpello (Cincinnati, Ohio) and Drew Hansen (Mahwah, N.J.).

Yes, the girls program has long established itself as one of the powers in American amateur hockey, but as of 18 months ago — in the midst of a pandemic, mind you — the entire boys program was merely a concept.

That’s easy to forget with all four boys teams now ranked in the country’s top 10, each legitimate contenders to win at nationals, but that was the reality.

So, how was this level of rapid progress possible?

“We just care,” said 18Us head coach David Arduin. “We care so much about these kids. We invest so much of our time into their betterment and becoming who they are. The hockey component is so little and you realize it on a night like that.”

The night he refers to started with a banquet last Saturday afternoon at Rochester staple Fiamma Centro. Bishop Kearney president Steve Salluzzo spoke, with Arduin and assistant coach Zachary Vit remarking on each senior individually. Boys hockey director Chris Collins also presented to the group, as did friends of each senior and a couple of last year’s alumni, via recorded videos.

On top of that, the seniors’ parents put together a 20-minute video featuring childhood photos and, as Arduin winkingly called it, “some sad music” to accompany the images. Capping it off, several seniors themselves took the opportunity to say a few words on the dais.

“I guarantee no team in the country had a senior night like that,” Arduin said. “We came in with no expectations and it turned into an emotional reflection. It was our way of showing that us coaches have learned something in our lives and we want to give it back to someone else.”

Stern feels that love and appreciation — and he says it’s mutual.

“Being in this family, wearing that logo on my chest for the past two years,” he said, “those are things I have embraced and loved. Being a part of the inaugural graduating class is something that I do not take lightly.

“I know this program is going to be successful for many years to come, and I am so lucky and thankful to have been a part of the team that helped set the standard of excellence here.”

And, much like Arduin, Stern attributes the rapid rise of BK Selects on the boys’ side to relationships, more so than forechecks, power plays and penalty kills.

“My teammates, my coaches and members and coaches of the younger teams have become my extended family,” Stern said. “I have made bonds and friendships that will never be broken and memories that will never be forgotten in my two years here.

“This is all thanks to the first-class culture and atmosphere at BK. It truly has been home for me.”

Once the players and staff adjourned to the Rochester Ice Center for the rematch with Philadelphia, there was a short pregame ceremony involving parents and loved ones at center ice. From there, it was time to face off for the final time before the postseason, in front of members of the 16U, 15O and 14U teams who toted airhorns and a banner to power the cheering section.

The result — an 8-0 win — seemed a fitting culmination to the weekend.

“There was no way we were going to lose after that banquet,” Arduin said. “You aren’t going to look down that bench and question anybody’s intentions.”

After a couple of weeks away from competition, consider the rust knocked off the 18Us’ wheels. Up next for all four BK Selects boys teams is a three-game round robin at Northtown Center in suburban Buffalo, with the top four Empire State teams advancing to the semifinals.

“I think we’re in great shape,” Henry said. “We’ve been playing some good hockey and we’re feeling good heading into the weekend.

“We’ve been preparing all season for these last few weeks, and I’ve got the utmost confidence in our group.”

The author can be reached at matt.gajtka@gmail.com.

16Us Rise to Occasion, Claim Northeast Pack Championship

by Matt Gajtka

NORTHFORD, Conn. — The Bishop Kearney Selects 16U boys team entered the Northeast Pack playoffs last weekend as the lowest seed, after going 4-7-1 against league foes in the regular season.

But BK’s standing as the sixth-ranked 16U team in the nation indicated they were a major threat to take home the NE Pack title at Northford Ice Pavilion.

Turns out the Selects were primed for the challenge. They edged the second-ranked Long Island Gulls, 2-1, on Sunday in the NE Pack championship game, finishing on top in their first season in the league.

And for a team that’s now 37-13-7 on the season and harbors dreams of a national title, the Pack might be the most difficult gauntlet they’ll have to run.

“It’s the best competition in the country,” said 16Us coach Dan Collins. “I was telling the team that to win the Pack is harder to win than states and most likely even nationals.”

