In this week's 'Making of a Royal' blog, head coach Pat LaFontaine wraps up a successful season by discussing the Long Island Royals' Under-16 Tier I National championship. The Royals earned round-robin victories over Cleveland (4-2) and Dallas (3-0) before suffering a 2-1 loss to Los Angeles. In the national tournament playoffs, the second-seeded Royals defeated Rhode Island (5-2) in the quarterfinal round, top-seeded Chicago Mission (5-4 in OT) in the semifinals and then Dallas (5-1) in the final to win the national crown and finish with a record of 61-7-3.
On Dallas and a national championship:
We knew we couldn't take them for granted after such an emotional win the day before. The boys knew what was at stake and everything we did [against Mission], we needed to do it again. We were down, 1-0, and Nick Hutchison scored a big goal to tie it up late in the first period. In the second, we got another goal and it was 2-1 heading into the third and had a power-play. We drew up a play and Brett D'Iorio was able to score off one-time from the point with a screen. I just saw the net pop and remember turning to [assistant coach Steve Webb] and saying, 'Here we go.'
In this week's 'Making of a Royal' blog, head coach Pat LaFontaine talks about the upcoming N.Y. State Tournament in Buffalo. On March 16, the Long Island Royals face the Hamburg (N.Y.) Hawks and the following day, the Syracuse Nationals.
As a 15-year-old team last year, we went to the final game and lost to the Buffalo Regals. We had beaten them in the first game but then ended up getting three or four kids injured, and ended up beaten up at that time. It was kind of a learning experience for the kids at 15, and we almost won it.
As coaches, we want to see the growth and the kids climb individually and collectively as a team and you do that through experience and adversity and through practice in trying to work hard, get better and improve all the time. Looking back, everything started in May and June in off-ice workouts and we got off to a good start and that carried over. We finished 49-5-3 and had a few bumps in the road, but through it all, we had a lot of learning experiences.
In this week's 'Making of a Royal' blog, coach Pat LaFontaine talks about the improved play of stay-at-home defenseman Aidan Salerno (6-foot-2, 185 pounds) of Long Beach, N.Y. Salerno, the biggest defenseman on the team, has been coached by LaFontaine the last four seasons.
The first time I saw Aidan, he had this long hair from Long Beach and I was wondering whether he was going to be a surfer or a hockey player. He wasn't ready mentally or physically, so I challenged him; I wanted to see how hard he would push himself and how badly he really wanted it. He was just out of house-league hockey and learning the game and I saw a young kid who was progressing and learning.
I can tell you, he's one of the hardest-working kids I've ever met. He never gave up and just kept working at it, on and off the ice. His parents are extremely committed and have made huge sacrifices for him to get to where he is and I know he appreciates that.
In this week's 'Making of a Royal' blog, head coach Pat LaFontaine talks about the production of center Joey Fallon (5-foot-8, 162 pounds) of West Islip, N.Y. Fallon, who is playing a huge role for the Long Island Royals this season, is currently third on the team in scoring with 43 points. LaFontaine has coached Fallon five out of his eight seasons with the team.
Joey is a game-breaker type of player; he has tremendous work ethic and is a quiet leader. He's just a real great kid. He'll make a strong rush or tremendous back check or big hit and he'll do something that usually has an impact on our game … he comes to play every night and is a real character kid. I've watched him grow and he faces adversity head on, he's been a real leader.
Even though he might not be one of the tallest kids, they all look up to him. It's not like he's this lanky player coming at you … it's like a solid force. He's always making big plays and all the guys are counting on Joey to be there every game. He's one of those players who makes an impact on every single shift. I think a lot of his mental and physical toughness come from the fact he's a black belt in jiu jitsu.
Having him on the team has been a lot of fun.
He's one of the three centers that rotate every game, so he's out there on the penalty kill and power play … in all situations. He's a real well-rounded hockey player.
I think it's important for the players to learn to play on other lines, and all get to know each other.
There are combinations now where I see some good chemistry, so I kind of have the kids plays on different lines and in different situations -- it's allowed the coaching staff and myself to see who might click together more often than not.
