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.
The thing is, I tell the group that we're a more visible amateur team because of the show on NHL Network. The other team is going to be up for them every single game, and they've had to mentally prepare and overcome the fact these teams are coming at them, ready to play. It's business as usual, you go in and prepare yourself. Obviously, you really keep the distractions to a minimum and make sure you get your nutrition and your rest and focus. You play all year and you work hard to climb those mountains and get stronger as a team.
During the playoffs, you can tell all the players are all excited. I can tell you this, we're a different hockey team than we were at the start of the season. The kids have gone through adversity and some real good lessons and they've really improved as a team so we're pleased with that part of it. We're starting to climb that ladder and hit a good quality of hockey right now which is what you want. You want to keep it rolling; want to keep the guys positive and make sure there are few distractions. You want to have fun and enjoy this time of the year.
I think during the course of the season, at different times, starting off slow became an issue but we've addressed it. We call it a 51-minute game, with three 17-minute periods.
I told them, there are teams out there that will go through adversity during the season and have their ups and downs, even on an NHL level. We have to make sure that it doesn't happen to us going forward. If anything, it's probably a good thing it happened when it happened to us last month. The kids learned from it. Kids get a mental block of getting themselves ready to go early in games, so we talked about it as a team.
What do we have to do collectively as a team when you hit the ice and at full speed? We've let them figure out what they need to do, and then at times, we've had to step in [as coaches]. But I would say, going forward into these next two weekends, there's tremendous amount of reason to be up for every single game. We're going to tackle it one game at a time … the kids are in good shape, they've learned a lot and they're prepared.
We have a goal in front of us and it's been really fun watching these kids improve each and every week.