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.
In this week's 'Making of a Royal' blog, assistant coach Scott Donahue discusses the anatomy of his team's incredible 7-7 tie with Shattuck-St. Mary's in the third game of the Shattuck-St. Mary's Showcase in Faribault, Minn., earlier this season. With coaches Pat LaFontaine and Steve Webb unable to work the bench for the game, Donahue filled in as head coach. It would turn out to be the most memorable hockey game he's ever been associated with as the Long Island Royals rallied from 6-0 and 7-5 deficits in the third period to earn a 7-7 tie against the host school.
In the locker room prior to the game I told the boys that Shattuck was going to come out flying. I told them to remember the 3-0 lead they built in the first game of the tournament where we had to come back to forge a 5-5 tie. So, I felt it important to remind the players to really come out strong.
[Head coach] Pat [LaFontaine] had an opportunity to watch his nephew at Minnesota State and asked that I step in behind the bench for this game. Sure enough, we got down 3-0 in the first period and Pat was sending me a text message, wanting to know what the score was. I text him the score and he said we had to find a way to pull it out and make it competitive.
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.
I've known Brandon Fortunato for a few years now -- I actually started coaching him when he was 12. You see a kid with a lot of hockey sense. He really understands the game and the flow of the game for a defenseman. He really has the wits and the knowledge and he sees the ice very well out there. He knows how to make things happen, especially in the transition game.
Brandon really came in with a lot of intangibles that a lot of young athletes or young kids don't have these days. It's his headsy play, his smarts and his understanding that separates him from a lot of kids. He controls the game very well. If anything, he's really improved in his ability to defend against bigger guys. He's very intelligent and he plays the angle game well. He continues to improve in a lot of areas consistently.
Brandon is more of a leader in the way he performs on the ice. He's a quiet kid. He loves just being a part of the guys. He's one of the guys when he comes into the room. You really don't have to say much to him. He brings it pretty consistently the majority of the nights. I don't see too many nights that he's taken off. He's one of those guys who is very easy to coach. You don't have to spend a lot of time trying to motivate him. He wants to do well every night. It's fun to watch him play with the puck.
In this week's "Making of a Royal" blog, assistant coach Steve Webb offers his midseason review of the team and also discusses the importance of leadership and how he and head coach Pat LaFontaine help groom players into becoming effective leaders.
Well, we're about halfway through the season and when I look at the team, as a whole, I think that we're in a spot where we can definitely improve. There's work we have to do. When we're playing high-caliber teams, we must be more consistent on the back end. When you play against smarter players, it's interesting to see how some players handle that. The thing is, once we get going, we're fine, but sometimes we're just waiting for something to happen first. The start of the game is very important ... the preparation, mindset and how you go out on your first shift. We'll continue to work on breakouts and coming out of our own zone; we're looking forward to getting ready for the competition down the stretch and at the end of the season.
During the second half of the season, we'll have more time to prep for the year-end tournaments.
On the challenges of teaching leadership:
One of the hardest things to learn is leadership. A lot of times, you leave that up to the more vocal guys in the room or the more skilled players because, let's face it, everyone expects the good players to know how to lead. But for a 15-year-old, that's a tough thing, responsibility wise.
I think we need a lot of room to improve on that in that aspect. I don't want to say leadership is such an easy thing to come by. We try to give these guys a lot of rope, and lot of responsibility is put in their hands. You want to teach them how to learn how to be leaders versus showing them how to be leaders. We can help them and guide them, but, most importantly, we want them to take more control of their own leadership traits.
In this week's 'Making of a Royal' blog, head coach Pat LaFontaine and assistant coach Steve Webb discuss the importance of film study and review. Film breakdown sessions play a critical role on teaching today's young players. LaFontaine and Webb spend several hours breaking down plays from recent NHL games and recent Long Island Royal contests.
There are a couple things I love taking out of film study.
A lot of athletes are visual learners but we just sit there and talk to them, wave our hands around and paint the picture as we're telling it. We [as coaches] understand what we see, but for the younger athletes, they don't understand all the little tendencies that happen on the ice with body language or the way guys turn, where the stick is. It's always nice when you can go out and have the best players in the world as an example for your athletes to observe. We go out there and collect all the highlights on NHL.com and all the goals scored. We want to look at the positive side of the goals scored and also what happened on the other side of things.
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.
