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 and assistant coach Steve Webb discuss the team's road to winning the New York State championship. After going 2-1 in round-robin play, the Long Island Royals Midget National team defeated the Junior Sabres, 7-4, in the semifinal round, and the Amherst Knights, 7-1, in the final held in Amherst, N.Y. The Royals are 56-6-3 for the season.
We had three games leading up to semifinals and final and we won the first two pretty handily [by a combined 18-0 aggregate]. The kids were firing on all cylinders. Then we played the host team, the Amherst Knights, and got off to a tough start; they scored on their first three of four shots and their goalie stood on his head [in an eventual 3-1 loss].
Amherst is Justin Bailey's former team and he was excited. But it was one of those games where we played well, and ran into a hot goalie. The bounces didn't go our way and we ended up losing. But we win as a team and lose as a team. We regrouped and refocused and played the Junior Sabres in the semifinals. They threw everything at us but we were able to weather the storm and get that first goal. They fought back to close within 4-3 before the third period and we made some adjustments.
In this week's 'Making of a Royal' blog, head coach Pat LaFontaine and assistant coach Steve Webb discuss the perseverance and determination of center Matthew Ward (5-foot-9, 150 pounds) of East Islip, N.Y. Despite the fact he has missed most of the season due to injury or illness, Ward continues to exhibit tremendous support and leadership. When he is on the ice, he remains one of the team's most talented players.
Matty plays center and right wing and he was our leading scorer last year. He's very talented and has tremendous speed -- he's got three or four gears. He's faced a lot of adversity this year.
While we try to accentuate the positive, sometimes you get thrown curveballs and through all of this, players have had to deal with the ups and the downs. It has been tough on Matt because it seems like he's had one thing after the other.
He started out by having some strange groin issues over a period of a time and then we found out he needed a double hernia operation. So he was working himself back and was finally getting some strength back and went through physical therapy. But during our tournament in Chicago, he was hit along the boards and suffered a bruised kidney in November; so after finally coming back from a double hernia operation, he gets hit and is now out six weeks. And you have to be very careful with a bruised kidney -- you can't take part in much contact. Then, after he finally started coming back from that, he developed some tendinitis in his knee and once that sets in, it's another process of getting that inflammation out. The tendon area takes a while to settle down and heal. He's probably played in about 20 percent of our games this year and, at times, it's no fun. It can be very frustrating.
I know what that is like; going through major knee construction, tendinitis and shoulder injuries. It comes with the territory. Not only does the body have to heal, but the mind and confidence and everything else, because it is a setback.
But through it all, Matt's father has been amazing. Matt's had to keep a good attitude but that's hard. Each game you want to be out there and he faced a lot of adversity. I'm so excited for him to get back into the lineup recently. He's currently dealing with slight whiplash, but we need his speed in the upcoming tournament.
When Matty is in the lineup, we'll go four lines, short shifts. He has a set line that he plays with. He's had to battle with not being out there and being frustrated, but around the players and guys, he's been great. Matty has been part of our success, and whether you're a pro, amateur or playing youth hockey, your team should always make you feel like you are a part of it. I remember going through my injuries … it sure is a good feeling when your team reaches out to you and makes you feel a part of it because they wish you were out there. A lot of it is dealing with that -- not having that sport you love to play so there's a mental aspect and a physical aspect.
Matt is a very unique athlete. He's missed time due to injuries and it's been a really trying year for a 16-year-old, especially when all the hype is around the team. This is a big year for him and then all this stuff happens -- that's a tough time for any athlete to handle. How do you keep your focus? How do you keep your dreams in front of you when you feel as though you're stale and stagnant due to some unfortunate circumstances?
But here's the best part about Matty Ward -- he's playing games right now and is still one of the more dominant skaters on the ice. Even though he's missed all this time, he's an extraordinarily talented player. Even though he hasn't been at every practice, he has pure natural ability and remains a dominant factor. He's still on the radar and that's unbelievable for a guy who's missed as much time as he has. He's going to be a player who demonstrates his flair down the road. When people see him, they add him to the list right away.
His hands and skating ability are unreal. Even on a bad leg, he's still one of the fastest skaters on the ice, which is scary to think what he'll be like when healthy. He still has a lot of years to develop and heal and be prepared. He's willing to do anything he can to help team out. He's always a factor on the penalty-kill and will get you a shorthanded goal. He's fun to watch.
In this week's 'Making of a Royal' blog, assistant coach Steve Webb recaps the team's Atlantic Youth Hockey League championship.The Under-16 Long Island Royals Midget National team defeated the New Jersey Junior Titans in the tournament final on March 4 at the Ice House in Hackensack, N.J.
We wanted to use the AYHL tournament as a stepping stone to the New York State tournament. Anytime you get to play against good teams in one weekend, like we did against the North Jersey Avalanche and the Junior Titans, it does get you prepared for what is ahead. We used that tourney to help the players get prepared and to learn how to play when things are actually on the line.
We did win it and players showed up at the right time to step it up. In the later stages of the season, you want to see how they're going into a championship game and how they look at it and prepare for it.
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.
Steve Webb has used technology to help the kids that he coaches improve. Find out all about his Y Athlete website and what it does to help kids chase their hockey dreams.
Steve Webb was the recipient of the Bob Nystrom Award in 2002 for the Islander that best exemplified hard work, leadership, and dedication on and off the ice. He currently serves as assistant coach to Pat LaFontaine for the Under-16 Long Island Royals Midget National Team.
My experiences in coaching go back to when I took over the Junior Islanders for Bobby Nystrom -- a program he had started 15 years earlier. It allowed kids from Long Island an opportunity to go to the Quebec Peewee Tournament every year and get that experience. Nystrom would run fundraisers to help these kids go on that trip. I'd help out and travel and two years after taking over, Pat (LaFontaine's) son was coming through the system. That was the first time I really started working with this select group of kids -- they were about 12-years-old.
I first met him when I was 19 years old and he coached me for 13 consecutive years. I don't know how many athletes who have had that pleasure. Al Arbour was a man that left us not only feeling like champions, but left us with a lot of great memories that we can carry on through life.
— Islanders Hall of Fame defenseman Denis Potvin on former coach Al Arbour, who passed away Friday at the age of 82