SAN MATEO, Calif. -- When Mario Morrissette became coach of the California Cougars Peewee A in 2009-10, he knew he was in for a challenge. Most of his players, who came up from the Squirt level, had never played travel hockey before.
The inexperience showed that first year. The team had a losing record in the regular season and won just one of six games in the Northern California and state (California Amateur Hockey Association) championships.
The next year, as Peewee AAs, they dominated the regular season and did well in the postseason. Last year the Cougars became Bantam AAs, again dominated regular season play, but saw their season end in the CAHA Playdown.
This past year, the Cougars morphed into the Golden State Elite Bantam AA Eagles. All they did was go 13-2-0 in CAHA play and outscore the opposition by a 90-goal differential — the second highest at their level.
Their 31-11-0 overall record earned them a No. 13 national ranking from myhockeyrankings.com among Bantam ‘98 Tier II teams (just one of two from California to rank in the top-15). Most importantly, the Eagles won their first state championship. Then they advanced to the elite eight of the recently completed USA Hockey Tier II Youth 14-and-Under AAA championships, where they lost to the eventual national champion Ohio 98 Selects.
According to Morrissette, there’s only one reason why his players have progressed: hard work.
“I knew we could do it if we paid the price,” Morrissette said. “These kids have worked for 10 weeks every summer for four years. They got up at 4:30 in the morning every day just to come and skate.”
While a lot of kids were spending the summer at the beach or playing video games all day, Morrissette’s kids were on the ice three hours a day doing things such as scrimmaging, working on breakouts and skating.
“The secret [to being the best] is simple,” he continued. “We work harder than everybody else. We had more ice than everybody else. The kids showed the guts to work hard, which is very important. And they had good teachers to teach them the right way.
“We told them [the kids] that if we did all of the right things, this is what’s going to happen,” Morrissette added. “If you work hard, this [a championship season] is what it’s going to give us. All of that is a good recipe for success.”
The tremendous amounts of time on the ice, travel and doing dryland also created life lessons the kids can take with them forever.
“We became a family because we were always together,” Morrissette said. “When you become a family, the passion is there. You love what you’re doing because you’re winning. It’s more fun when you’re winning. You see that when you pay the price, you get results. The kids will do whatever it takes because they know if they pay the price, they’ll get more than what other kids will get.”
For most of Morrissette’s players, the time has come to move forward. It will be prep school hockey for some, or perhaps Morrissette will continue to coach them at the Midget level within the Golden State program. But one thing is for certain: the kids haven’t reached the pinnacle of their young hockey careers.
“I have to sit down with them to see what they want to do,” Morrissette said. “Maybe we’ll stick together for another year or two, or it could be time for them to go their separate ways.
“This is a time for them to realize they’ve accomplished something big,” he concluded. “But they still have a lot more to accomplish.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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