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.
Starting the week with a winning mentality…
Congratulations!👏🏼👏🏼@BKSelectsboys U16 players and coaches. pic.twitter.com/Fck7Rhb4NG
— Carolina Greenberg (@Krogreenberg) February 13, 2022
“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.
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