A few weeks ago, Team Maryland’s 18U hockey team traveled to New Hampshire for the ECEL playoffs with high expectations. Knowing full well they were going up against the best competition they had seen all year - the top three seeds were in their pool – and doing so with a slightly depleted roster, the players still entered the tournament with the goal of bringing a trophy home.
And while the end result wasn’t exactly what the team had hoped for, TM played some of its best hockey of the year for stretches against very good competition despite only having eight or nine forwards for a good percentage of the tournament. Being forced to play against teams of that level under difficult circumstances more than prepared TM for the important final stretch of the season that continues this weekend at the Boston Bandits Midget Mega Bowl in Bridgewater, Mass.
TM rebounded from the ECEL playoffs with a big three-game AYHL sweep of the Long Island Royals followed by a gritty 4-3 victory against the Washington Little Caps in the PVAHA championship game, which determined the top PVAHA seed for the USA Hockey 18U Tier 1 Southeastern District Tournament in Huntsville, Alabama in March. The victories against Long Island allowed TM to finish in a second-place tie in the AYHL 18U American Division with the Mercer Chiefs, who they will meet in the semifinals of the AYHL playoffs in Westchester, Pa., on March 4.
"I couldn't be happier with our young men and the journey we have been through together, said TM Coach Chris Ceransky. “It has never been about winning every game. The focus has been on staying in the moment, continually getting better and peaking at the right time. Check, check and check. My excitement is not for the PVAHA championship, although I am very proud of them, my excitement is for the unknown - how much more this group can potentially achieve together."
TM started fast in the PVAHA title game vs. the Little Caps Feb. 11 at the Gardens Ice House in Laurel. About three minutes into the game leading scorer and team captain Devin Lowe picked up a puck in the neutral zone and weaved his way through several players in tight spaces before chipping a shot toward the net that created a dangerous rebound. Daniel McGeever had a whack at it and generated another rebound before Evan Yamaguchi managed to sneak one over the goalie’s shoulder for 1-0 lead.
That goal opened the floodgates over the next four minutes as defenseman Jack Brotman, who leads the team in scoring among blueliners, created a pair of goals by simply getting pucks to the net from the point. The first one hit Yamaguchi about 25 feet in front of the net, bounced into the air and landed right in front of the netminder before bouncing over his shoulder for a 2-0 lead. Defenseman Josh Keller picked up the other assist on that goal.
A few moments later Brotman did it again, this time with Matt Retzbach deflecting his shot past the goaltender for a 3-0 advantage halfway through the opening frame. The Little Caps responded with a goal late in the period, but TM held a solid advantage in puck possession and shots on goal (17-7) through the opening 17 minutes.
From that point on until very late in the game TM clamped down, playing some of its best two-way hockey of the season, holding the Little Caps scoreless in the second period and deep into the third. WLC rebounded to post a 12-6 shots advantage in the second frame, but netminder Ben Calaman, making his 14th consecutive start, held steady without allowing a goal.
TM came out hard and fast in the third, determined to lock down the title. They outshot the Little Caps 10-1 over the first 13 minutes of the final frame before WLC finally seized some momentum with a power play. TM successfully killed the penalty for its 14th straight successful kill, but the ice had tilted a bit and WLC finally beat Calaman with less than three minutes to play.
TM appeared to seal the victory when Lowe buried an empty-netter from about 160 feet for a 4-2 lead in the final two minutes, but the Little Caps scored again to pull within one and make the final minute exciting. But when Yamaguchi tied the puck up on the final faceoff to Calaman’s right with three seconds remaining it was official: Team Maryland was the 18U PVAHA Tier 1 champion!
The victory was a total team effort, and despite the crazy finish, one of TM’s best all-around performances of the year. Lowe, who has paced the team offensively all season, blocked four shots to help secure the win. Calaman finished with 22 saves as TM held a 36-25 shots advantage. Retzbach, who has been a third-line player most of the year before getting some recent minutes on the second power-play unit, scored a goal for the second time in three games and notched a point for the third straight contest.
Ben Plant, another third-line player who has continued to work hard on both ends of the ice and developed into a dependable two-way player, won his first 11 faceoffs on the afternoon, and Denis Kuzminov, who recorded a hat trick in the team’s previous game, also contributed on the defensive end with three blocked shots.
Brotman, who has 22 points from the blue line to rank among the AYHL leaders in defenseman scoring and who leads the team with 78 blocked shots, continued his steady play. In the last four games, he is plus-8 with five points and 14 shots on goal. He leads all TM defensemen in plus-minus for the year at -4.
