I wanted to take a little time and write a wrap up of the first part of the Cuse Mountain Hockey season. After putting some time into taking notes I realized this could not be done in a little bit of time. Holy Cow!!! We have already put a full season into the first 4 months and the best could definitely be still to come. Looking ahead is almost impossible without looking back. But I want to tell the boys to please look ahead and realize what they could accomplish and what they still have to look forward to. But I digress. I will cover that a little later.
It’s amazing how the time flies. It seems like just yesterday that we were off to the Spring Showcase and then competing at the Jr. A level of the USPHL Summer Showcase. That’s when I knew we might have something special this season. We competed there. We got beat but we competed. The last game we had the Suffolk Premier team down with 10 minutes to play. We ended up losing 6-4 but we were in the game. The South Shore Kings Premier coaches chatted with me and said “That’s your Empire team!? I don’t know who can beat you.” That’s when I thought maybe, just maybe, there is something special here.
From there it was our summer skates where I can’t thank the college and Jr A players who came back and scrimmaged us every week. We got better on those Thursday nights. I look forward to those nights again this summer. Those guys were not going full bore but they made us better. It is also great to have them out there whenever they are back so that our guys know it is possible. It can be done. They can play higher level juniors and college hockey.
Before you know it, it’s late August and an early season date with the Buffalo Jr. Sabres U18AAA. We competed with them. We lost 3-1 and 4-1 but the Sabres were really good. I talked with their coaches after the game. I told them I thought they would have a very good team this season. They sort of laughed it off and it turns out they are one of the best teams in the east and midwest this season. Definitely the best 18U team I have seen in NY State and one of the best of the 25 plus 18U teams we have played. We took some lumps and had a couple injuries in the Sabre’s games but from there it was off to the Tier 1 Labor Day Classic. We went 1-3-1 but only had 12 skaters. We threw a tie early and then lost to the Boch Blazers 3-1 with an ENG. They pummeled us the year before. But this year we were in it. We then beat a very strong Boston Bulldog’s team 4-3. We ran out of gas on Sunday but we were competitive. I liked what I saw even with the thin line up.
As September rolled in we picked up Jesse Farabee and he was really the final piece we needed. We had the goaltending and the defense but we needed that scoring threat. However it turns out we have a whole bunch of them. We have 8 players in the top 50 in league scoring including 3 in the top 10, and 6 in the top 30. We are dangerous through all 4 lines when we are healthy. (Empire League Stats)
I won’t bore every one with a game by game synpopsis of the first half but needless to say we are 33- 12-3-2. 50 games!! We are 19-2-0-1 in Empire League play and currently boast the #1 scoring offense and the #1 Scoring defense in the league. We are 2nd overall with a huge weekend series coming up vs the #1 Brooklyn Aviators as we come out of a much needed break. Going thru the first half it has been an unreal run. We have really only been beat in 2 games. Every other game we were in it. Battling to the finish. Having a decent chance to win. That’s 48 out of 50 games where the team was in it. 96% of the time! I’ll take that as a coach.
Some of the highlights for the team. An unreal game with the Compuware U18 team. It was 2-1 with 3 minutes left and the game was even. A late penalty took away our chance to win. A great run in Foxboro where we took out 4 teams including top East Coast midget programs before losing 2-1 in OT in the finals. We beat the Boston Generals and South Shores USPHL Midgets on the way to the finals. We have win streaks of 7 and 10 games in the league. Biggest win may have been over South Shore on the road where the boys came back and won in OT 7-6. South Shore had 7 Premier players dressed for that game and we still found a way to win. Then there was an unreal win in Toronto as we beat the Toronto Red Wings 5-4 in OT in the QF’s only to lose a game the next day vs Don Mills 5-4 with under 2 minutes left on a PPG. Don Mills went on to win the tourney. We just put up 30 goals in 2 games as we headed into break. That in itself is not easy. Especially with 6-7 players currently out of the lineup due to injury.
So with all of this it now comes down to 2 months. January, February and 1 day in March. We really only have 2 months to go in this crazy season. 2 months. Our most important 2 months. Playoffs start Feb. 27th in Foxboro. Did I mention 2 MONTHS!!!
Just looking at our January I both smile and cringe. We head to league leading Brooklyn for 2 games. Then it’s off to Marlboro for a 3 game weekend at the USPHL Winter Showcase. From there the team heads to Lake Placid for the Northwood Tourney. We get a home game at Oswego State vs ADK and then it’s off to Florida for 4 games including 3 in a row vs the defending league champion Florida Blades. Throw in a week night game vs Rochester and that’s another unreal month. In February we still have to play the Americans on a weeknight right after Florida and the Hitmen, Bruins and Whalers at the South Shore Showcase. A home weekend vs the Freeze and then playoffs.
I can only hope my team understands that these 2 months are huge! We have a chance to do great things. I can only hope that our guys on IR heal quickly and that we can stay healthy going forward. We need to. We will now have to be better than we have been all season. That is not an easy task. However I think this team is up to that challenge. There are no laurels to rest on yet! The goals that we have set have not yet been reached.
It’s all been laid out there. Now everything is really up to the players. Good luck men! Thank you for a great ride so far. Now go do great things!!!
In closing I just want to thank all of the parents for making this season possible for the boys and I want to thank Jamie Huff and all of the friends who have helped me with Mountain Hockey. I appreciate it so very much!