Friday, October 11, 2013

Chapter 36: Down The Home Stretch

It's the eve of my 40th high school reunion. I'm sitting in my folks house on the lake where I grew up. I have no idea what to expect. I've never been to a reunion. My only experience with these things is from TV and movies or what I've heard from friends.  I'm not expecting much. We'll see how it goes.  
Panorama of Phipps Lake

If you've been following this saga you will know I've jumped around but have been overall following the timeline of my, then my kid's hockey career. 

I just came across this, something I must have written about four years ago. It fits my overall storyline so I thought I would include it here:

Well, as you may be able to tell from my previous posts, I'm extremely proud of my son.....but I think and hope that I've been careful not to hype his skill or potential....I've always been realistic about his prospects. 

That said, I can clearly see that he has a tremendous future ahead of him. 

He is destined to have a wonderful Adult/Beer League career. Yeah yeah yeah, there's always his senior year in prep school and most likely a year or so of Junior and then off to college where I'm sure he will find a school at a level where he will be competitive..

But, last night he became a man! He's been skating on a couple of upper level adult teams. He's playing on teams with my buddies who I used to skate with before age took it's ugly toll on me.

Last night in Escondido in a competitive game vs. the U.S. Marine team from Camp Pendleton, late in the 2nd period with a natural hat trick under his belt he got in a fight with a marine. ooh-rah!!

The Marines are always chippy and play with an edge....great for fighting the enemy, not so fun when they are trying to stop my kid.

At any rate, he didn't take it...the other player was after him and they finally got tangled up on the boards, the guy went after my son and he basically protected himself and face washed the guy, but his glove fell off and the ref booted him. 

So, it wasn't much of a fight, but on the scoresheet they all look the same. 

All roads lead to the Adult leagues...better to realize it now. I intend to continue to enjoy the journey between now and then but it was fun to see him hold his own last night.

End of that story. Back to where we were. 

Tilton was in the midst of an exciting run. I mentioned in the last chapter but I just read some of the coverage of the playoff push. 

New England prep school hockey changed that season. There used to be a D1 and a D2. Tilton had been D1. They eliminated the distinction at  the beginning of this year.  Now there was only one division. With 61 teams.  

The playoff format changed to accommodate this new structure.  The top eight teams qualified for the Elite Eight. This would determine the prep champs. The remaining teams were divided into large schools and small schools. The top eight from each group would battle for either the Large School or Small School title.  A controversy was brewing due to a .500 winning percentage rule that was coming in to play.

Here is how described the scenario:

Small School Tournament Controversy
Three teams currently contending for a spot in the ‘small school' prep tournament -- Pomfret, Tilton, and South Kent -- could, despite qualifying by NEPSIHA rules, be bounced from the tournament by a New England Prep School Athletic Council (NEPSAC) rule banning sub-.500 teams from post-season play.

As most USHR readers know, when Div. II folded up shop after last season and the ranks of Div. I hockey schools swelled to 61, a new playoff formula was adopted, and the playoffs were expanded from 16 to 24 teams.

In the new formula, strength of schedule, manifested in the form of the RPI, plays a huge role. While teams competing in the top tournament qualify under a combined RPI and JSPR ranking, teams in the other two tournaments - the so-called ‘large school' and ‘small school' tournaments - are chosen strictly from the RPI. This is something the NEPSIHA coaches voted on in the off-season.

Now, the NEPSAC executive board, headed up by Williston-Northampton AD Mark Conroy, is citing the NEPSAC rule that states that "to be considered for a NEPSAC invitational tournament, a team must have at least a .500 record in NEPSAC play."

The board refuses to waive the rule, but left the window for those schools open a bit by saying, in an email to league coaches, that "we think it is important for the selection committee to use the human factor to interpret the rankings in order to award the most deserving schools tournament berths. If the committee feels that there is an under .500 team or two that merits a berth, these cases would be appealed to me and our co-directors of championships - Jim McNally from Rivers and Kathy Noble from Lawrence. We will be available on Sunday if this is the case. We know that it is inevitable that deserving teams will be left out and not happy but this is the case each year in every tournament."

We here at USHR don't think much of this decision, and feel that last line is a cop-out. We do not think that it is ‘inevitable' that deserving teams will be left out. The new formula virtually guarantees that deserving teams are not left out. The reason those three school are ranked higher is simply that all three schools play a significantly more demanding schedule than any of the three teams that would supplant them if the sub-.500 NEPSAC rule is upheld. If the season ended today, Pomfret, Tilton, and South Kent should be in the tournament. It's as simple as that. To keep them out would be grossly unfair, and an embarrassment.

Can this whole issue be avoided by Pomfret, Tilton, and South Kent reaching .500? It's possible, but four games would all have to fall a certain way for that to happen.

Here's what would have to happen:

#5 Pomfret (11-11-4), which hosts Williston tomorrow, must win.

