NH Avalanche – March Madness Champs!

The NH Avalanche 2000 team wrapped up their 2014-15 season by competing in the March Madness Tournament in Marlborough, Mass. at the New England Sports Center. After winning the Spring Classic #1 Tournament at Tri-Town Ice Arena last weekend, the Avs were confident entering play at NES.

Game one of the tournament had the Avalanche playing the team from Gardiner, Maine. The Avs, who were missing several players due to school spring sports tryouts, attending the NCAA Hockey Regional, and more, dressed just 8 players for their first game. Gardiner dressed twice the number of skaters and made it very clear from the opening face off that they were going to try to pound the Avalanche into submission. While the folks from Maine were taking runs at players all game, they miraculously were whistled for just one penalty in the game and that came very late in the third period.

The Avs scored first despite playing without much energy right from the start. Jon Last scored the initial goal on a backhand shot. Mikey Perry and Tyler Whiting made consecutive passes to set up the goal. Gardiner answered with a quick goal on a wrist shot that banked into the net off of the goal post. Clay Sanders would give the Avs a brief lead at 2-1 when his shot caromed into the net off of a Gardiner defenseman. Gardiner would tie the game at two apiece while on the power-play. The Avs had the puck in their defensive end with a chance to clear the puck to the boards, but whiffed on the clearing attempt and allowed a break away chance in close for the tying goal. The game would end in a 2-2 tie, both teams picking up a point in the standings.

In game two, a 10:20pm start, the Avalanche played the Tough Pucks from Vermont. The Avs did get two of their rostered players back for the night-cap and that did help. After passing time for some 8 hours between games, it was finally time to play hockey.

After an ugly, scoreless opening period, where both teams had trouble connecting on passes and icing seemed to be an epidemic, things came together, slowly. First, Mikey Perry took a pass, I mean clearing attempt, from his opponent and rifled a shot past the goaltender for a shorthanded goal. 20 seconds later, the Tough Pucks tied the game on the power play. Then Sebastian Beal scored for the Avs on a beautiful play set up by Caiden Paradise. 90 seconds later, the Tough Pucks answered again, tying the score at 2-2.

Still in the second period, Max Lajeunesse set up Christian Levesque for a good-looking shot on goal, and Mikey Perry slammed the rebound home, giving the Avs a 3-2 lead. Then, after drawing consecutive penalties, the Avs struck again. With a 5-on-3 advantage, Christian Levesque scored to cap a beautiful passing play from Cody Sullivan and Sebastian Beal. The Avs scored their fifth goal of the period when Caiden Paradise misfired on a slap shot and sent the puck flipping end over end in an arching motion towards the net. In one motion, Cody Sullivan settled the puck and slid a perfect pass across the crease to Tyler Whiting who stuffed the puck into the open net.

In the third period, the Tough Pucks got their third goal of the game, all from their best player, cutting the lead to 5-3. The NH Avalanche held the score there and finished game two with a 5-3 victory that ended just before midnight. The win also gave the Avalanche the opportunity to control their own destiny in game three on Saturday night.

Saturday night brought game three, which started just after 9:45pm. The Avalanche played one of the two teams entered the tournament from the Maine Jr Black Bears hockey program in Bangor, Maine. The Jr Black Bears had struggled in their first two games in the tournament. Half way through the first period, the play favored the Avalanche but the score remained 0-0.

Then, after dominating possession in the offensive zone, Cody Sullivan scored on a play set up by Tyler Whiting and Sebastian Beal. After a few more minutes of back and forth play, the Avalanche blew things wide open. Over a five-minute span to finish the first period and the beginning of the second period, the Avs scored seven goals. First, it was Beal from Sullivan and Christian Levesque to go up 2-0. Just 31 seconds later, Whiting scored from Sullivan and Beal. Less than a minute later Mikey Perry scored on assists from Jon Last and Max Lajeunesse. The Avalanche led 4-0 after the first period.

During the first 2:52 of the second period the Avs would score four more times. Clay Sanders scored on a rising slap shot from the point after being set up by Whiting and Sullivan. Then Sullivan scored from point-blank on a perfect pass from Beal. Max Lajeunesse then scored his first of three consecutive goals on a nice pass from Jon Last. Mikey Perry made a great pass to Lajeunesse for the next goal, with the passing play being started by Caiden Paradise. The Avalanche led 8-0 with more than half of the game remaining to be played. From this point on, the Avs passed up open net opportunities and rarely shot the puck, deciding to pass the puck and work on the structure of the game.

