The third round of voting for the Capitals High School Game of the Week concluded this past Monday, Jan. 7. The winning matchup is Northern vs. Huntingtown high schools. This was by far the closest vote since the event began. While the previous two were decidedly won by 10 percent or higher, this contest was won by slightly over one percent, roughly 90 votes.
The game itself should be highly contested, as the schools are virtually neighbors; only seven miles separate the two. “Northern and Huntingtown are rivals in all sports,” Erik Larson, head coach of Northern high school said. “We are neighboring school districts and the students know each other… Since there are no ice rinks in Calvert County most kids have played with each other on club teams in either Bowie or Waldorf.”
Currently the teams are first and second in the Southern Conference of the Maryland Student Hockey League. Northern sits at first with a record of 5-0 while Huntingtown trails with a 5-5 record; both teams are undefeated in conference play. “Sure we want to beat them and they want to beat us,” said Charles Vernon, head coach of Huntingtown. “Obviously this game is important, but we expect to play them in the conference championship regardless of who wins this game.” In five of the last six years the conference has been won by these two teams, with Huntingtown claiming four of those conference titles.
Northern has only won one of the past seven matchups with Huntingtown, dating back to 2007. “This game is very important to us,” Larson said. “We entered this season as an underdog and have exceeded everyone’s expectations.”
Northern will certainly have a lot to deal with on defense as they face one of the highest scoring offenses in the MSHL, but Northern has seen strong defense through the season so far. Their goalie, James Layman, entered the season as a defenseman, but stepped up for the position when there were no other goalies on roster. “We will need him to have a big game and maintain his confidence. He is going to be under a lot of pressure because Huntingtown is a team that takes a lot of shots,” said Larson. Layman and his team have only given up 11 goals this season.
Huntingtown boasts strong play on the back end as well behind stalwart defensemen Tyler Myrick and Ryan Billman and goaltender Kody Powers, who has posted two shutouts on the season. This game does have potential to be a high scoring affair as Huntingtown has averaged seven goals a game this year and Northern 13 a game.
The influx of talent over the years in the area has not been lost on Vernon, who has noticed trends throughout the schools. “Local hockey is now getting the talented athlete who would have migrated towards football, basketball or baseball,” he said. “The combination of hockey families moving into the area and more talented athletes participating has raised the local talent level exponentially.”
Capitals personalities scheduled to be in attendance include mascot Slapshot, the Red Rockers and the voice of the Capitals, John Walton. Both coaches acknowledge a different feel to this game stemming from the Capitals involvement. “This is just a middle-of-the-season game, but the chatter that it’s generated amongst the students is amazing,” Larson said. “This game has all of the energy of a championship game.”
“I know that all of my players are excited to be playing this game,” Vernon added. “I am going to tell them that this is an opportunity that you can take with you for the rest of your life. Tape it and enjoy the experience.”
Puck drop is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 11, at 5 p.m. at the Capital Clubhouse in Waldorf, Md.