I think it's also important for those players to get to know each other on the ice and know their tendencies. I do think it's important to keep together in a short tournament, but also not be afraid. There are times in a game where you might get an injury or penalty, and then you won't know if the guys are going to have that experience playing together, so it does help.
The boys have had some strong weekends and this is the time in the year to start elevating your play. I've been really pleased with the way the team has been playing and executing.
In this week's 'Making of a Royal' blog, head coach Pat LaFontaine discusses the meteoric rise of center Dylan Holze (5-foot-9, 150 pounds) of Lynbrook, N.Y. Holze, who is playing a huge role for the Long Island Royals this season, is currently fourth on the team in scoring with 39 points. LaFontaine has coached Holze five out of his eight seasons with the team.
Dylan Holze is kind of an unsung hero. He does everything really well, but I think his strongest attribute is his really strong hockey sense. He's a hard worker and his game has elevated over the course of a season.
In this week's 'Making of a Royal' blog, head coach Pat LaFontaine discusses how his 'Rink of Dreams' came about in the backyard of his cottage in New York. The 120' x 65' rink, called 'The Barn', has turned into a real winter wonderland and special place where family and friends have an opportunity to share the outdoor rink experience.
When I retired after my time with the Rangers, [actor] Tim Robbins invited me and the family to his place to skate and play -- I was only 33- or 34-years-old at the time. Daniel [LaFontaine] was young, I'm guessing 4-years-old, and we'd go over in the winter and a few times in the summer and play ice hockey and roller hockey. Every time we'd come back, I would turn to my wife and tell her how much skating at Tim's place reminded me of Williams Lake [in Michigan] when I was a kid. So if we ever got the chance to create this outdoor environment, I would love to do it.
We were able to acquire this piece of property and started developing a cottage and a place where a sport court and hockey rink could go. In the process, we were able to make this environment ... this rink of dreams with locker rooms and a scoreboard. It's a rink for almost four months each winter, there's a mini-Zamboni and kids practice. When I was 13-years-old, I actually worked at a rink for three years. I used to sweep locker rooms and sharpen skates every day at a rink after school. Never did I envision upon retirement that I'd be doing the same thing.
Jimmy Johnson, a good friend of mine and executive director of the Companions In Courage Foundation, named it 'The Barn.' He called it that because he said that's what every hockey player called a rink they were playing at. As hockey players would say, "We're going to be playing in their barn." We've had amazing memories and experiences day after day and night after night playing hockey in the winter time. It's been a very special place. I spoke to all the kids I've coached over the years and you could ask any of them their favorite memory of playing youth hockey growing up, and they'll say playing at 'The Barn'. We do a 3-on-3 once a week with the kids and Sunday mornings are special at the house.
It all stems from my younger years playing outdoors at Williams Lake in Michigan when my dad, brother and sister skated and my mom would bring out hot chocolate. We would be out there every day after school and we would come out and turn the lights on. On weekend nights, we'd have a hockey game or two and on Saturday, we'd play for hours before mom would have to turn the lights off at midnight. But we'd sneak in and turn them back on. We lived out on the lake playing outdoor hockey, so to create that environment for my kids, friends and family, has been great. This is the ninth year we've had the rink.
The great thing about it is, it doubles as a sport court, basketball court, tennis court, and roller hockey rink, so we get year round use out of it. There's nothing better than being outdoors and playing hockey and watching your family and friends. For the last eight years, the Long Island Royals Under-16 team practiced there once a week beginning in December through March. We'd play 3-on-3 games. I think these kids are involved in so many controlled practices where they're told what to do, but they're able to have some fun. We basically have three teams of six or seven kids and it's back and forth; all out. We keep standings and the winner will take the Royals Cup Trophy. It's a great format for these kids, since they're skating in tight quarters and need to turn and pass quickly. We tell them to work hard on their skating and passing. It usually last two hours and the kids are wiped out afterwards. That's when everyone grabs a slice of pizza and all the Royals leave with big smiles on their faces.