Entering the previous weekend Team Maryland knew it needed to sweep the Long Island Royals to have shot at the top seed in the AYHL playoffs and that probably two wins were necessary to definitely avoid being fourth. The boys came out and took care of business with offensive explosions to win games one and two, 6-3 and 6-1, before rallying from a 3-0 early deficit to steal a 4-3 win in the series finale.
In the first two games against the Royals, Lowe (3G, 4A) and Kuzminov (2G, 3A) combined for 12 points, while McGeever tallied a goal and three assists in the opener.
Aaron Greene, third on the team with 17 goals for the season, had a goal in each game, while Retzbach and Keller added single goals. Brotman continued to provide offense from the blueline with three assists in the two contests, a total that was equaled by Yamaguchi, the team’s second-leading goal scorer for the year. J.T. Compton also added three points in the two victories, following his single assist in the opener with a goal and an assist in the second contest. Defenseman Tiger Lindsay recorded a single assist in the second game, while fellow blueliner Stefan Fasano had an assist in the opener to round out the TM scoring in the first two games.
Kuzminov was the hero in the series finale notching a hat trick, including a pair of power-play goals and the third-period game-winner, to go along with an assist. TM found itself down 3-0 almost midway through the second period before exploding for three goals in a 2-minute, 22-second span to tie the game. Fasano opened the scoring with a great read on an offensive rush, activating from the blue line to punch in Compton’s rebound. Kuzminov picked up the second assist on that goal and then scored twice in 14 seconds to tie the game with 10 minutes left in the period.
He then scored the game-winner on the power play with 11:18 remaining in the third period off assists from Retzbach and Greene, and TM continued its strong man-down play by killing three penalties, including a 5 on 3, in the final 10 minutes. Calaman was strong in goal, picking up his third win of the weekend with 30 saves as TM racked up a 39-33 shots advantage to finish the weekend with a 132-88 advantage in shots on target.
In addition to Kuzminov’s four-point effort, Greene and Compton contributed a pair of assists, with McGeever and Retzbach each getting a single helper. After being held without a goal until game 41, Fasano has two goals and an assist in the past five contests.
Also, providing a spark for the team in recent weeks has been the return of defenseman MacDowell Johnston, who missed 22 games earlier in the year after suffering a severe cut during an early-season practice, along with the much-improved play of the third-line rotation of Plant, Retzbach, Peter Hastings and Ty Brandt. Brandt leads that group with 7 goals and 8 assists on the year, with Retzbach adding 5-7-12, Plant 3-7-10 and Hastings 1-5-6. The team lost another member of that group for several weeks when Seamus Cook (11-3-14 in 36 games) suffered a shoulder injury during the ECEL playoffs. Cook hopes to return in time for the AYHL playoffs in two weeks.
Several TM players rank among the statistical leaders in the AYHL, with Lowe leading all 18U AYHL players with 41 points in 23 league games. He is tied for the lead in goals with 17 and is first in assists with 24. For the season, he has 26-38-64 in 45 games. Brotman is seventh in the league in scoring among defensemen with 4-12-16 in 23 AYHL contests and has 5-17-22 overall to lead Lindsay (4-17-21) by one point in the team defenseman scoring race. Among AYHL goalies, Calaman is 13th in save percentage at .891 and 12th in goals-against average at 3.24. Injured netminder Owen Greene is 16th in save percentage (.879) and 15th in GAA (.3.52).
Yamaguchi (18-20-38) and McGeever (12-23-35) are second and third in the overall team scoring race followed by Greene at 17-13-30 and Kuzminov, who has been heating up lately and now has 27 points despite missing a dozen games to play for Lithuania in the World Junior Championships.
TM travels to Boston this weekend for the Bandits Midget Mega Bowl. The first game will be Friday – time and opponent to be determined.
2017-18 Team Maryland Tryout Dates Announced
Registration will open after SE Districts (3/16-3/19).
Peewee and Bantam 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003
4/17/17 4/18/17 4/19/17 4/21/17
Midget U15(2002), U16(2002&2001), and U18(1999&2000)
4/20/17 4/25/17 4/26/17 5/1/17
Team Maryland U18's win 2016-17 PVAHA Championship.
TMU18's won the PVAHA Championship with a 4-3 win over rival Washington Little Capitals. TMU18's will represent PVAHA at USA Hockey's Southeastern District Championships March 18-20th in Huntsville, AL.
Good Luck TM U18's!