In the third period Max Lajeunesse scored on a breakaway opportunity that was more or less an ‘excuse me’ break in when the puck bounced over a defenders stick as Max was fore-checking and left him all alone in the offensive zone. Later in the period Caiden Paradise flipped a puck in the air from the right-wing boards toward the crease, only to see the puck catch the inside of the goaltender’s right pad and slide into the net through five-hole. The Maine Jr Black Bears did score with 3:55 to play in the contest and fans from both sides of the contest cheered their goal, and their persistence to play the game despite the results.

With the Avalanche winning game three, 10-1, they locked up the #2 seed after round robin play. This meant the Avs would play Sunday morning in one of the semi-final games. It also meant they would again play the physical team from Gardiner, Maine.

Game four, was a 10:10am start against Gardiner Youth Hockey. The head coach from Gardiner continued to show his cordial disposition by refusing to acknowledge certain coaches and members of the Avalanche team, clearly assessing his own value at much higher than the market would likely bear. So, with no love lost between these groups, the game began.

The Avalanche played a good hockey game and would go on to beat Gardiner 2-1. The Avs pounded pucks deep, hitting the end boards shift after shift for all three periods, forcing the Gardiner team to constantly defend their end. The Avs, who have struggled to score goals all year, scored first. Cam Leborgne used his tremendous skating ability (before his knees got taken out on a low hit in the second period) to create some separation for himself before ripping a wrist shot, top shelf, from Caiden Paradise to give the Avs the early lead. The opening period would end with the Avs leading 1-0.

In the second period the Avalanche would double their lead to 2-0 when Cody Sullivan led a beautiful rush up ice before Tyler Whiting scored the goal. Finally, half way through the third period, Gardiner found a way to put the puck in the net after the Avs missed half a dozen chances to clear the puck. The Avalanche would hold on, advancing to the Championship Game, with the 2-1 victory. Before moving on to game five, and finishing this commentary regarding Gardiner, because Mom always told me to say nothing if I had nothing nice to say, I say this. In two games versus Gardiner it was clear that they don’t handle the puck very well, so they take runs at hitting everything in sight. I do love the physicality of hockey and hitting is certainly welcome. Somehow though, in 72 minutes of hockey, the team from Gardiner was whistled for just 3 minor penalties, despite sending two different players to the room to be checked out for concussions and taking the knees out from under two other players. The Avalanche were whistled for 11 penalties in the two games.

In between games, as Gardiner checked the monitors to see if they were still playing (they were not), I talked with several adults around the facility. Among my conversations with folks who had witnessed several different teams playing hockey at the rinks around the massive building, it was decided that were the kids allowed to play hockey without any adults around, they’d probably play good, hard hockey and sort things out just fine. They would likely shake hands at the end of the day and just love the fact that they got to play the game all day, as it should be. And for those parents who argue this way or that way, trying to prove some asinine or childish point, remember where the kids learned to be who, and how they are.

Game five also happened to be the Championship Game of the tournament. This also meant there was another opponent for the Avalanche to play, North East Lock Monsters. The Avalanche who had played most of their hockey with just 7 or 8 skaters were gassed, but they were also playing for their second title in as many weekends.

The game was scheduled to start at 1:50pm but it started well after 2pm as the previous game on the ice sheet, also a final, had been one-sided but awards were presented on the ice afterwards. Once the puck dropped it was clear that this game would be a battle.

The NH Avalanche 2000 team scored first when Jon Last scored on a nice play from Mikey Perry and Max Lajeunesse. The Avs would add a power play goal before the end of the period, when Cody Sullivan scored with assists going to Caiden Paradise and Lajeunesse. The first period buzzer sounded, kind of (it’s a nice score board, but a weak buzzer), with the Avs leading 2-0.

