When the Topeka RoadRunners brought in 20-year-old goalie P.J. Bridges for the 2013-14 season, coach and general manager Scott Langer was at first reluctant to start him.
“When he came to our camp in the summer, he was really good,” Langer said. But the coach decided to forego the advice of his scouts and left Bridges on the bench “because I didn’t want to go with a 20-year-old goalie.”
After a slow start, however, Langer changed course and put his chips on Bridges. A team that was 9-5-2 before Bridges made his debut was 30-10-4 after. Topeka finished with the third-best record in the 24-team North American Hockey League and then won the South Division playoff title by defeating the Amarillo Bulls, the defending Robertson Cup champions and regular-season division champions.
“Ever since we got him, our season turned around tremendously and we never looked back,” Langer, who had hoped to have a No. 1 goalie to develop for more than a season. “In the end, it was the wrong decision, because you need the best goaltender to win.
“There’s no question that was the wrong process and a learning experience for me as a coach.”
The revised decision worked well for both the team and player.
Bridges, who was beginning his third season playing in Canada, joined the RoadRunners and took the NAHL by storm, becoming that “best goaltender” the team needed to succeed. He tied a league record with 10 shutouts and was recently named Goaltender of the Year in voting by the league’s coaches.
“This was a dream come true for me from start to finish,” said Bridges, who said he “completely understood” the original thought process. “None of this would have been possible without the coaching staff, my great teammates and the style coach Langer coaches, which is a great team game.
“In a very solid defensive system with great players in front of you, it makes it easier.”
Bridges did more than put up numbers. “He’s constantly working on his game; his off-ice training is great, and he’s a great leader,” Langer said. “The rest of the team just wanted to play in front of him.
“It was fun to watch.”
The leadership also carried over to the team’s most trying time. In January, RoadRunners forward Peter Halash was killed in a traffic accident.
“P.J. and Peter were roommates,” Langer said. “It was so traumatic, so difficult for everybody. We went through a tough period. P.J. was our backbone. He stood up and said, ‘We’re going to play for Peter’. He’s the kid who could have been crushed, but he turned it around and led.”
Bridges said he always wanted to play in the NAHL. Now that the 20-year-old from Waterford, Mich. has had that chance, he is back in a familiar place, trying to finalize plans for his next stop.
With multiple visits planned, Bridges is hoping to work out where he will begin his college career in the fall. From experience, Langer can offer some advice to the college recruiters.
“Looking at his numbers, tying a league record and being named NAHL Goaltender of the Year, it’s a little frustrating that he’s not signed, sealed and delivered today,” Langer said. “As a coach and GM, that’s tough because if they got him in the locker room and could see what he provides in the locker room as well as on the ice, it’s a no-brainer.”
Langer appreciates having had the chance to see for himself.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
March 27, 2017 | When USA Hockey implemented its American Development Model in 2009, one element of the nationwide age-appropriate training blueprint sparked more debate than any other: cross-ice hockey for 8U players. In the years since, an abundance of evidence, both data-driven and anecdotal, has proven the developmental advantages of cross-ice hockey.
This week, Hockey Canada announced that it too will introduce its players to the game through cross-ice play beginning in 2017-18.
“Re-sizing the playing surface to cross-ice or half-ice means more puck touches, which result in more chances to practice puck control and shooting, as well as overall more movement and motor skill-development – twisting, turning, balance, coordination, agility,” said Paul Carson, vice-president of membership development for Hockey Canada, in a release today. “Their field-of-play matches their size, and these players hone in on their skill-development in a way that larger ice surfaces just aren’t conducive to.”
The Grassroots Show on Ottawa’s TSN 1200 weighed in on the decision. Click the audio link below to hear how Canada is embracing cross-ice hockey for the coming season and beyond.
Tom Renney, president and CEO of Hockey Canada, appeared on the Grassroots Show to discuss the nationwide shift to cross-ice hockey, beginning this fall for 5- and 6-year-olds and expanding to all of Canada's Novice (8U) level in 2018-19.
“When you see 10 or 12 or 14 or 16 kids out on the ice in between periods and they’re playing 200-by-85 and 3 or 4 kids touch the puck in that whole six minutes, yet there’s people in the stands clapping and thinking it’s wonderful, I just can’t help but think about the 95 percent of the children that didn’t even touch the puck or get from one end of the rink to the other and I ask myself what are we doing when the opportunity is certainly there to have 30 kids on the ice playing cross-ice and everyone is having a much better opportunity to touch the puck, skate a shorter distance and really play. It just boggles my mind,” said Renney.
“We completely embrace, at the Initiation level and the Novice level, cross-ice hockey and we have mandated that in the Initiation program and we will mandate it across the country in Novice hockey.
“This is about the pure enjoyment of the game, and your first connection with it has to be something that’s pure fun, on a surface of play that is conducive to much more participation and joy.”
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