With the Clarkson University women capturing the areas first NCAA Division I championship, the Massena Central boys winning a record sixth NYSPHSAA Division I title and a total of six minor hockey teams claiming top honors at their respective NYSAHA tournaments, including the Tri-Town Timberwolves PeeWees who went on to successfully defend their Northeastern Regional Tier III 12-UnderTournament crown, the month of March may have been the best ever in the history of North Country hockey.
On Wednesday, three of the areas state Tier II championship teams began looking to make some history of their own at their USA Hockey National Tournaments.
The St. Lawrence Thunder, sanctioned by Massena Minor Hockey are competing at the 16-Under and 14-Under tournaments.
The 16-Under team is making its third trip to the nationals in four years after falling short last winter while the Bantams have now advanced for the third year in a row, having skated away with silver medals the past two tournaments.
The North Country Icestorm 16-Under Girls are also playing at nationals for the third straight time and are also coming off a silver-medal performance.
Both the boys teams are in one of four four-team divisions for the preliminary round while the Icestorm are in one of two six-team divisions. All three tournaments opened Wednesday and conclude with championship games on Sunday. Quarterfinal and semifinal round matchups are all scheduled for Saturday.
THUNDER 16-U BOYS
Coached by Josh Bartell, the St. Lawrence Thunder 16-Under boys headed to Reston, Virginia, where they won their national Tier II tournament opener against the Butler Valley Dawgs. Their second game is tonight against Team Toledo is starting at 8 a.m. and they wrap up the opening round on Friday against the Chicago Hawks beginning at 4 p.m.
I was a little worried that we might be complacent because a lot of the players had had quite a bit of success at states. But none of them have won the national tournament and getting back to nationals was definitely a motivating factor. Some kids have never been to nationals and theyre so fired up, said Bartell, who has guided the Thunder to a 27-5-2 record.
The Thunder feature players from six area school disticts including 10 members of the state high school champion Massena squad. The line of Patrick Manning, Jordan Robert and Wyatt Wilmshurst remains intact for the 16-under squad while Ben Sprague skated on a line with St. Lawrence Central standouts Lukas Arquiett and Kody Kocsis. Another line features Madrid-Waddington Central product Kaden Pickering, who made lead contributions toward the Section 10 Division II championship run by Norwood-Norfolk this winter, paired with current Potsdam Central standout Logan Ford and former Sandstoner stalwart Chad Varney, who is now taking the prep school route. The Massena duo of Patrick LaGrow and Bailey Hewlett skates with Malones Bailey Conklin.
The Thunder defensive corps consists of Massenas Maddox Merry and Jon-Paul Chauvin, Potsdams Hayden Hart and Keenan OGorman, Cantons Andrew McCormick and Madrid-Waddingtons Shane Cryderman, who also played on the championship team at NNCS.
Massenas Logan Brothers and Cantons Jonathan Stone handle goaltending duties.
One of our strengths is were very deep. We have 20 players and all 20 can play so weve rolled four lines all season, noted Bartell.
If you watch us play, were a mirror image of what Clarkson plays. Our goal every shift is relentless pursuit of the puck and keeping it below the other teams goalline. Weve been successful playing our style and theres no reason we cant be successful playing our game at nationals.
The Tier II 16-Under national final is scheduled for Sunday at 9:15 a.m.
ICESTORM 16-U GIRLS
Guided by Mike Grant and sanctioned by the Potsdam Junior Hockey Association, the North Country Icestorm 16-Under girls are hoping to continue building on the national tournament success that theyve experienced in their previous two trips as the make the relatively short trip to western New York for the Tier II championships in Amherst.
We had a team go to San Jose last year and to Texas the year before so its great for us to have the tournament in Amherst. We havent had to spend a lot of time on fund-raising and organizing flights and things like that, said coach Mike Grant. Weve been able to spend more time thinking about the hockey.
Last year, the Icestorm went 3-0 through the preliminary round it before beating Arizona 6-2 in the quarters and downing the East Coast Wizards 3-2 in the semis to make it to the finals where they dropped a 4-1 decision to Vermont.
The preliminary round last year was easier than our states but things got tougher as we moved on. Were kind of expecting the same thing this year but you never know what can happen, said Grant. We made it to the championship last year but we just didnt have our game that day.
We got off to a bad start against Vermont and dug a hole for ourselves. Wed all like to have another shot at it, he added.
The Icestorm lineup features players from the Massena, Potsdam, St. Lawrence Central, Norwood-Norfolk and Canton school districts. Combining their efforts at forward are Mia Jermano (Massena), Emily Wilmshurst (Massena), Abbey Paduano (Massena), Reaghan Peets (Massena), Kalie Grant (Potsdam), Paige McCabe (Potsdam), Kirstin Barkley (N-N), McKaylee Boak (Canton), Madee Derouchie (SLC) and Laura Wells. The quartet of Hannah Drechsel (Potsdam), Kelsey Green (Potsdam), Abby Lyon (SLC) and Mimi Husinec (Canton) has capably handled blueline duties while Allie Compeau (Potsdam) has stepped up to play a lead role at goaltender.
We work hard on defense as a team and we dont pull away from any teams but everybody has kind of picked up their game that last couple of months, said Grant. We feel good about our chances.
The Icestorm opened the national tournament on Wednesday in a loss against Marquette starting at 12:20 p.m.
They take on the Mid Fairfield Stars today at 2:55 p.m. before closing out pool play on Friday against Carolina beginning at 12:20 p.m.
The semifinals are set for Saturday afternoon at 4:45 p.m. the national title game is Sunday at 10 a.m.
Guided by longtime youth hockey coach Bobby Smith along with assistants Jeff Allen and Ed Underwood, the Thunder Bantams are headed to Hackensack, New Jersey, for the Tier II 14-Under championships.
They opened the tournament on Wednesday by beating the North Jersey Avalanche. They return to the ice today when they will face-off against the Miami Toros starting at noon before closing out the preliminary round on Friday at 8:30 a.m. against the Erie Lions.
The Thunder Bantams also boast a talented mix of players from throughout the area.Team members include; Josh Sanchez, Cole Allen, Kyran Sunday, Billy Bergan, Jared Barr, Kyler Head, Cole Morore, Isaac Thrasher, Corson Green, Nathan Bressard, Josh Underwood, Mark Mahoney, Broadie Woods and Jacob Mattice. Merrick Taraska and Grant VanBuren handle goaltending duties.
The National Tier II 14-Under Championship Game is set for Sunday at 1 p.m.