The Father Ryan hockey team traveled to Knoxville last weekend to compete in the annual High School Hockey Hoe Down Tournament. The Irish have made it to the championship in this tournament for the last four years and with the team’s success in the Greater Nashville Area Scholastic Hockey League (GNASH) so far this season, they were looking to win it all.
At the start of this tournament, the Irish didn’t look the way fans are used to seeing them. The team’s iconic purple jerseys were left back in Nashville, so the team was forced to wear makeshift red mesh jerseys with “Metro Pirates” logos embroidered on the front. The opening game of the tournament was a rematch of last year’s championship between the Farragut Admirals and the Father Ryan Irish, but this year, the game had very different results.
Last year the Irish fell to the Admirals 4-1 in the championship game. This year, after putting up a season-high 45 shots on the Admirals, the Irish emerged victorious with a score of 6-1. Owen Sherlog, a junior forward, recorded five points, including the first goal of the game.
After the game, the team returned to the hotel where they enjoyed a well-earned dinner. With all the parents, coaches, siblings and players in attendance, half the restaurant was reserved for the Irish. After a fun meal, the players rested up for their big early morning game against a familiar team, Station Camp-Beech.
Before the game, Head Coach Walt Wasyliw spoke about how Father Ryan has three teams – a good, a mediocre and an ugly. Wasyliw also said that Station Camp would love to come into Knoxville and beat a Tier 1 GNASH team.
Station Camp came to play and held the Irish scoreless for the first period. In between periods, Wasyliw was forced to make some adjustments in the offensive zone.
“I told the guys to knock off the fancy stick handling, and put shots on net to force some rebounds,” said Wasyliw.
Wasyliw also made sure a man was in the high slot to pick up the dirty goals. The plan seemed to work as sophomore Patrick Cole put a low shot past Station Camp goalie Noah Kimbrough 25 seconds into the period. The game plan held up as the Irish put up seven more goals and 40 shots for a final score of 8-1.
The Irish finished the game without any penalties.
"A first for the Irish," Wasyliw recalled.
The next game pitted the Irish against the Winston-Salem Ice Hawks, a North Carolina high school team. Winston-Salem knocked Father Ryan out of this same tournament two years ago, but this is a much different Irish team, and the game showed it.
The Irish would need to win in order to advance to the semifinals. Since the Ice Hawks had lost to Station Camp, the Irish were not expecting much of a challenge and came out slowly in the first, taking a 2-0 deficit into the first intermission.
Between periods, Wasyliw rallied his team, and gave constructive criticism on how to solve defensive zone lapses and continue to get pucks on the net in all situations.
The Irish came out strong in the second period, playing a much more physical game. Freshman Brendan Eng Tow stole the puck and scored on a breakaway to give the Irish some hope. Dominating in the offensive zone, the Irish tied the game up as captain Patrick Neal took a shot from the point and Luke Tinsey got the quick rebound on the power play.
The coaching staff seemed pleased with the level of play in the second, but clearly wanted more. Both teams worked hard in the physical third period, but with 1:40 left in regulation senior Riley Smith scored on a wraparound to clinch the 3-2 win for the Irish. With the win, the Irish clinched the second seed and would play Sunday morning in the semifinals against a Nashville travel team, the Music City Marauders.
The first period was rather non-eventful and was tied at zero. The Irish made defensive zone adjustments between periods, but the Marauders put up two goals early in the second period. The Irish would answer soon after as Eng Tow scored on a breakaway. It would not be enough, as the Marauders scored off of a shot from the corner of the ice to end the second period with a 3-1 lead.
The third period was a stalemate until Eng Tow again puts the team on his back and made a move to slide the puck under the Marauder goalie to put the Irish within one. Despite a few late offensive zone opportunities, the Irish were not able to pull off the win and fell 3-2 to the Marauders.
The teams shook hands and Eng Tow was awarded "The Defensive Player of the Tournament" with four goals and five assists.
“It felt great to be recognized by tournament directors,” Eng Tow said after the game when asked about receiving the honor.
After a weekend of learning experiences and team building, the Irish look ahead to Monday, Jan. 13, when they take on the Ravenwood Raptors at Bridgestone Arena at 6:30 p.m.