October 17, 2012

Juniors Journal: Bates, Cyclones hope to take the next step

By Shawn Hutcheon

After a highly successful regular season, the 2011-2012 campaign ended on a sour note for the Northern Cyclones. Hockey observers expected the club to make a strong challenge for, and possibly win, the President’s Cup, emblematic of the Atlantic Junior Hockey League championship, however the year came to an abrupt end in the semifinal round of the playoffs. 

Connor Bates (Laconia, N.H.), the Cyclones' leading scorer, ranks among the AJHL's top ten point-getters. (Ken Hatley Photography)

The players who returned this season, along with the rookies, have dedicated themselves to not only getting past the semifinals but hoisting the President’s Cup in the spring. Currently, the Cyclones occupy third place in the AJHL. They are one point out of second and only five back of the first place New York Bobcats.   

“Our leaders have stepped up and are showing the new players what it takes to be a contender in this league.” said Bill Flanagan, last season’s AJHL Coach of the Year. 

“We’re an attack team, that’s my philosophy, but we’ll need to be stingy on defense and receive good goaltending, which we have.’ 

The clubs goaltenders are displaying abilities that scouts look for in puck-stoppers. Josef Nilsson is sporting a 4-0-0 record along with a 1.16 goals-against average and .939 save percentage. Fellow netminder J.J. Solloway (Derry, N.H.) has a record of 2-1-0, accompanied by a goals-against average of 2.23 and a save percentage of .938. 

Offensively, Connor Bates (Laconia, N.H.) is at the head of the Cyclones pack with four goals and nine assists for a total of 13 points in eight games (good for tenth place in league scoring).

“Connor is in his second year with us,” Flanagan said. “He has some skill and is a grinder. He’ll be a key player for us as the season continues. He’s getting a lot of interest from the colleges.”

The Northern Cyclones are a perennial contender in the Atlantic Junior Hockey League. The organization has set its sights on nothing less than a championship and with the guidance of coach Flanagan, leadership of goaltenders Nilsson and Solloway along with that of Bates, this team may be parading the Presidents Cup around Cyclones Arena when this season comes to an end.

Game of the Week

All eyes will be focused on the Foxboro Sports Center on Sunday where the game of the week will feature the Neponset Valley River Rats. The U16 and U18 teams will face off against the Greater Boston League Bruins on the River Rats’ Cancer Awareness Day.  

The games involve three nationally ranked teams, however, the theme of the day will be to score against cancer.

Event organizer and River Rats U18 coach, Jon Hutcheon (Billerica, Mass.), who as a boy lost his grandmother and grandfather to cancer only 18 months apart, has worked tirelessly to see Sunday’s event come to fruition.

“We’ve seen the toll this disease can take on a family and personally, I want to help find a cure,” Hutcheon said.

The idea for this year’s event grew out of a similar one that the organization conducted last fall.

“Last year, we did a Pink in the Rink night and this year we wanted to expand on it. We came up with the idea of having a two game event,” said Hutcheon. “The GBL Bruins and the River Rats are rivals, so we thought it would be good to have them come in for this. We don’t charge admission to the games but will ask for a donation from those who attend.”

Fans will have the opportunity to try to win items donated by some of their favorite hockey players.

“We’ve received items from Boston Bruins star players Milan Lucic and Shawn Thornton that will be up for auction. The hockey equipment store, TSR, has also made donations,” Hutcheon said.

Every dime collected from the donations and raffles will be sent to one of, if not, the best cancer research hospitals on the planet.

 “All of the proceeds that get raised will be donated to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston,” Hutcheon said. “Our goal is to raise $2,000. We hope to raise more than that, actually.”

The event also gives the players, who can get consumed with everyday life, a way to understand how fortunate they are to be able to play hockey.

“Sometimes, we view wins and losses as life and death when, actually, all of us should never forget that playing a sport is a privilege,” Hutcheon said.

The Neponset Valley River Rats and GBL Bruins U16 teams will hit the ice at 11:40 a.m. followed immediately by the U18 River Rats and GBL Bruins contest at 1:00 p.m. The GBL Bruins are ranked 29th in the nation, the River Rats are ranked third in the United States. 

New England Junior Power Rankings

To read Shawn Hutcheon’s analysis of each team in the top 15, head over to our junior power rankings page.

1. Valley Jr. Warriors (8-2-0-0)  
2. South Shore Kings (6-3-0-2) 
3. Islanders Hockey Club (5-0-0-0) 
4. Boston Junior Bruins (7-4-0-0) 
5. Boston Bandits (6-5-0-0)    

6. Northern Cyclones (7-0-0-1) 
7. Boston Jr. Rangers (7-1-2-0) 
8. Walpole Express (7-1-1-0) 
9. Connecticut Wolfpack (7-1-0-1) 
10. Bay State Breakers (5-5-0-0) 

11. Springfield Jr. Pics (5-4-0-0) 
12. New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs (4-4-0-0) 
13. Connecticut Oilers (3-5-0-2) 
14. Portland Jr. Pirates (1-9-0-1) 
15. Laconia Leafs (1-8-1-0)   

Shawn Hutcheon can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ShawnHutcheon.