January 20, 2011

From NEHJ: Jr. Monarchs maintain torrid pace

By Bill Keefe

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the January 2011 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

The numbers are ridiculous.

In their first 28 games, the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs won 25, lost 1 and tied 2. Out of a possible 56 points, they earned 52, a .929 winning percentage. They outscored their opposition by 94 goals in 28 games.

It’s a good thing, too, since the Boston Jr. Bruins were 20-5-1, which one would think would lead most divisions in most leagues, but they were settled into second in the EJHL’s Northern Division behind the Monarchs.

Meanwhile, the Monarchs’ reaction to this torrid pace is a ridiculously good rendering of what Bill Belichick would sound like if he patrolled the rinks.

“The scary thing is we could be playing a million times better,” said captain Pat Doherty (Hanover, N.H.), a third-year forward bound for St. Lawrence next season. “We haven’t come close to our potential.

We’re playing good defense, but not putting the puck in as much as I would like.”

The Monarchs boasted nine players with 22 or more points two games shy of their Christmas break. Two more players were sitting at 19. Doherty was fifth on the team with 7-21-28.

“The biggest reason (for our record), and there are a few reasons, is the depth we have in net and on the blue line,” said Monarchs GM and head coach Sean Tremblay (Newburyport, Mass.). “We’ve had some serious goalies here in the last decade, and Brian Billett (Kennebunk, Maine) is breaking every record.

“The blue line is easily the deepest blue line I’ve ever had. We always have three to four high-end Division 1-type players, but we have four or five of them and then add in depth guys who are just a step behind and we win tight, low-scoring games.”      

During this hot stretch, no team in the Eastern Junior Hockey League has played more away games. After playing their last two before the Christmas break on the road, the Monarchs finish with 13 of their last 15 in Hooksett.

“We could do a lot better,” said second-year Monarchs forward Cody Sharib (Needham, Mass.), who was third on the team with 30 points. “There is always room for improvement in every aspect of the game I’d say. Nobody’s perfect.”

Part of this humility could come from the fact that there is another EJHL team even closer to perfection. The Jersey Hitmen were undefeated with two games to go before Christmas break with a 25-0-1 mark. The Hitmen had earned 51 of a possible 52 points for a .981 win percentage.

Jersey, which tied the Jr. Bruins Oct. 3, handed the Monarchs their only loss, 4-1, Sept. 25 in the fourth game of the season. (Both of the Monarchs’ ties came against the South Shore Kings, second in the South behind the Hitmen.)

The Monarchs and Hitmen have developed a pretty good rivalry over the past few years considering the Hitmen didn’t start play until 2004-05 while the Monarchs are charter members of the EJHL. In both 2008 and 2009, the Hitmen beat the Monarchs in the EJHL final, only to have the Monarchs come back and beat them in the Tier 3 Junior A National Championship.

The Hitmen travel to Tri Town Ice Arena on Jan. 29 and Jan. 30 for the final regular-season meetings between the two clubs.

“I can’t wait,” Doherty said. “I hope they don’t lose and we don’t lose until then. It will be a great little series.”

Doherty credits Tremblay for being at the heart of the Monarchs’ success. By recruiting both talented players and players that want to win and then getting the most out of them, Tremblay has maintained the Monarchs’ success, Doherty said.

Eleven Monarchs are committed to Division 1 schools and a handful more are garnering interest. In addition to Doherty, those committed are left winger, leading scorer  and assistant captain Trent Ruffolo (Yale), center Cam Brown (Natick, Mass./Maine), left winger and assistant captain Aaron Kesselman (Princeton),  center Ryan Tyson (UConn), right winger Connor Toomey (Billerica, Mass./Merrimack), defensemen Trevor van Riemsdyk (UNH), Jacob Rutt (Scarborough, Maine/Maine) and Billy Fitzgerald (Milton, Mass./Dartmouth) and goaltender Billett (BC).

In turn, Tremblay gives credit to experienced players such as Doherty.

“You need guys like Pat Doherty to be a presence in the locker room, both verbally and what he does on a day-to-day basis,” Tremblay said. “I rely on the veterans to pass on the culture to the younger guys.”

While the Monarchs are on a tear, it’s not as if they haven’t won before. The Monarchs didn’t lose a Tier 3 Junior A playoff game in the three years they won consecutive national championships, 2007-2009. The Monarchs are the defending Dineen Cup champions as winners of the EJHL playoffs and have won five in all. They have appeared in the last seven championship games and won five consecutive regular-season titles.

“I expect every year to win,” Doherty said. “The reality of it is you’re going to lose games. The goal is always not to lose. Every year, we have the potential to do that, this year especially.

“We’re getting it done. It hasn’t always been pretty, but that’s what makes this team special is finding a way to win.”

Said Sharib, “We have expectations for our self. Right now, we’re winning with our effort. We come in, the coaching is great, we’re always in on the forecheck and teams can’t handle our speed. We just don’t want to lose.”

Around juniors

The World Junior Championship began after New England Hockey Journal’s press deadline, but five players with local ties were named to the final U.S. roster, including three from Boston College.

Eagles forward Chris Kreider (Boxford, Mass.) and defensemen Brian Dumoulin (Biddeford, Maine) and Patrick Wey (Pittsburgh, Pa.) were named to the 22-man team competing in the tournament that was set for Buffalo, N.Y.

Boston University forward Charlie Coyle (East Weymouth, Mass.) and Quebec Remparts forwardRyan Bourque (Boxford, Mass.) also were named to the final roster.

Bourque and Kreider are returning members from last year’s gold medal-winning team.

Four other players were local ties had been on the pre-tournament roster, including Boston University forward Matt Nieto and defenseman Adam Clendening; BC defenseman Philip Samuelsson; and Northeastern defenseman Jamie Oleksiak, who was the first Huskies player to be named to the pre-tournament roster. …

Former Harvard forward Louis Leblanc, who now plays in the QMJHL, was named to Canada’s team. …

Former Hartford Whaler Frantisek Kucera is an assistant coach for Slovakia while another former NHL player, Uwe Krupp, is an assistant for Germany. ….

The EJHL Green Mountain Glades named their Empire League coach David Pavlik to replace Chris Line, moved GM Dennis Himes to team governor and said Travis Bezio, chief operating officer of the Glades’ parent company, Select Sports Management, will serve as interim GM. The Glades were fifth in the Northern Division at 7-14-3 at the time of the moves. …

New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs GM and coach Sean Tremblay and Jersey Hitmen head coach Toby Harris were slated to lead a team of EJHL All-Stars against the Red Stars from the Russian Junior Hockey League at 3 p.m. Jan. 2 at Tri Town Arena in Hooksett, N.H. The RJHL is associated with the professional Kontinental Hockey League. The Red Stars will be coached by former NHL player Alexander Semak. …

The U.S. Under-18 team plays the University of Southern Maine on Jan. 1 in Gorham and then the University of Maine on Jan. 2 in Portland at the Cumberland County Civic Center. The Under-18s return to New England for a date at Quinnipiac on Jan. 22 followed by a game the next night at Providence College. …

The Lewiston Maineiacs were hovering around the Canadian Hockey League’s top-10 rankings, checking in once at No. 10 in early December followed by a week as honorable mention. …

Lewiston named John Racine (Lewiston, Maine) goaltending coach. A graduate of St. Dom’s High School, he has worked with goalies at his alma mater, the IJHL Maine Moose and the UNH club team. Racine will also work with the U.S. Women’s Olympic team. …

The Maineiacs lost defenseman Zachary Evans-Renaud to season-ending knee surgery.

Bill Keefe can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com