The proof is in the rankings. All five NE Pack teams — the Long Island Gulls, Pittsburgh Penguins Elite, Mount St. Charles, the New Jersey Rockets and BK Selects — are in the top eight nationwide, per MyHockeyRankings.com.

For elite boys hockey in the United States, you’d be hard-pressed to find a deeper group of rivals.

“The skill within the Pack is why (the playoff) is one of the most-scouted events in America,” said high-scoring forward Christian Humphreys (Pittsburgh, Pa.), who buried goals in each of the final two games.

After going 1-1 in the two-game round-robin portion of the tournament, beating the Rockets (4-0) and falling to the Gulls (2-0), the Selects earned a spot in Saturday’s semifinals, where they outlasted the Rockets, 3-2.

Humphreys and Matthew Lee (Fort Erie, Ontario) scored six minutes apart in the second period of the semi, breaking a 1-1 tie and setting up a rematch with the Gulls. Both had also netted goals in the round robin, as well.

“We had guys skating back and creating turnovers for us, so we could have a fast, transitioning offense all weekend,” said Humphreys, who has 97 points in 40 games since getting bumped up from the 15O team.

“We’ve played like that throughout the year, but last weekend we did it at a whole new level, and it paid off for us.”

The championship played out similarly to the semi, with the Selects taking command in the second. Humphreys finished a 2-on-1 rush off a dish from Brendan Boring (Waxhaw, N.C.) to make it 1-0 early in the frame, then Nicholas Shaw (Fulton, N.Y.) scored his second of the tournament on a net-front deflection during a late-period power play.

Much more work was required, though.

With Paul Dalessio (Burlington, Mass.) backstopping as he did all weekend, the 16Us stifled the potent Gulls in the third. As the final seconds ran out, gloves and sticks soared toward the ceiling.

“Discipline was what we talked about,” Collins said. “We knew we needed to force them to come through all of us. The puck was in the right areas of the ice, not putting it in the wrong place so they could create offense.”

As Humphreys mentioned, Collins felt there was a higher level of commitment throughout his team this weekend.

“Our team bought in to doing things a team-first way,” Collins said. “It was always up and down (this season). We would talk after the downs, that we can’t be there, and then not there.

“They showed they truly wanted to win. They trusted what I was telling them.”

The 18Us came close to making it an NE Pack double crown for BK Selects, but they fell in the championship game to No. 2-ranked Mount St. Charles (R.I.). The score was 4-2 after a late empty-netter.

David Arduin’s squad competed admirably through the weekend, erasing three separate deficits along the way. On Friday, Ryan Conmy (Alexandria, Va./New Hampshire) scored with nine seconds left in a round-robin matchup with Mount St. Charles, forcing overtime.

If that wasn’t dramatic enough, the 18Us rallied from 3-0 down to the Rockets in a Saturday semifinal to win, 5-3. The seventh-ranked Selects (36-14-5) trailed by two with seven minutes left and still got it done in regulation.

“I’m proud of the effort, for sure,” Arduin said. “The biggest thing we learned is that we’re able to manage our way through the game.

“If you look at pieces of the game, we’ve already shown we’re capable of beating the best teams in the country, but that’s not how it works. All in all, proud in that we showed the capability to come back.”

What made the weekend even more memorable? Both the 15Os and 14Us decided to stick around in Connecticut after they were eliminated, so they could support their BK Selects peers in their hunts for championships.

“That’s what makes BK what it is,” Collins said. “It’s about the culture and the environment. These guys live together, eat together, sleep 10 feet from each other. This was the perfect start to the final push.”

Arduin noted that this was the first time all the BK Selects boys teams were present in the same rink, as the teams didn’t compete in the NE Pack last year because of COVID-19 restrictions.

“The best part of the weekend was that the younger kids decided to stay back,” Arduin said. “It was a huge come-together trip for our program.”

The 18Us will not return to game action until Senior Night on March 5. The other three BK Selects boys teams will travel to Minnesota this weekend to face storied Shattuck St. Mary’s before heading into winter break.

The author can be reached at matt.gajtka@gmail.com for story tips and feedback.

