There is plenty of payback to go around. Churchill won the 2010-11 MSHL championship and both regular season matchups against Whitman last season, before the Vikings prevailed in the conference title game.
“Every time these two teams play, they play really hard,” Whitman Coach Tom Sneddon said. “So you don’t really have to amp the guys up or worry about chalkboard material, because they know who they’re playing.”
Sneddon admitted the Bulldogs were “flat-out better” during the teams’ Nov. 30 showdown, which the Capitals showcased as their high school game of the week. By the end of the second period of its eventual 7-3 win, Chuchill led 6-1, with a 31-5 advantage in shots. The Bulldogs got four goals and an assist from senior forward Zach Arden.
“They sent us a message in that first game that this wasn’t last year,” Sneddon said. “This was this year, and they are healthy and they don’t have to worry about making excuses and they were gonna kick our butts and they did it.”
Churchill Coach Ray McKenzie said he doesn’t believe the early stages of that contest were indicative of Whitman’s true ability. He expects a closer, more low-scoring affair this time.
Familiarity also is a factor, especially with another potential playoff battle looming. McKenzie expressed some concern about that but pledged a wait-and-see approach.
“We’re not going to do anything differently, but it depends on how the game goes,” he said. “If we come out and can’t do what we want to do, that actually wouldn’t be a terrible thing, because when the playoffs come around, we have the chance to kind of make some tweaks. But if we come out and play well, I’d probably be of the adage, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ and we’ll just take our chances when we play them again.”
Sneddon is counting on more discipline from his squad after Churchill scored three of its first four goals via power play in the first meeting. Less time in the penalty box would reduce the pressure on junior goaltender Zach Butler, who made 37 saves.
The Bulldogs can expect to see some new wrinkles from their rivals as well.
“Coach McKenzie at Churchill is a heck of a hockey coach, and he knows what he’s doing,” Sneddon said. “You think you play them and it’s going to be the same thing every time, but if you really pay attention, they’re doing something new . . . and you’ve got to try to quickly adjust to that or they’ll eat you up pretty quick, so we’ve got some things in mind we want to try.”
St. Albans shows potential
Bulldogs Coach Dan Ryan didn’t expect much from his team this season. Ryan figured St. Albans, which features 10 freshmen and four sophomores on its 26-man roster, would get better as the season went on and hopefully be ready to make some noise once the playoffs arrived in February.