No. 1 Spotlight: USA Boys Tier 1
By Scott Lowe - MyHockeyRankings.com
This week our No. 1 Spotlight series moves back to the United States as we highlight the Tier 1 boys teams that ended the season ranked No. 1 in the nation, according to MyHockeyRankings.com, from PeeWees through 18U:
Gentry Galaxy 16U AAA 52-5-1
Some teams rebuild, while others just reload.
The Gentry Galaxy 16U AAA team, which earned the nation’s No. 1 15U boys Tier 1 ranking a year ago, rolled to a dominant 52-5-1 ranking and another No. 1 ranking this season despite losing two key players to the USA Hockey National Team Development Program and three others who chose not to return.
The Galaxy restocked with two new forwards, two new defensemen and a new goalie, playing out the season with just 14 skaters and a pair of netminders. That didn’t seem to matter much as the team opened the 2019-20 campaign by going unbeaten in its first 25 contests (24-0-1) before suffering a 4-3 loss to the Esmark Stars Nov. 16.
“To be honest, we surprised ourselves a bit with this year's success,” head coach Billy Hengen said. “We knew we'd be competitive and have an opportunity to win every game we were in. The returning players from 2018-19 continued to improve and were excited to try and fill the big holes left behind from the players who moved on. The boys continued to play our system and style of puck possession. Statistically, we continued to score goals at about seven per game, the same as 2018-19, and we found ways to win hockey games.”
During the unbeaten stretch, Gentry compiled a perfect 4-0 record at the USHL Showcase in Pittsburgh, beating the Nos, 8, 14 and 17 teams in the process. The Galaxy also captured the championship at the CCM World Invitational Tournament in Chicago, getting great goaltending from Cole Wheaton in a 6-1 semifinal victory over No. 7 Little Caesar’s and rallying from a 2-1 third-period deficit to defeat the No. 14 Chicago Mission in the finals on a late goal by Matt Bridger.
Perhaps a little thrown off by the warm Florida weather, the Galaxy dropped the first game of a three-game January series against the No. 9 Florida Alliance, 4-1, before bouncing back to win the final two contests by a combined 15-7 score. Gentry would lose two other times to Florida and closed the season with its only other loss of the year, 4-1, vs. the No. 29 Sioux Falls Power Feb. 23.
For the season, Gentry outscored its foes, 408-120, netting 10 or more goals 11 times while scoring fewer than four goals on just four occasions. The team held its opponents to one goal or fewer 24 times, including 11 shutouts.
One of the highlights of the season was a game against second-ranked Shattuck-St. Mary’s Jan. 11. Wheaton stopped 38 shots in that contest, getting offensive help from Connor Kurth in a 6-2 victory.
Another highlight was the team’s showing while playing minus a pair of defensemen during a tournament in Ft. Myers, Florida, the weekend of Jan. 19-20. Gentry came from behind to beat Team Maryland in the semifinals and Florida Alliance in the finals to capture the tournament title.
“The leaders of our team were able to find a sixth gear late in games and find a way to get the win,” said Hengen. “I credit our leaders with refusing to lose. We had a couple of our top players miss significant time with injuries. The guys who were healthy found out they had more to give and were able to battle through fatigue late in hockey games. Just as you hear often in pro sports, our guys had the next-man-up mentality.”
The Galaxy went on to sweep a three-game set against No. 17 Honeybaked to build some momentum heading into the North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL) playoffs. Gentry went undefeated in round-robin play there before facing Meijer in the semifinals and rallying from a 3-1 deficit to win 5-3 and set up another rematch with Florida Alliance, which they won, 6-3, to capture the Dixon Cup.
Kurth’s three goals and one assist and Lucius Cruz’s four helpers led the way for the Galaxy in the title game, while Wheaton made 29 saves to earn the victory in goal.
“It was our final tournament of the season,” Hengen said. “We had a great finale against Florida Alliance, who became our rival of the 2018-19 season. The next few weeks in school, our boys took turns having the Dixon Cup for a day and bringing it to the rink. They had a lot of fun with the Dixon Cup and making the most of their last tournament as a group.”
Kurth and Cruz both were first-team All-NAPHL selections at forward, while forwards Jack Harvey and Bennett Schimek and defenseman Andrew Mosley were second-team picks. Head coach Beilly Hengen was named Coach of the Year.
Schimek, Mosley, Wheaton, Bridger, Kurth, Cruz, Connor Brazil, Bailey Brazil, Jack Harvey, Graham Watson, Nick Sajevic and Zach Reim were named to the NAPHL Academic Honor Roll.
Honeybaked 15U AAA (59-3-2)
Imagine being on a team that lost one if its final 42 games, that at one point was unbeaten over a 39-game span and that went undefeated in every major event it played in while capturing five different tournament and league titles along the way.
