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Minor teams prove north country hockey is tops in the state


MASSENA - The numerous minor hockey state championship contests held in Buffalo and Rochester last weekend were filled with north country athletes.

Squads from Massena, Norwood-Norfolk and Potsdam all took home championship crowns in their respective final games. Earlier this month the St. Lawrence Thunder bantams and Tri-Town pee wees had earned state titles, and Massena Central High School also skated to a Division 1 state crown a week ago. Tri-Town added the Northeast Regional championship to their banner this past weekend as well. The Louisville Tier III 18U club lost in double overtime in their championship game.

The St. Lawrence Thunder 16U midgets, sponsored by Massena Minor Hockey, were victorious 7-2 over Monroe County Sunday afternoon in the New York state Tier II 16U championship game.

“There are boys on the team who in the past four years have been on teams that have won championships. You don’t want to ever say that you expect it, but they worked very hard and they are very dedicated to our Thunder program. Not only are the kids dedicated but the parents are as well,” Massena Minor Hockey Association President Karen Chauvin said. “(The players) are from all over the north country, and it doesn’t matter where they come from. They work together and are great kids with great families.”

Ms. Chauvin added that given many of the players’ prior commitments to their high school varsity teams the Thunder did not hold their first full squad practice until March 10. They also held practices on March 11 and finally and the 13th in Amherst, the site of the playoffs.

The team, which is coached by Josh Bartell and Josh Hart, rolled through its competition, winning by scores of 7-0, 5-3, 5-0, 6-1, and 7-2.

“I’ve been to a few games, and I’m not surprised,” Massena Mayor James F. Hidy said. “I think the north country and the surrounding community - when they jointly perform under the qualified coaching staff we have - it doesn’t surprise me that they rank in the top three in the state and among the top in the country.

“The coaching staff has been with them for a number of years and the fact that they’ve been playing together since they were as young as eight is important. ... The organizations that helped these clubs, as well as the parents that get up at the crack of dawn were critical to the team’s success. They invest a lot of time and effort.”

Potsdam’s Ice Storm brought home two champions - the 12U and 16U teams.

Potsdam Junior Hockey Association President Mike Grant also coaches the 16U squad and said he was pleasantly surprised with the program’s success this season.

“I was not expecting this at all coming into the season. We finished third in the sectionals and sometimes they only take two teams, so we got lucky there,” Mr. Grant said. “Everybody stepped up their game and played a little bit above what they normally would. Everybody accepted their roles. ... Our goaltender, Allie Compeau, she probably played her best hockey of the year.”

Mr. Grant is assisted by his brother, Shawn, and said that their team is made up of girls from Massena, Potsdam, Canton and Brasher Falls.

“It’s amazing that we can turn out these types of teams from this area. There’s some good hockey to be played up here, and they should be proud. This will be the fourth year in a row that the Potsdam Ice Storms has sent a team to nationals,” Mr. Grant said.

Mr. Grant’s team defeated Monroe County 3-1 on Sunday to earn their championship and will take part in nationals in Buffalo.

The 12U team earned their spot in Buffalo by shutting out Hamburg 4-0.

In the Norwood-Norfolk community, the 16U midget team won in overtime 4-3 over Bronxville.

Norfolk Town Supervisor Charles A. Pernice is a fan of the team and his son played on the squad as recently as last year.

“I know all of those guys on the team, and it’s an outstanding achievement for a group that has been with each other since they were five years old. Coach (Tim) Brown and coach (Greg) Munson have had that core group of kids since they were very young and have invested a lot,” Mr. Pernice said.

“It’s not a surprise that they won because they’ve done quite well in the squirt level and played in the championship game with the bantams. Every year they are on the cusp of winning it all. It was very well deserved and I could not be happier for this group of kids, parents and the program as a whole.”

Before the turn of the millennium, many minor hockey programs in the region were heavily opposed to granting releases to allowing players from their communities to play for other team.

More recently though, New York state has approved regulations that allow the formation of more regional teams, and the north country teams have fared well at the state and national levels.

“There are just a lot of good players in the north country. Based on the rules of New York State Amateur Hockey, they can put many good players on one team. I think there are a number of really good players from many different organizations. So when they come together they have a lot of success,” USA Hockey International Hockey Vice President Gavin Regan, Potsdam, said.

“I think it’s just a testament to not only the athletes, but the organization’s volunteers, parents and everyone else. You need the people manning the snack bars and things like that in order to be successful. People come together and work to benefit the kids. It’s no surprise to me that the kids have been able to be so successful.”

Players at the college level have also been finding much success this month, as the Clarkson University women’s hockey team is headed to the Frozen Four. After prevailing over Boston College 3-1 Saturday afternoon, the Lady Golden Knights have advanced to the national semifinals for the first time in the program’s 11-year history.

Clarkson will play Mercyhurst University in the NCAA semifinals Friday at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn.

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