In this week's 'Making of a Royal' blog, head coach Pat LaFontaine discusses his team's opening game of the Shattuck-St. Mary's Showcase in Faribault, MN. The team rallied from a 3-0 deficit to earn a 5-5 tie against the host school, Under-16 Shattuck-St. Mary's. Brent D'Iorio and Michael Marnell each had two goals apiece and Nicholas Hutchison had a goal and one assist to spark the comeback.
It was great for the kids to experience Shattuck St. Mary's and talk about the hockey tradition it's turned out. If you look at the names of the players who have come out of there, like [Sidney] Crosby, [Jonathan] Toews and [Zach] Parise … it's basically a hockey factory.
Everybody knew where we were at and how special a place it really was. There have been a lot of tremendous hockey players coming out of Shattuck, but it didn't matter whether you flew four hours or sat in a hotel room because come game time, it's all jam. The kids had to put on their game face and be ready to play. We needed to just show up by setting the tempo, moving our feet and getting some shots off.
After the first period, I had to remind the players to stop acting like they were feeling sorry for themselves. They had to play with a purpose and not just go through the motions out there. The players needed to find some energy, some fire in their veins. Probably the hardest thing about coaching, and any coach will tell you this, is motivating and preparing kids to be ready to play at a high level.
In this week's 'Making of a Royal' blog, head coach Pat LaFontaine talks about his three-goalie rotation and how pleased he is with each of the keepers this season. After losing his projected starting goalie prior to the season, LaFontaine has seen great improvement in Matt Atwell, Peter Fosso and Canadian newcomer Zach Waiman. Currently, Fosso and Waiman are listed on the active roster and Atwell on the practice team.
On the USA Hockey youth level, you can only roster two goalies at a time, so what we've done is deem one of the goalies a practice goalie at any given time. We've been able to give opportunities to all three goalies to show what they can do and we've been pleased with the results.
Zach came onto the team about two-and-a-half months into the season so he was kind of a late addition. We originally had a goalie committed to [the Under-16 Long Island Royals National Team] out of Connecticut, but he had to back out at the last minute. He was our No. 1 goalie, and [Atwell and Fosso] were going to fight it out for the backup spot. We ended up starting the season with two goalies and I'm really pleased with the way they've progressed. [Assistant coach] Steve Webb received a tip that there was a boy looking for an opportunity [from Peterborough, Ont.] who was a really strong goalie. We talked about giving him an opportunity, and that's how that all came about. I think if we're going to prepare these kids to play at the next level in the "Making of a Royal," they need to know there's healthy competition within at team in vying for spots.
Zach apparently was injured after making the Junior A team [in Peterborough] and was out for a period of time. Word was he was a really strong goalie, so we felt he would be a real asset to the team. He got a late start with the team but the way we're looking at it right now, we have three strong goaltenders. Only thing is, we're still looking for that one to step up and vie for that position. At different times throughout the season, they've all played very well.
In this week's 'Making of a Royal' blog, head coach Pat LaFontaine discusses concussion safety and testing. LaFontaine's Hall of Fame career was ended by a concussion, so he is very passionate about the subject matter. He retired in October, 1999. LaFontaine believes the NHL has taken positive steps in dealing with head injuries and concussions.
Concussion safety has come a long way from when I played. Personally, I've been a proponent for it since I retired. I've been through it twice and know the ramifications and severity in dealing with post-concussion syndrome.
People resist change and that makes me laugh. When we went to 4-on-4 in overtime, traditionalists said you can't change the game. But I've been saying for the longest time that we're so much better than what we're doing as a whole. One of the great things the League did in 2004 was allowing the speed to enter the game. With that, came greater collisions and we started to find out at an early stage that the speed on impacts was so great there were things we were missing. All of these factors played into rising concussions. It's inevitable that if speeds are greater and guys are bigger, faster and stronger, hitting the head will cause more concussions. So with all those changes, came a bag of negative things; but we didn't want to deal with it.
Here's the thing, 95 percent of the body is available to hit. We know that if you hit the head hard enough, you're likely going to have concussion issues that, potentially, could have long-term effects. We knew that, but were still caught up with thinking we're going to lose hitting.