BK Selects Boys Teams Go Unbeaten at Snowbound Culver

by Matt Gajtka

CULVER, Ind. — For most hockey fans, the word discipline often boils down to avoiding penalties.

For coaches and players, though, discipline is much more than that. On an individual level, it’s about knowing exactly how one fits into the greater scheme of the team, ideally resulting in machine-like cohesion on the ice.

If you get enough players onboard and reach critical mass, then your team becomes very difficult to play against. That was this weekend’s challenge for the BK Selects 18U and 16U teams: To match the level of discipline that’s the annual signature of the Culver Military Academy squads.

“No question it was a tough weekend,” 16U head coach Dan Collins said after his team forged a pair of ties, 2-2 and 1-1, against Culver. “Some teams you play want to run and gun and that opens things up, but these guys protect the middle and are on the defensive side of everything.

“You just had to continue to stick with the process.”

Part of that process before the weekend involved deciding whether to even play the four-game series — two for the sixth-ranked 16Us, two for the seventh-ranked 18Us — with the winter storm that blew across the Midwest and Northeast last week.

18Us head coach David Arduin doubles as the BK Selects Director of Logistics, so he joked he had to “play amateur meteorologist” for a few days in order to determine the right time to jump on Interstate 90.

“I think the easy thing to do would’ve been to cancel it but we found a way to make it safe and make it happen,” Arduin said. “And I wonder what lessons we would’ve not learned that we needed to learn, if we decided to cancel.”

Now 35-14-4, Arduin’s squad also went unbeaten against Culver and grabbed BK Selects’ lone win of the trip, a 3-1 victory Saturday. Tyler Stern (Plainsview, N.Y.) scored the final two goals in that one, both assisted by Charlie Major (Marcellus, N.Y./Cornell) and Jack Henry (Auburn, N.Y./Yale). Jack Fialkoff (New York, N.Y.) earned the win in net with 30 stops.

The 18Us’ Sunday rematch was one of the most dramatic games of the season, with Culver sprinting out to a 4-1 second-period lead before the BK Selects pushed back to force overtime. Major, J.C. Humphreys (McMurray, Pa.), Miles Meltzer (Frisco, Texas) and Michael Kadlecik (Lansing, N.Y.) each scored in the rally, with Ryan Conmy (Alexandria, Va.) assisting twice.

Even then, Arduin said some confusion in overtime regarding a particular power-play strategy meant the tie felt less than satisfying.

“We’re learning about what we need to improve upon as coaches,” Arduin said, noting that the excitement of a loud atmosphere at Culver should be good training for the Northeast Pack playoffs this week, to say nothing of the state- and national-tournament cauldrons the 18Us hope are in their future.

“Culver was really well-coached,” Arduin continued. “These were some of the best hockey games of the season. It was fast, physical, the skill level was high. Comebacks, ups, downs, highs, lows.”

Miller’s 16Us saw both sides of the drama in bucolic Culver, located less than an hour’s drive south of South Bend. They rallied to tie in one game, then saw Culver come back for a draw in the other.

Matthew Lee (Fort Erie, Ontario) scored two of the 16Us’ three goals, while Owen King (Webster, N.Y./Providence) assisted on all three. Goaltenders Paul Dalessio (Burlington, Mass.) and Florian Wade (Anchorage, Alaska) each played well as they split the weekend.

Firmly in the top 10 of the MyHockeyRanking list and standing at 37-13-5, the 16Us face the meat of their season next, with the Northeast Pack tournament this weekend in Connecticut, followed by a visit to famed Shattuck St. Mary’s in Minnesota for a three-game set Feb. 18-20.

“We’re in a pretty good spot right now,” said Collins, in his second season leading the 16Us. “Our trip to Shattuck is important. To get the feel of the place and play a program like them, being able to go there is a big thing we’re looking forward to right now.”

And if they can carry over some of the style points from the weekend on the Culver campus, all the better.

“If we play that way against some of the teams we play, with discipline,” he said, “we’re going to make it tough for them.”

The author can be reached at matt.gajtka@gmail.com for story tips and feedback.