by Matt Gajtka
MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. — BK Selects 18U head coach David Arduin admitted his team’s emotions were mixed in its return to the Centene Community Ice Center last weekend.
On one hand, last year’s BK Selects 16U squad played a national semifinal game at the facility, a remarkable achievement in the program’s first year.
On the other hand, Arduin’s former squad, the North Jersey Avalanche prevailed that day in overtime on its way to the national title.
For this particular trip to Missouri, the opponent was different and the stakes weren’t as high, but the challenge was still eye-opening for BK Selects as they went 1-2 in a three-game series against the St. Louis AAA Blues.
And much like last year, the team could look at both sides of the coin when it came to results.
The Blues, ranked No. 4 entering the weekend by MyHockeyRankings, won 2-1 on Friday and 4-1 on Saturday before fifth-ranked BK Selects (34-12-4) punched back with a 4-2 win Sunday.
“At this time of the year, you want to keep finding out about your team,” Arduin said afterward. “We learned some invaluable lessons.”
Jaden Dyke (St. Johns, Newfoundland) notched a goal and an assist in the Sunday win, which was played on the facility’s outdoor rink, ‘The Barn.’ Dyke scored in all three games and finished with two goals and two assists on the weekend.
Charlie Major (Marcellus, N.Y.) assisted on three goals Sunday, while Hans Ulvebne (Oslo, Norway) scored a goal and set up another. Goalies Steven Reganato (Holbrook, N.Y.) and Jack Fialkoff (New York, N.Y.) split Sunday’s game in half after each played a full game earlier in the series.
Arduin said he felt his team made some progress against what he called a “heavy, physical team” in the Blues (29-6-0). To that end, he and his staff instituted a “three-and-three rule” before the series to focus on winning puck battles in order to let their skill translate.
“If you’re three feet from the boards or from the net,” Arduin said, “your only thought is how to win the battle and get the puck in a better spot on the ice for your teammates. Once you win the battle, that’s when we’re at our best.
“It was hard to play at the kind of pace and skill we’re accustomed to, but we’re going to run into more mature teams and we’re going to have to find a way to adapt to that.”
Arduin lauded John Kneidel (Dublin, Ohio) for his leadership over the weekend, particularly when it came to withstanding the physical stress a team like the Blues can dole out.
“John was consistently the hardest-working player who wins all the battles and establishes a physical presence,” Arduin said. “He was showcased (on a weekend) when we had a hard time in these areas. He was the heartbeat of the team.”
Blues coaches — and former NHLers — Jeff Brown and Kelly Chase also noted the poise of BK Selects captain Jack Henry (Auburn, N.Y.).
“They said, ‘Wow, that No. 77 plays with confidence,’ “ Arduin said. “‘It doesn’t look like he has a pulse out there.’ “
The U18s travel to Indiana next weekend to face 21st-ranked Culver Academies Prep (13-14-0) in a two-game series. Friday’s faceoff is set for 8 p.m. Eastern with the rematch Saturday at noon.
With the schedule ahead of them getting thin, Arduin said he’s focused on form as the team nears the end of a successful first season of play. The BK Selects started 6-7-1 but are 28-5-3 since the final week of September.
“It’s exceeded my expectations, for sure,” Arduin said. “We’re looking for consistency, first and foremost, and a belief in that we’re doing the right things. Understanding it’s a long season and using the losses as an opportunity to grow.”