And then imagine that despite all of that success and finishing as the top-ranked 15U boys Tier 1 hockey team in the United States according to MyHockey Rankings, your season still ended in bitter disappointment.
That’s the story of the Honeybaked 15U AAA team.
“It was an extremely disappointing moment for our team,” Honeybaked coach Jason Deskins said, referring to his team’s reaction upon hearing that the season was being halted because of COVID-19. “We felt that we were going to win a state and national championship. This was one of the best Midget teams ever assembled and had won everything we played in up to that point, so it was very hard knowing that we didn’t quite get the chance to finish it.”
It’s hard to argue about Honeybaked’s potential to capture state and national titles given the team’s success in tournament and regular-season play throughout the year. The group captured championships at International Silver Sticks and the Toronto Marlboros Holiday Classic while also claiming the High Performance Hockey League (HPHL) regular-season and playoff titles as well as the Michigan Amateur Hockey Association (MAHA) regular-season crown.
Up next for Honeybaked was the Michigan State championship.
The team had rebounded from its only loss over a 40-game span, a 3-2 shootout decision against ninth-ranked Little Caesar’s, to win its first two state-tournament games, 3-1 against No. 19 Fox Motors and 5-4 vs. the No. 6 Oakland Jr. Grizzlies, when the season was halted.
Honeybaked went 38-0-1 during its 39-game unbeaten streak, winning three of those games in overtime in addition to the lone tie against Canada’s sixth-ranked Vaughan Kings. Two of the OT victories were against second-ranked Compuware, while the other came vs. the Jr. Grizzlies.
The loss right before the four-month unbeaten streak was a 5-4 setback against Compuware, but that wasn’t the only thing that lit a fire under the team. Shortly before the streak began several team members were disappointed to learn that only one Honeybaked player had been selected to compete for Team USA at the 2020 Winter Youth Olympics in Switzerland.
“We had a team meeting, and as a coaching staff we knew that we had some disappointed kids,” Deskins said. “At that meeting we discussed how it was okay to be happy for our teammate yet still be upset and motivated personally. We made the commitment to each other that we were going to bond together even more and go out and prove people wrong. We set a goal not to lose again this season.”
Despite having more than 40 games remaining when the team made that declaration, Honeybaked nearly pulled it off. During their unbeaten streak they scored five or more goals 30 times and 10 or more goals on six occasions. They scored at least four goals in all of those contests except for two games against highly ranked Canadian teams. Honeybaked also recorded 12 shutouts during its unbeaten run and held its opponents to one goal of fewer 23 times.
Further illustrating the team’s dominance was its performance in the HPHL Playoffs, during which Honeybaked went 5-0 and outscored its opponents, which included the nation’s Nos. 2 and 6 teams, by a combined total of 40-11. For the season the team outscored its opponents by an astonishing 411-112 margin.
“This team has as much high-end talent as you will ever find at the midget level,” Deskins said. “But not only were the players talented, they also were great teammates.”
It takes more than talent to put together a season like Honeybake did, and this team possessed all the ingredients that make teams special. Despite the sparkling record and all the accolades, the season wasn’t without adversity.
Trailing the Jr. Grizzlies 4-1 early in the second period during the HPHL Playoffs, Deskins called a timeout to help his team regroup.
“During that timeout, we all looked at each other and said ‘we average nearly seven goals for per game; let's go out and score seven goals and win this thing,’" he recalled.
They didn’t quite reach their goal, but did rally for a 6-5 victory.
“This team just had that in them,” Deskins said. “It was amazing to see as their coach. I can sure tell you that if I were a betting man, I would never count them out, because right when you did their championship mindset came out and they would find a way.”
The only opponent Honeybaked 15U couldn’t beat was COVID-19, a foe that no one could overcome in 2020.
Forwards – Justin Varner, Max Namestnikov, Christian Kocsis, Frank Nazar, Owen Baker, Cam VanSickle, Cole Spicer, Ethan, Iida
Defense – Patrick Czarnecki, Dylan Gordon, Chase Pietila, Tommy Budnick, Gus Hinckley, Spencer Sova
Goalies – Andrew Oke, Ben Daguanno
Shattuck-St. Mary’s 18U Prep (35-8-3)
When you finish first in your league standings and earn No. 1 national rankings in the Tier 1 and Prep divisions, you would think there wouldn’t be much more to accomplish. For the Shattuck St. Mary’s 18U Prep team, though, anything less than a national championship was going to leave a bitter taste.
And while the Sabres finished with an impressive 35-8-3 overall record and an 11-1-1 mark in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League, earning a trip to USA Hockey Nationals in the process, there had to be a feeling of emptiness not being able to see the season through to its conclusion.
