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Looking back and looking ahead

by Pat LaFontaine

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.
The thing I'm impressed most with in watching these kids the last eight years is the speed and size of the kids. There's a real commitment at this level. The kids have been playing for a long time and there's a real passion and commitment on behalf of their parents and themselves. I like watching a player reach that next level and begin doing things they couldn't earlier in the season. That's when you see the team step up another level and find a way to win a big game. Those are things I like the most; seeing the kids develop on and off the ice. It's one thing to be the best hockey player you can be, but it's also important to be a good person off the ice as well.
The guys rallied around each other and played well, and we were excited to win the College Cup. Afterwards, we celebrated in the locker room, but you still have to remember they are 15- and 16-year-old kids, so while you have to let them enjoy that moment, you also have to remind them tomorrow's another day. You have to keep things in perspective. You have to keep it at an even keel because there's so much more to achieve.
Overall, all four of our forward lines have been really good. Really the fourth line we might put on the ice might be the best line on the ice that night. We're consistent and we're fortunate. The defensive pairs have been good too; we have a real well balanced team and all the kids work hard. I'm a big believer in backchecking just as hard as you forecheck. Coming back is important. We take a lot of pride in coming back harder into our zone than on the attack -- we've always stressed the back end.
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