I'm a traditional guy, but you only grow through change. I think there's been a real shift in the NHL and it's making the game better. I'm enjoying watching games because guys are thinking twice about throwing an elbow. There's no honor in nailing a guy from behind, no honor in hitting a guy in the head. It's called a cheap shot because there's no honor in it and it shouldn't be in our game.
In this week's 'Making of a Royal' blog, Long Island Royals Under-16 National coach Pat LaFontaine recalls the team's play in the Bauer International Invite in Chicago, Ill., two weeks ago. The Bauer International is one of the largest amateur hockey tournaments in the world. After earning victories against the Toronto Eagles, Ice Jets Academy (Texas), Detroit Warriors, Indiana Ice and Team Wisconsin, the Royals suffered a 2-1 shootout loss to Honeybaked Hockey Club (Detroit) in the tournament semifinals. LaFontaine discusses that dramatic setback and his thoughts on coaching players in the shootout.
So Honeybaked and the Royals each were 5-0 and playing in the semifinal; it was a classic meeting. We prepared the kids to come out quick and try to dictate the game early because one goal or power-play chance could change the momentum in a short game. Really, when you get to the quarterfinal or semifinal round, the kids, mentally, know what's at stake.
You don't have to say too much and might just want to go over a few details. The kids actually played one of their better games in the quarterfinal against Illinois. They were hitting on all cylinders in that game, and once they're doing that, you don't have to do or say too much because they know what to do and what’s expected of them. As coaches, we just prepare them for the team we're facing.
We started Matt Atwell (Freeport, N.Y.) in net and we knew the Honeybaked goalie had been playing pretty strong, so it was one of those back-and-forth games. Nobody could get that little momentum swing for a goal. We got a few power plays, and had a 5-on-3, in fact. If we executed or capitalized on it, it would have changed the momentum and we probably would have won the game. Matt was making big saves for us and their goalie was making big saves. I felt our team had more quality chances and probably outplayed them for the most part, but in a game like that, when you get good goaltending, you must find a way to win and find a way to execute. We just weren't able to get that goal, and neither were they.
So here we go into an overtime game in a 0-0 tie. We play five minutes of 4-on-4, five minutes of 3-on-3, and then went to the shootout. We actually had a power-play to start the 4-on-4 and we had four or five shots, but their goalie made a couple of big saves when they needed them.
The 3-on-3 was even for five minutes, so after a 40-minute game, it's still 0-0. I told the kids that I was proud of them and no matter what happened, the guys played a heck of a game. But we wanted to win this thing and find a way to score goals in the shootout.
I asked the referee, since we were the home team, if we could have the choice of whether or not to shoot first. I really wanted to go first, but we couldn't. It's in the rulebook that the visiting team goes first. Most NHL teams like to go first to get that momentum, but despite the fact we were the home team, we didn't get that edge.
Entering the shootout, you kind of feel who is having a game or having chances and getting shots. I did almost put one of younger guys in there, but thought otherwise. Maybe further along he'll be ready. I just went with guys on the team who had been scoring for us. Sometimes you go with a hunch and sometimes a hot player. I went to the coaching staff and we had our lists and tweaked them a little. No matter what, we win and lose as a team and the game is based on momentum swings. At the end of the day, there are lots of opportunities over the course of a game.
So in the shootout, Matty Atwell tried to pokecheck the first player and just missed him; the skater made a nice move and scored. We were up next and Mike Marnell went in and made a nice move, but it was poke-checked off his stick.
The next Honeybaked player came down and made a similar move. Matt tried to poke check and the player put it upstairs so now we're down 2-0. You try and keep the kids positive. If we can get one, we'll have some momentum. Up next for us was Joey Fallon. He skated in and made a tremendous move; he's a right-handed player but made that (Pavel) Datsyuk move and I thought he was a little too tight but he still popped it in and the kids were fired up.
That's a really tough thing to play through; when you finally are thrown out there, the game is fast, intense, every single play matters, you've got to find a way to play through that and make smart plays. So it's a huge testament to [Vermette] and some other individuals in our locker room that are putting their own ego, their own wants and needs aside, and are ready for those opportunities when they do come.
— Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews on teammate Antoine Vermette, who returned from being a healthy scratch in Game 3 to score the double-overtime winner in Game 4