Adding to the disappointment, SSM concluded its season with seven straight victories and a 12-1-1 mark in its final 14 outings. Shattuck dropped just three of its final 20 contests, falling only to No. 3 Mount St. Charles in overtime and Canada’s top-ranked prep team, St. Andrews College, twice during that span.
For the season, the Sabres outscored their opponents, 255-133, and recorded victories against the Nos. 3 and 4 U.S. independent prep teams, Canada’s top-ranked and No. 3-ranked prep teams, the seventh-ranked New England prep team and the Nos. 10, 14, and 15 U.S. AAA teams.
Jackson Kunz and University of Connecticut-commit Artem Shlaine ranked fifth and sixth in Elite League scoring with 25 and 23 points, respectively, while Kunz finished second in goals with 15 and North Dakota-commit Scott Morrow was eighth in assists with 13. Kunz also led the league in points per game (1.8) and power-play goals (7). SSM’s Carsen Stokes placed second in goals-against average (2.00), save percentage (.935) and wins (6).
Overall, Slaine paced the Sabres offensively with 26 goals and 52 assists for 78 points, followed by Kunz with 40-29-69 and Morrow with 22-45-67. Maddox Fleming and Winter Wallace added 52 and 50 points, respectively. Stokes appeared in 27 games overall, posting a 2.41 GAA and a .910 save percentage.
Philadelphia Hockey Club Bantam ’05 AAA (48-12-4)
Philadelphia Hockey Club (48-12-4) and the Boston Jr. Eagles battled it out all year for the top Bantam ’05 national ranking, according to MyHockey Rankings. The teams met for the first time Sept. 6, skating to a 4-4 tie, and would play six more times after that, with five of those contests decided by a total of just seven goals.
The only decisive victory was PHC’s 5-0 shutout Jan. 25, which they followed up with a 4-3 overtime win Jan. 26 to make it four-straight victories over their second-ranked rivals and ultimately allowed them to secure the No. 1 ranking.
Philadelphia scored an even 300 goals for the season while allowing just 150. The team recorded nine shutouts and allowed one goal or fewer 25 times.
PHC opened the season with a 15-game unbeaten streak (12-0-3) that included victories over the four of the top-15 teams in the country, with the team’s first loss coming on Oct. 6 against No. 8 Honeybaked, a team it at already beaten twice, in overtime.
By the time the season was over, Philadelphia had recorded victories against eight of the nation’s top 10 teams and 12 of the top 15. Four of their losses came against the No. 3 Mid-Fairfield Jr. Rangers, who they also beat three times, and their other setbacks were vs. the Nos. 4, 8, 9, 11 and 14 U.S. teams as well as Ontario’s second-ranked team, which also was No. 6 in all of Canada.
Ten PHC players were ranked among the top 60 prospects at the Bantam Eastern Exposure Cup by NeutralZone.com:
Forwards – Griffin Erdman, Casey Johnson, Chase Pirtle, Chris Pelosi, Brendan Boring, Charlie Cerrato and William Sheridan
Defensemen – Rory Booth, Ethan Davino and Nick Fascia
Rounding out the rest of the roster:
Goalie – Rocco Bruno
Forwards – Ethan Skowronek, Michael Hoffner and Ryan Bunting
Defensemen – James Mackey, Robert Scimeca, Nick Jarmain and Josh Player
Boston Jr. Eagles Bantam ’06 AAA (59-11-7)
The Boston Jr. Eagles Bantam ’06 team ended the year on a nine-game winning streak and were unbeaten in 19 of their final 20 contests. Their only loss during that span was against the fourth-ranked Middlesex Islanders.
It’s clear that the Jr. Eagles were playing some of their best hockey when the season and their league playoffs were halted as a potential rematch with the Islanders loomed.
That strong finish left their final record at 59-11-7 and earned them the No. 1 Bantam ’06 ranking, according to MyHockey Rankings. They edged the second-ranked New Jersey Colonials (45-10-6), a team they posted a 2-2-1 record against, for that honor.
The top two teams met for the first time way back on Sept. 7 in the second game of the season, with the Colonials skating to a 5-4 victory. New Jersey won the first two games, with Boston sandwiching two wins around a tie later in the season. The five games between the two teams were decided by a total of five goals.
The Jr. Eagles loss to the Colonials in early September, believe it or not, left them with an 0-1-1 record. They want on to tie and lose their next two contests against Ontario’s second-ranked Toronto Jr. Canadiens and the No. 9 Syracuse Nationals to fall to 0-2-2 after four games.
They would proceed to go 16-1-1 in their next 18 outings, falling to No. 4 Middlesex and tying No. 26 Top Gun. The Jr. Eagles followed that up with a 10-game winning streak, running their record to 26-1-1 over a 28-game span. After starting the season 0-2-2 Boston was 59-9-5 the rest of the campaign. The outscored their opponents, 418-156, for the year.
