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.
Halfway through the third, Joey Fallon scored and the kids were executing the game plan and the momentum was shifting. We ended up winning and that was a real motivating win for a team. We were then given another shot at Amherst in the final. The kids had something to prove the second time around; no team likes to lose and we ended up winning 7-1 in the final game.
What I was most proud of was the way the kids conducted themselves all weekend on and off the ice. They fought through adversity and really handled themselves. They took their play and resolve to another level, and I was proud of that. Going to another level and showing that mental toughness to reach that next level can be difficult, but they did it.
In the last two years, we lost in this tournament, so it was special as our third kick at the can to kind of go through adversity and some failure and win it in the end. It just showed that three years of hard work paid off. Now our mission shifts to the big dance at the national tournament.
These kids played hard all season. They know it's not the destination, but the journey. You have to enjoy the practices, the trips and the time together. Along the way, we've had success and failure; but we've told the kids to work all season and good things would come … it's been seven months of hockey. We were playing well at the right time.
There is so much to be learned from that loss in round-robin play to Amherst. We had two easy games prior to the Amherst loss and may have entered it more relaxed thinking this game might be like the other two. And I'm not just blaming players, but coaches as well. The other team was really preparing and Amherst executed their plan very well and used their toughness. Their goalie played so well. It was a challenge to get the guys to refocus, and if you're going to have trouble in a game, why not in the round robin.
As it turned out, the loss might have worked in our favor because we had the first game the following morning which meant more time between that game, if we won, and the championship. If we had to play back-to-back in the afternoon, we may have been more fatigued. We lost, but got ourselves a better schedule so we definitely took the positives out of it.
After round robin, we knew we had to win two games.
The loss didn't change our mindset, but how we prepared for games. The kids came in focused, early, and paid attention to details. I think that was a great tribute to each other and we were really prepared. The loss put things in perspective … in any given game, you can win or lose. When you're playing in elimination games, anything can happen.
For me, it was really impressive to watch how the players refocused and got prepared for the next game. That helped us get ready for the championship match. We knew the system Amherst would play and how they would play it. We knew we were up against a top goalie. The players got back to how they felt they could score against him by getting a little dirty to get those goals. The whole process of it all was great. It was 1-1 for a while … a tight one. But we were able to take it in the end.