In this week's "Making of a Royal" blog, head coach Pat LaFontaine and assistant coach Steve Webb discuss the team's travel habits for regular season and major national tournaments. Additionally, the parents of all the players for the Long Island Royals Under-16 Team must also log plenty of miles and hours driving their sons to games, practices and, most times, weekend tournaments. The team is currently 33-3 and ranked No. 2 in the nation.
Webb, born and raised in Peterborough (Ont.), recalled his traveling days in the minor hockey system in Peterborough and how different it is for those parents of the minor clubs in the United States.
I grew up in the Peterborough minor hockey system where it was mandatory every road game in the Peterborough Petes AAA system that you had to take a bus. The only thing parents needed to do was bring their kids to the bus stop. On the way back, we just needed to find a ride home, so it was less of a burden on the parents.
Also, a majority of the parents, from what I remember, were on the bus so that's when we really gelled as a team and came together. You were riding with everyone at that time. With the Long Island Royals, it's a different animal. There is no rule where buses are mandatory. The one time we did take a bus was last year when we flew into Toronto to go to Peterborough. The bus picked us up and drove us into Peterborough. That's the one time, but other than that, it's a lot of driving. Parents must find a way to pile kids into someone's car and get the kids up there for a weekend event or showcase. Parents can hopefully make it up for a Saturday and still see some games in quarters or semifinal rounds if we're still alive.
We've traveled to Washington, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Vermont and Connecticut for showcases. We've been to New Hampshire and also flew into Chicago as a group. Not every parent could make it because of the cost; don't forget you also have to arrange a room and that gets costly as well. We want to make sure the kids are being viewed and that they have the best opportunity to go on to the next level and have the scouts look at them.
In this week's "Making of a Royal" player blog segment, center Nicholas Hutchison (6-foot-2, 168 pounds) tells NHL.com how the Long Island Royals have helped him both on and off the ice. Royals assistant coach Steve Webb, who has watched Hutchison since he was 12, said the team's second-leading scorer has a great passion for the game and that when the game gets tougher and tighter, that's when he excels. "The more competitive the contest, the better Hutchison gets," Webb told NHL.com.
Hi everyone. This is my second year with the L.I. Royals. I previously played in Westchester with the Westchester Express and then, two years ago, came back here. Last year, we were '94 birth years, so we were underdogs. But this year we're like one of the top teams and everyone wants to beat us -- and that's a good thing.
I find that just hard work and effort, spending time in the weight room over the summer, have really helped me out this season. I like to play a physical game and be a physical player. I think I'm a good two-way center, who could control the game and make simple plays. After this season, I'm hoping I can play in the USHL. No team has my rights right now, but I was invited to main camp for the Indiana Ice, so hopefully I'll be able to play with them.
Right now, we're basically rolling three centers and four lines, but I play a lot with Michael Marnell and Adam Tracey. I'm the center on that line. I do a lot of faceoff work during the year and I like to set up a few plays even before we go out on the ice. I talk to the wingers and tell them where to go, so if I do win it forward, they go to the net and I can give it to them. I'm about 6-2, 168, so I like to throw the body around a lot.
In this week's "Making of a Royal" blog, coach Pat LaFontaine discusses his team's preparation habits for major national tournaments. LaFontaine and his assistants -- Steve Webb and Scott Donahue -- draw inspiration from the coaches who shaped them as they implement mental and physical preparation.
One thing that Steve, Scott and I, the three coaches, constantly do is look back at your playing days. I think you earn an appreciation and a greater respect for all the other coaches -- I was very fortunate to have some tremendous coaches during my playing days -- but you constantly reflect back and appreciate and respect the job the coaches do to prepare the team on a regular basis.
In this week's 'Making of a Royal' blog, assistant coach Steve Webb discusses the team's play in the Bauer International Invite in Chicago, Ill. After earning victories over the Toronto Eagles (Ont.), Ice Jets Academy (Tex.), Detroit Warriors (Mich.), Indiana Ice and Team Wisconsin, the Royals suffered a 2-1 shootout loss to Detroit Honey Baked (Mich.) in the tournament semifinal round. Webb also talks about the process that's required to becoming a 'great' player.
Our recent tournament in Chicago went well. We went in there and showed what we had. Our games on Sunday [Nov. 6] were our best games against Wisconsin and Honey Baked. You always want to leave on a high note, so I was very impressed with the way our team prepared for the final two games and came out and actually executed all day long.
When you get into shootout situations, it's pretty exciting for the kids on the bench. It was definitely a roller coaster ride, for every shooter and the kids were up and down. It was a very fun thing to be a part of … to observe these kids and see their reactions. The emotions involved really galvanized our team which was a positive spin at the end of a tournament that you lose.