The Jr. Eagles won the regular-season championship in the Eastern Hockey Federation, posting a 35-2-2 record in league play while outscoring their opponents, 256-60. They finished nine points ahead of the second-place Islanders in a league that featured five of the nation’s top-22 and six of the top-26 teams.
Boston and the Islanders both were 3-0 in the EHF playoffs when the tournament was halted because of COVID-19 restrictions. Second-seeded Middlesex was scheduled to take on the third-seeded Minuteman Flames in one March 14 semifinal, with the top-seeded Jr. Eagles slated to face Mid-Fairfield in the other semi. The championship game was scheduled to take place on March 15.
The Islanders and Jr. Eagles split six games during the season; it would have been an epic final had both teams advanced.
Middlesex Islanders PeeWee ’07 AAA (63-3-3)
No matter what age or level of play you are talking about, it’s hard to be more dominant that the Middlesex Islanders PeeWee Major team was during the 2019-20 season. To win 63 of 69 games with just three losses is an accomplishment members of the team may never come close to achieving again.
But there’s still something missing.
The Islanders also dominated their league, the Eastern Hockey Federation, by going 37-0-1 and outscoring their foes, 278-22. But their playoff run was halted in the semifinals by COVID-19 after they had posted three wins to get there.
While they didn’t get to finish the job in the EHF, the Islanders did more than enough to conclude the season ranked first in the nation, according to My Hockey Rankings.
Perhaps most impressive about the Islanders’ 37-0-1 league mark is that the EHF included three of the nation’s top-eight and four of the top-19 teams. The lone mini-blemish on the Islanders’ league record was a 1-1 deadlock with the No. 8 Boston Jr. Eagles way back on Oct. 13.
Perhaps even more amazing is the fact that the Islanders were 59-1-3 before dropping two straight games Feb. 18 and 20 against a team from Quebec and the No. 14 Anaheim Jr. Ducks. The only loss before that came against the second-ranked Chicago Mission, 3-1, in the third game of the season Aug. 31.
The Islanders actually tied Canada’s No. 1 team, the Toronto Jr. Canadiens, the day after the loss to the Mission to leave their record at 2-1-1 after four games. From Sept. 1 until the loss to the Czech Knights of Quebec Feb. 18 they would compile an incredible 57-0-2 record.
For the season, the Islanders outscored their opponents, 416-58, surrendering well under a goal per game. They recorded 32 shutouts on the season and allowed one goal or fewer on 54 occasions while permitting more than two goals just five times. The team surrendered more than two goals just once in its final 57 contests. They also shut out seven of nine opponents between Dec. 14 and Jan. 19.
Mid-Fairfield Jr. Rangers PeeWee ’08 AAA (52-7-4)
The Midfield Jr. Rangers PeeWee Minor team actually stumbled a little bit late in their season. After dropping just five of their first 52 contests, the Jr. Rangers would lose two straight and go 1-2-1 over a four-game span between Feb. 2 and 9.
But that just made them mad.
Mid-Fairfield would bounce back after that bump in the road to win its last seven contests as part of a season-ending 8-0-1 run that propelled the team to a 52-7-4 overall record and the nation’s top ranking, according to MyHockey Rankings.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 prevented the Jr. Rangers from finishing off their season with an Eastern Hockey Federation playoff championship after they had captured the regular-season title with a 30-2-2 record. Mid-Fairfield had gone 3-0 in postseason play to advance to the semifinals when play was halted.
The Jr. Rangers outscored their opponents, 206-61, in league play, with the two losses coming against the No. 6 Boston Jr. Eagles Feb. 8 and the 16th-ranked Middlesex Islanders Oct. 6. They tied the 10th-ranked Minuteman Flames Nov. 23 and the Jr. Eagles Sept. 15. Boston, Minuteman and No. 8 Top Gun were the other three semifinalists.
Mid-Fairfield posted its impressive league record against a group that included four of the nation’s top-10 teams and five of the top 16. Overall the Jr. Rangers outscored their opponents, 357-107, for the season.
They opened the campaign with a 13-game unbeaten streak (12-0-1) before a 1-0 loss to the Islanders Oct. 6 then proceeded to rip off 15 straight victories as part of a 21-game unbeaten streak (19-0-2) that left them with a 31-1-3 mark as of Nov. 30.
A 3-2 loss to No. 4 Honeybaked that day was followed by another 10-game winning streak before a pair of losses against Ontario’s second-ranked Toronto Jr. Canadiens and Honeybaked.
Mid-Fairfield recorded 17 shutouts on the year and allowed one goal or fewer 36 times. The Jr. Rangers recorded victories against four of the top 10 U.S. teams and eight of the nation’s top 20 while also knocking off four of Ontario’s top 20 teams.