The game happened more than a month ago, but the numbers still jump out on their schedule.
The loss, a 9-0 blowout at the hands of New Trier High School in Illinois, happened just four games into No. 7 DeMatha’s season, but Coach Tony MacAulay still remembers how it started: With his team down two goals within the game’s first 60 seconds, a result of bad turnovers, mental mistakes and a little intimidation.
“I called a timeout when it was 3-0 and called them to the bench and basically told them, ‘Are you guys going to continue to be boys or are you going to act like men?’ ” MacAulay said. “I didn’t worry about our players at that point, because that’s how they learn. We’ve always put them in situations where they can succeed in some way, shape or form. There are some games we know we’re probably not going to win. We knew we weren’t going to beat that team, but we knew we needed to learn something from it.”
That loss, and others from DeMatha’s grueling early season schedule has begun to pay off for the Stags (7-6-2), who have won each of their last four games including a 2-0 win over No. 1 Gonzaga two weeks ago and a 7-1 win over Georgetown Prep last Friday. The Stags have outscored opponents 15-3 during their four-game streak, a trend that senior Garrett Hasken said stems from his team’s tough road schedule.
“I think we came back and we’re definitely playing at a higher level,” said Hasken, who has three goals in his last two games. “I think we got better every day while we were up there, and then we took a bus back but we never really took a step back. You always want to go forward. I think it definitely translates, when we get back, that we’re playing at a higher level.”
More than most of his local counterparts, MacAulay challenges his team early by taking it on the road. The Stags will have played 10 games in three out-of-town tournaments by the time the calendar turns to 2013, including the season-opening tournament in Illinois, where the Stags faced a national power in New Trier, and another in Jamestown, N.Y. where being a state finalist or champion is a requirement for entry.
“That’s how we’re going to develop guys,” MacAulay said. “By throwing them in the fire and letting them sink or swim.”
At a meeting before hockey season began, first-year Northern Coach Erik Larsen offered his team two paths.
The Patriots, with just enough players to fill two lines, could play it safe by choosing to become a provisional team, allowing them to add players from other school districts but disqualifying them from a playoff berth. The other option was to move forward as a “pure” team — thereby keeping playoff eligibility — despite lacking depth and anyone with goaltending experience.
“I told the kids, ‘It’s my recommendation to become a provisional team, but I’m here for you guys,’ ” said Larsen, an assistant the past four seasons under Mark Clark. “ ‘This is your team, and I’m here to support you, so if you guys want to become a pure team, that’s what you’ll do.’”
The vote was unanimous. Junior James Layman volunteered to step into the net. The Patriots would make do.
So far, the decision is paying dividends. Northern leads the Southern Conference at 5-0, while racking up the most goals in the Maryland Scholastic Hockey League. Larsen credits Northern’s chemistry and diverse attack, as six different Patriots have at least 10 points, led by junior Tristan Beeson’s 21.
Last season Northern went 10-3 but missed the playoffs, finishing third behind Huntingtown and La Plata. Graduations depleted the roster, which added only two new names, bringing the total to 12. By contrast, Huntingtown and La Plata both have 17.
To make matters worse, junior Michael Santiago, a top returner, broke his collarbone before Northern’s first practice and hasn’t played since, although he could come back in mid-January. With eight or nine skaters at his disposal for most games, Larsen can’t make full line changes and must mix and match positions.
One constant has been Layman. The former defenseman has held the opposition to 11 goals (2.20 GAA), despite less than a month of preseason practice. He’s glad he made the decision, regardless of the outcome.
“I’d rather give our team a shot to play and a shot to win than not even have a season at all,” Layman said. “I did it for my teammates.”
The transition has not been as difficult as he expected, something he realized Nov. 19 in a season-opening 10-2 win over St. Mary’s Ryken.
“I was really nervous and I thought if I let my team down, I’m gonna feel really bad,” Layman said. “But after I got about two saves, I was like, ‘Actually, this might be fun; I might do decent at this,’ and I started gaining confidence at the position a little bit.”
Northern won’t play again until Jan. 11, when Larsen will need another strong across-the-board effort against Huntingtown, last season’s MSHL runner-up.
“There’s nowhere to hide,” Larsen said of his small roster. “Everyone’s going to get ice time, so everybody has to contribute equally and put in max effort all the way through the game in order to be successful.”
The Post Top 10
Briar Woods won its two games last weekend by a combined score of 15-1. . . . Atholton faces its biggest test of the season Friday, when it takes on Marriotts Ridge (4-0). The teams currently are tied atop the Howard Conference. . . . Gonzaga was idle last week and won’t play again until hosting the Purple Puck Tournament, which begins Dec. 28.
1. Gonzaga (8-1) LW: 1
2. Stone Bridge (6-0) LW: 2
3. Atholton (4-0) LW:3
4. Landon (4-0-1) LW: 4
5. Briar Woods (5-1) LW: 5
6. Churchill (5-2) LW: 6
7. DeMatha (7-6-2) LW: 7
8. Whitman (3-2-2) LW: 8
9. Woodbridge (3-0) LW: 9
10. Huntingtown (4-2) LW: 10