#6 Tilton (11-13-4) must beat Holderness today in the Lakes Region Tournament play-in game. If they can do that, they will travel to Kimball Union for a semi-final game tomorrow. They must win that one, too. That's a tall task.

#8 South Kent (12-13-1) hosts Winchendon tomorrow. They must win.

John Gardner, Avon Old Farms head coach and NEPSIHA president, said, "My opinion is that we should go with the criteria the coaches voted on and adopted."

The teams that could move up and take the spots of a sub-.500 team are St. George's, Berwick, and Groton. Could the coaches of those teams, if thrust into the playoffs, decline the invitation to the tournament? No. Coaches, due to Jack Foley's refusal to take his Thayer team to the short-lived "1-A" prep tournament a number of years back, are not allowed to decline a tournament invitation. To do so would subject them to a five-year ban.

It's up to Conroy and the board to do the right thing. 

Tilton, with approximately 165 boys was in the small school category. As the season wound down they were sitting in sixth place with a handful of  games left in the regular season. 

There was a fly in the ointment. They were below .500. by a few games and couldn't afford any losses They were down to a handful of tough games including facing a very tough KUA one more time. KUA was sitting on the bubble to qualify for the Elite Eight. Tilton was in a "must not lose" situation with five regular season games left.   And they had to win enough games to get to .500.

First up was Brewster Academy. Brewster beat Tilton 3-0 a month earlier in a game where Tilton hit three posts and scored a goal that was "not seen" by the ref. 

This time Tilton, playing for their playoff lives was ready.  Kenny Craig scored 2 goals and 2 assists. Max netted 2 goals and and assist. Final score, 8-0. 

Next up was Lawrence Academy.  Tilton can't afford a loss. They tied Lawrence, or better, were tied
Senior Night
by Lawrence.. Tilton was up 2-1 early in the third, but gave up the tying goal with just under 5 minutes remaining.   The next night Tilton faced Hebron, from Maine at home.  This game was senior night. Our friends the Hentz's stood in for us as Max's parents. Again Tilton came away with a tie.  This time 3-3.  Max scored the 1st Tilton goal and assisted on the tying goal half way through the third.

Now down to two regular season game, Tilton would take on neighbor Holderness in the Lakes Region Tournament.  If they lose, they would probably be done for the season, playoff wise.  If they win they get to face rival Kimball Union once again.  They won.

The final against Holderness was 3-2.  Max put Tilton up 2-1 early in the third period with a shorty.  Tilton scored again and then gave up a late goal but came away with the win.  KUA was up next.  They would play them tomorrow.  

The Holderness goalie is a kid named Colby Drost.  Colby contacted me a year earlier after seeing my youtube channel.  He was playing in the Metropolitan junior league and was looking for prep schools. He was hoping to go to Tilton, but could never get the full attention or appreciation of the coach. Colby ended up going to Niagara.  I'm not sure what happened there, but he transferred last year to my old college team mate, Brad Holt's D3 program at the University of New England.  UNE had struggled their first few years as an NCAA program but they had been improving a bit each year.  Colby thrust them forward by leaps and bounds.  He beat conference leader Castleton in a nail biter last year.  UNE has a brand new rink and nearly every kid Brad recruited ended up committing.  Look for good things out of that program this year.  San Diegan, Cassidy April is a sophomore defensman there as well.

The big match-up.  It was the semi-final of the Lakes Region Tournament, but officially the last game of the regular season for playoff purposes.  KUA was  heavily favored to win this one.  Tilton was now one game below .500 and need this one to make the playoffs.  The Rams wanted this one badly.  KUA scored first in the 1st period.  Max tied it up in second and assisted on the go ahead goal in the third before KUA tied it up late in the third period. The game went to OT where Kenny Craig scored the game winner for Tilton.  The following day Tilton defeated Brewster 6-1 to become Lakes Region Champs.

Jake Rivera Celebrates Lakes Region
Championship win over KUA
So Tilton was officially in the playoffs.  That ended the regular season and set up a quarterfinal game against Pomfret from Connecticut.  Once again, the game went to OT.  Max scored two goals, Pomfret tied it up in the third and Andrew Dustin got the game winner for Tilton in OT.  This was Tilton's first playoff win in 7 years.

And again, Tilton would face Kimball Union in the semi-final game.  This was the end of the road and a great run for Tilton. KUA won 2-1 in regulation time in a nail-biter.  One of Max's midget AAA team mates from the Monarchs played for KUA.  His name is Peter LaFosse.  He's from Merrimack, NH.  Peter is 6'2", 201 lbs.  Peter is entering his junior year at Utica College in the ECAC west division.

KUA went on to defeat Dexter 3-2 for the Small School Championship.

So that does it for our prep school phase.  Next up would be the junior hockey push.  

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