To tell you the truth, we had a couple tough games at the start. I don't think we really performed that well; we didn't come prepared to play the game. We get these guys to prepare and the first four games we weren't prepared. What we've been stressing since the first tournament of the year in Vermont is that it's each player's responsibility when they get to the rink to prepare for the game. Whatever they have to do, whether a team stretch or something, you have to prepare for each other.
We had conversations about using the 'Y Athlete' website and work on our preparation since we weren't really excited about the way we were preparing for the games. They had to start evaluating themselves on their preparation and we'll do that for about a month and see where that goes; see if they start getting focused a little bit earlier in the dressing room.
In this week's 'Making of a Royal' blog, coach Pat LaFontaine discusses the team's recent second-place finish at the Beantown Fall Classic in New Hampshire and the tremendous work done by power-skating instructor Jacki Munzel. The Long Island Royals National Team defeated Little Caesars (Mich.), the Junior Bobcats (Conn.) and the Valley Junior Warriors (Mass.), before suffering a 2-0 loss to the nation's No. 1-ranked Under-16 team, the Chicago Mission. The final day of the tournament was cancelled due to inclement weather along the East Coast.
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.
Pat asked if I would like to run a practice or step on the bench to coach the team when he's not able to do it and since I knew the kids, I was able to step in and run a practice or coach a game for him. He then asked me if I wanted to assist him a year ago and help out. He had a game plan in mind in how he wanted to run things ... knowing Pat and his principles and how he handles himself, it's just one of those things that I couldn't turn down.
I love the kids, they're hilarious. They always make me laugh when I showed up at the rink. It was just one of those things that made sense to help out, support and assist.
I've heard that Pat has labeled me the "softie" when it comes to coaching and I'd have to say that's the case. When I look down the bench just a couple of minutes into a game, he's already got his hands in the air, but I'll always try and settle him down. I'm a typical assistant coach in that regard; but it's what I enjoy doing. This is what I've always wanted ... to help out kids with their futures and make sure they get the best experience possible out of playing the sport.
Junior defenseman Brent D'Iorio (Huntington, N.Y.) of the Under-16 Long Island Royals Midget National Team provided NHL.com with a special player's blog this week
Hi everyone! This is my third year playing the Royals and it has been a lot of fun, especially since I'm with friends who have been on team for as long as I have ... we all get along really well. This year, we're a lot better than in previous years, so it's exciting.
I actually played forward five years ago, but then they switched me to defense. I like defense now, but used to not like it as much. As a defender, I feel like you control the play more, you get to make more decisions no matter what anyone else does and, yeah, I get more ice time. The keys to playing good defense, in my opinion, are making good decisions, making a crisp first pass and helping the team get out of the zone whenever possible.
Coach Pat (LaFontaine) and Coach Steve (Webb) are different when it comes to coaching. Coach Pat helps us a lot with systems and our general play. He also helps us get motivated before the games and in between periods. Coach Webb talks to us about simple mistakes we might make and explains to us how we can get past it, move on and get focused.
I'm currently partnered up with Aidan Salerno and we work well together. It's good because we play differently so we complement each other. Aidan is more of a defensive-defenseman; he's big (6-foot-2, 185) and stays back. I'm always the one rushing the puck. My favorite NHL player has always been Chris Pronger, even though I'm not a big defenseman (5-10, 160), I like to rush the puck and control it whenever I can.
I really like the "Y Athlete" tool that Coach Webb created. It really helps you work on your game and figure out what you did wrong. It really makes you think about what you need to do; what you have to do and what you can do to improve. One of the goals I posted was making the right decisions on the ice and striving to be the best player I could be.
It's not that difficult to update. After every game and practice, we can just do it right on the cell phone so it doesn't really require a lot of work, but you just have to be honest.
The Long Island Royals Under-16 Midget National team entered the weekend ranked No. 2 in the country with a 19-1 record. The club recently earned the championship of the East Coast College Cup in Connecticut, outscoring its opponents 23-4. The Royals defeated the Junior Bobcats in the tournament final, 3-2. The team has been led on the score sheet by Daniel LaFontaine (6 goals, 17 points), Joey Fallon (9 goals, 16 points), Justin Bailey (8 goals, 14 points), Nicholas Hutchison (4 goals, 13 points) and Michael Marnell (6 goals, 10 points). The defense and goalies Matt Atwell and Peter Fosso have been solid.
Head coach Pat LaFontaine assessed his team's performance last week and is looking forward to the next big tournament later this month in New Hampshire -- the Beantown Fall Classic.
