A premiere Maryland Scholastic Hockey League rivalry resumes Friday night in Rockville, when No. 6 Churchill (9-2) and No. 7 Whitman (6-2-2) meet in their latest clash for control of the Montgomery 2A conference.
While last season’s three meetings burst with drama — all were decided by a single goal — the first of this season was a lopsided Bulldogs victory that has the Vikings looking for solutions, and a bit of payback, in the rematch.
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.”
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.
The young Bulldogs had other plans though and have gelled more quickly than their coach predicted, going 6-1-1 to open the season with their only loss coming Dec. 4 against Calvert Hall. Since then, St. Albans has won all but one game and has developed a habit of earning victories in dramatic fashion, with three of the Bulldogs’ last four contests ending on the game’s final play.
The Bulldogs began their last-second heroics Dec. 12 against Bullis when the game-winning goal hit the net with just 0.4 of a second left to play. They continued it the following week against Baltimore’s Mount St. Joseph, when St. Albans pulled its goalie and scored an equalizing goal with 30 seconds left to escape with a 2-2 tie. Last Friday, St. Albans surrendered a three-goal lead against Georgetown Prep before besting the Little Hoyas in overtime, 4-3.
“We definitely are feeling a lot of momentum and we’re definitely feeling that our work is paying off,” senior goalie Tucker Boyle said. “We’re convinced that we’re doing the things the other teams aren’t, and that’s why we’re winning games. Against Georgetown Prep, we’re thinking that they’re not going in on Saturday mornings early and lifting, and that’s the difference when it comes to overtime, that we have the energy and so we have a ton of confidence in ourselves to win these close games.”
The Bulldogs have much work to do though if they hope to continue their hot streak. St. Albans’ schedule will take a decidedly difficult turn in the coming weeks, with games against No. 6 Churchill, No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 8 DeMatha followed by contests against St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes, No. 4 Landon and No. 10 Spalding.
Ryan is realistic about the schedule and admitted that the Bulldogs simply don’t have the depth that their upcoming opponents do. Still, Ryan said he hopes the confidence from his team’s hot start will help carry them through the rough stretch.
“It’s going to get tougher, but obviously I can’t complain with the start. We’re probably in a better position than I thought we would be,” he said. “When we get against these teams that can throw three lines, and even four lines at us that are all really good, hopefully we’ll be able to withstand some of that and always have confidence that we’re in the game.”
Spalding makes its first appearance of the season in the rankings after beating No. 8 DeMatha in back-to-back games last week. . . . Marriotts Ridge (6-2) drops out of the No. 10 spot after one week, following an 8-3 loss Monday to Glenelg. Marriotts Ridge had won the teams’ first meeting this season, 10-3. . . . Woodbridge won its first game since Dec. 10 with a 7-0 victory over the provisional team from Forest Park and Mountain View.
1. Gonzaga (12-3-1) LW: 1
2. Stone Bridge (7-0) LW: 2
3. Atholton (6-0) LW: 3
4. Landon (9-2-1) LW: 4
5. Briar Woods (5-1) LW: 5
6. Churchill (9-2) LW: 6
7. Whitman (6-2-2) LW: 8
8. DeMatha (12-10-2) LW: 7
9. Woodbridge (4-0) LW: 9
10. Spalding (9-2) LW: NR
Records through Tuesday.