It’s exciting for any youth hockey program to compete at the Chipotle-USA Hockey Nationals. For the McKinney (Texas) North Stars, that feeling doubled in February, as both the 16U and 18U teams punched their ticket to the tournament by each winning a Tier II state championship.
“In McKinney, there used to be two travel programs for a lot of years, and we were able to merge the two programs together to create the North Stars,” hockey director Lucas Reid explained. “Even when there were two, no team from McKinney had ever won a state championship. So, to get two in one weekend was pretty special.”
It’s been an eventful past few months for the North Stars program. Last May, Reid and seven of his coaches attended the annual North American Rink Conference Expo (NARCE) in Columbus, Ohio. Each year, the conference focuses on teaching coaches and hockey directors the best practices for developing young players using USA Hockey’s American Development Model.
Once the North Stars coaches saw the benefits of station-based practices, half-ice games with more puck touches and other ADM elements, they couldn’t wait to begin utilizing the techniques with their teams. The results are already paying off.
“I think it’s a combination of a few things with the success of these two teams,” said North Stars 16U head coach Michael Bugbee, a Dallas native who founded the University of Arkansas men’s hockey program while attending school there. “Number 1, we’ve been able to keep similar coaching staffs with the same age groups, so these players are used to the coaching style at both the 16U and 18U group. We’ve been able to keep the cores of those players together, so there’s a lot of familiarity, a lot of chemistry. I think that, coupled with the station-based ADM practices, it’s compiled everything into a big amount of success for our program this year.”
The teams took similar paths to their championship victories. Each won two of their first three games in the preliminary round, and both scored wins over the Dallas Junior Hockey Association (DJHA) Penguins to capture a title.
In their semifinal state tournament game, the 16U North Stars scored a convincing 6-2 victory over the Texas Warriors to set up a rematch with the DJHA Penguins, who had beaten them 6-1 in the preliminary round.
In the championship game, the North Stars scored three goals on their first five shots to take a 3-0 lead with just over five minutes left in the first period, forcing the Penguins to switch goalies. By the second intermission, the Penguins had narrowed the gap to 3-2, and tied the game with 46 seconds left during a 5-on-3 power play. With 6.8 seconds left, Nate Albers scored the winning goal on a shot just below the faceoff dot that deflected off a defenseman’s stick, giving his team the championship.
The 18U North Stars won their first two games to assure themselves a spot in the championship. They lost 5-3 to DJHA in the final preliminary game, but the two teams would meet again the next day to decide the title.
Jacob Reynolds scored a power-play goal to put the North Stars ahead 1-0 in the first, but the Penguins tied the score in the second. Jonah Fleisher and Christopher Wyse scored goals 26 seconds apart for a 3-1 North Stars lead, but the Penguins fought back to tie the game again with 4:31 left. With under two minutes to go in the game and 10 seconds remaining on a power play, Chase Nies scored the game-winner on a spectacular shot while falling, and the North Stars prevailed 4-3.
While the North Stars have found success with the ADM, nothing can replace great coaching and committed players, according to USA Hockey ADM Regional Manager Joe Bonnett.
“All the coaches collaborated and worked together to implement their club philosophy,” Bonnett said. “They delivered high performance training unique to McKinney for over two years, and quickly saw fruits of their labor. These results were earned by all those who participated with and supported these teams.”
Ryan McLean, 18U head coach, says the training he received at NARCE completely changed his coaching philosophy.
“I’m not saying it’s the only reason we won, but it played its role,” said McLean, who runs a training company that conducts hockey camps. “NARCE overall helped me grow as a coach, which in turn helped me help my team.”
The 16U North Stars will play their Nationals games in Wayne, New Jersey April 5-9, while the 18U team will travel to Green Bay, Wisconsin that same week. Bugbee hopes the experience will give his team valuable lessons they can use in any life situation.
“I want these guys to grow up and be great young men,” he said. “I want them to be rock stars at their jobs, rock stars in college. I hope they see this example of David vs. Goliath in a hockey rink, and realize that can happen in a classroom, workplace, at home, that can happen anywhere as long as I work my tail off, no matter what I do.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.