Somewhere in the early part of the second period, two things happened at the same time. First, the Lock Monsters turned up their level of play. Second, the Avs looked tired as they stopped skating as hard and struggled to complete passes or break out of their own defensive end. After a four-minute barrage from the Lock Monsters, that hemmed in the Avs for consecutive shifts, they finally beat Gavin Cram in net and cut the lead to 2-1. Late in the second period, Sebastian Beal would take a vicious hit to his head from a player larger than any of the coaches on either bench after gloving down the puck to make a play. Before Beal was left motionless on the ice for a moment, he played the puck to his line mate, Cody Sullivan. Sullivan moved the puck to Tyler Whiting while the referee held his arm in the air. Tyler skated around the back of the net before sliding the puck into the open side to give the Avs a 3-1 lead. The second period would end with the Avs leading 3-1.

In the third period, the Avs held off the Lock Monsters and even increased their lead when Tyler Whiting made a spectacular pass to Max Lajeunesse (double-shifting in Beal’s slot after the hit in the 2nd period) who sent a laser of a shot into the top of the net as an exclamation point on the victory. Beal would return to the ice for two short shifts on defense in the last two minutes of the game, but the outcome had been decided, and the Avs were announced as Champions after their 4-1 victory.

The Tournament Recap

In the tournament’s five games, the Avs compiled a 4-0-1 record while scoring 23 goals and allowing just 8 goals overall. In these recaps of each game I did not really mention the Avs goaltender, Gavin Cram, but he is not to be forgotten. Cram made huge saves throughout the tournament for the Avs, and was very much instrumental in their run through the tournament. The Avs made plenty of mistakes in the tournament, including numerous mishaps in their own end. Most of the time though, seriously, Cram bailed them out by making saves, many of which with nary a rebound. I didn’t count the total number of saves that Gavin made in the tournament, but lets just say that he made many more than enough.

As is usually the case when a team plays together, they succeed, together. Of all the teams in the tournament I would dare say that the Avalanche got more of a contribution from more of their roster than any other team in the field. The Avs skated a total of ten players over the course of the tournament, and all ten players scored goals. Seven of the ten players actually scored four points or more in the five games, which is amazing. It usually takes a full roster to be engaged and participating in order to succeed through the wear and tear of tournament play, and the Avs showed they had what it took to get the job done, despite having the shortest bench in every game they played.

The coaching staff is not forgotten here either. Coach Harvey and Coach Sully continued to try to positively affect our kids, the players. They seemed to be having a good time, and I can say that any conversations I had with them were generally light-hearted, good-natured, and full of laughs. I think that I speak on behalf of our entire team when I say thank you to both of them for not only this tournament but for the entire season as they prioritized our kids’ development even over their own calendars and commitments. Thank you.

2014-15 Final thoughts

First, it’s all about the kids. It should be about the kids because were they not out there working hard and playing we’d have none of the excuses we have to spend time together and enjoy the kids playing a kids game. I love youth sports primarily because it features our youth, and it allows us a peek at our future. To me, youth sports often times comes the closest that competition gets to pure innocence and the pure joy that accompanies accomplishment that the participants never dreamed was possible. Thank you to the kids for working so hard to be better athletes, better teammates, and better versions of yourselves. I am thankful for the opportunity to share with all of you my observations and recording of measurements found in all sports. I appreciate your inclusion within the dynamic of team sports and also for the feedback throughout the season.

Certainly this season had its share of ups and downs. We all experienced those things and we all felt frustration at different levels and for different reasons. Some players left, some came back, some got hurt, and some just kept showing up. But I remind you again, despite our feelings to one side or another, without the kids, we could just sit home and make up stories about nothing. Through all of the losses and the one-sided lessons in how to persevere, there was progress. Players did get better. The team did improve. The team did bond. The coaches left an impact. New friends were made. People were brought together from miles apart because of the game, because of the kids. In the end, most of the original roster came together in one form or another to win back-to-back tournament championships. I know the level of competition fluctuated wildly these past two weekends, but the kids played well. They played a team game and for all of the huge deficits they faced back in September, they finished these two tournaments with 8 wins, 0 losses, 1 tie, and lots of hardware. I can honestly say that I am happy to have witnessed this groups’ improvement over the last 6 months. Progress was made.

I have to say thank you to all of the parents who made sacrifices week after week to get kids to rinks all over the place, even if the game was cancelled or an opponent didn’t show up. I know we all made trips that we didn’t want to make, maybe even at hours we didn’t even wish to be awake. But it’s about the kids, and all of our kids benefit from the sacrifices we make to get the kids to the rink. Thank you all. I look forward to seeing you in the future, most likely at a rink to be named later. Great job NH Avalanche!

 

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