Prior to the East Coast College Cup (on the campuses of Wesleyan University and Quinnipiac University), the big thing we stressed to the kids was consistency and preparation. We wanted to make sure the kids were preparing themselves each game. We didn't want to get too far ahead of ourselves, but consistency is such a key to success. Teaching these kids how to get the puck deep, blocking shots, positioning and moving the puck are little details that need to be done on a consistent basis -- it all adds up. The mental preparation is so important in getting yourself prepared every game and every shift, so we express that a lot and kind of go over strategies and details on what we think will work best against certain teams. Overall, I would think consistency is the biggest word.
Both our goalies had a strong tournament. We scored 24 goals and gave up only three in the five games. The kids found a way to win that last game and it was really exciting for them and for the fans knowing the hard work paid off. I really believe that four-month summer program we endured under Chris Reichart really helped improve the stamina and endurance.
Daniel LaFontaine, son of Long Island Royals Under-16 Midget National team head coach and five-time NHL All-Star Pat LaFontaine, currently leads the team in scoring with 17 points. The younger LaFontaine, a junior in high school, provided his analysis in this week's player blog for NHL.com.
So far the season has been great; we've been playing good against good competition, so that's good. We were really happy with the results of the College Cup. We beat a good team from Connecticut in the final, and we all had a lot of fun playing the games.
Right now, we only have three centers and four sets of wings, but my linemates are Justin Bailey and Dylan Holze. Bailey can put the puck in the net so I try to give him a lot of good passes. He always seems to find a way to score; all three of us work well together.
Practices for us usually start out just skating around before getting into some 1-on-0's and just breakouts against the goalies. Then we'll get together for a group practice, with breakouts, 3-on-2's, power-play and penalty-kill stuff.
I talk to my dad a lot about easy stuff like what to do in the corners, but I talk to (coach Steve) Webb more about the mental part of the game. He gives me good talks and lessons. You have to keep striving for your dream for when you get older … and it starts now with nutrition and the physical work. Coach Webb started up the Y Tool for all of us, so I'm always setting my performance goals and I talk to him about attitude and work ethic, so it's good.
Even before I became an assistant with the Long Island Royals seven years ago, I always asked my son, Daniel, each year if he wanted me around the team. As long as he gave me the green light, I was OK going behind the bench. He liked me coaching and liked me on the bench, but he liked having another coach there, too, so I kind of helped out.
When I became the head coach three years ago, I had an opportunity to continue coaching Daniel, but I still asked him if he would prefer I wasn't behind the bench. I've always been very cautious because I try and put myself in someone else's shoes and never wanted (Daniel) to feel any pressure, although all boys want their dads to be proud. I wouldn't say much. My dad never said much to me and I don't say much -- the assistants usually say something to Daniel because he only hears dad's voice.
Thing is, he doesn't hear a coach's voice when I'm talking so I don't say much. In some cases, if you're not careful, it could be a lose-lose situation. Having Stevie (Steve Webb) there, and formerly Jack Greig, was great. They were the ones who would always speak to him and I kind of just stayed out of it, in an indirect way, when it came to speaking to the team. Hopefully that'll have an impact for him and some of the things I've learned. I'm excited about when he asks me, "Hey Dad, is Coach Webb going to be there?" What's exciting for me is he really wants to impress Coach Webb … I'm just his dad. You know what? I'll take that to the end. That puts a smile on my face, and I hope for him this is something he chooses to do and he loves to do. If he chooses to, and I can help in an indirect way, it's been fun. I ask him every year, do you want me to coach, because I can sit in the stands, but he likes me behind the bench.
I guess I see some similarities between what Daniel does on the ice and my teenage years on the ice. He works hard, sees the ice well and seems to be more of a playmaker. But he can score goals when he has to. He's a team player, like all the kids on this club. As a coach, you have to be real objective and I try to talk to the players just as a coach. I have the other coaches talk to Daniel, and it seems to have worked in a good way because right now I think all dads who have 15- and 16-year-olds … we're not too cool. I think we embarrass our kids sometimes because we try to say too much.
What we expected is what we got. Very mature young individual that's focused. He is on the right track. He's not only a great hockey individual, but he's a good person off the ice. He seemed to take a leadership role with this group right off the hop and ran away with it, and was vocal, was respectful, was everything it takes to be a Panther. His future looks bright.
— Florida Panthers director of player development Brian Skrudland on defenseman Aaron Ekblad's performance at development camp