Fairfax County Public Schools didn’t go back to class until the Monday after New Year’s. So when Langley (4-1-1) arrived on the ice for last Friday’s game against Oakton, all three of its goalies were still on vacation in Cancun, a cruise and a club team trip to Boston. Three of the team’s top six forwards chose to take advantage of the extended break as well.
The Saxons were able to hold onto a one-goal lead for the first 41 minutes despite a short-handed roster and defenseman Chris Lane in net, but then let up six goals in four minutes for their first loss, 12-7.
“It was kind of hard on morale, especially being ahead with four minutes left in the game and to come out and put that much effort forward and then to end up losing,” Langley Coach Grady Little said. “But once we were able to take a step back, we realized we really competed with the shell of our team and did pretty well.”
Lane, a lacrosse goalie and a junior who returned to the sport after two years off, faced 38 shots and played well for the amount of “chirping” he heard all game long from the Oakton (4-2) fans behind the net, Little said.
The last-minute substitution in goal goes along with Langley’s method so far this year of working with what it's got. Last year’s Northern Virginia Scholastic Hockey League runner-up graduated six seniors, including three of the four top scorers, and Coach Rob Faktorow retired this season after 11 years at the helm of the Saxons.
Little, who stepped in from an assistant position last season to take over at his alma mater, has structured his lines to play to the Saxons’ strengths and take advantage of talented underclassman and returning scorers. He’s trying to balance out the scoring (senior Drew Schneider leads with 11 goals, and nine other players have scored in five games) and play freshmen who are usually on the “practice squad” in games such as Monday’s 6-1 win against North Stafford/Colonial Forge.
“I think his coaching style is a lot different but it’s working for our skill level,” Schneider said of Little. “He’s finding roles for players that he thinks can handle different situations.”
Schneider, who has a team-high 17 points, is finding himself matched with different linemen than the past three seasons, such as Jeremy Kim, who became an assistant captain this season.
“I’m connecting more with kids that I didn’t connect with in the past few years,” Schneider said. “We’re learning more and finding more chemistry as the games go on.”
A “perfect storm” is brewing in Southern Maryland, and the Leonardtown (6-0) squad is looking forward to showing off its skills outside of the Southern division come playoff time.
“It’s a perfect storm of players of quality that have played on club teams, a mix of older and younger kids — this is our time,” said fourth-year Coach Gordy Bonnel.
The Raiders’ first test came against 2012 Maryland Student Hockey League runner-up Huntingtown in the first week of December. They won, 6-4. Next came wins against St. Mary’s Ryken (1-4) and Northern (4-1) as well as a rout of Thomas Stone (1-2-1).
Leonardtown narrowly edged Patuxent, 7-5, in the first week of 2014 and outshot the Panthers 55-14.
The Raiders will face Northern again next week and then look ahead toward making their first solid run in the playoffs as a “pure” team made up of players from just one school.
“Back in 2010 or so, we had a pretty good run to the finals and everyone was saying, ‘Who the heck is this team from Southern Maryland?’” Bonnel said. “We’re slowly working our way up. It’s like any new sport, and ice hockey is starting to grow.”
Bonnel’s got two solid lines of competitive club team players “that are able to handle themselves at crunch time,” including his son, Cullen (10 goals, 10 assists), sophomore forward Alec Guarnero (14 goals, nine assists) and Nicholas Pontorno (six goals, 10 assists).
Leonardtown has also added the first junior varsity squad in the division and Bonnel’s numbers are “growing exponentially,” he said.
“The kids are very proud of it, and every game day, even if we’re not technically allowed to promote the sport in the school, they’ll wear their jackets and khakis proudly,” Bonnel said.
“At the Patuxent game there were quite a few people in the stands and that was good to see. It’s not only parents there, but now kids from the schools are going just like they would to football and basketball games, representing the school.”
Three top 10 teams played in the first month of the season, and in every matchup, the lower-ranked squad prevailed. Costly penalties kept Briar Woods’ top players out of the game for the first period against Stone Bridge in a 6-2 loss in December. . . . Defending MSHL champion Churchill struggled to overcome personnel losses from last season and allowed three goals in 90 seconds as Wootton won, 5-1 last Friday. . . . Langley took a 2-0 decision against Woodbridge. . . . Gonzaga won a sixth Purple Puck tournament during the winter break and came from behind to beat Calvert Hall, 2-1, on Monday. . . . Atholton remains undefeated going into a meeting with Marriotts Ridge (5-1) Friday.
1. Gonzaga (15-0-1) LW: 1
2. Stone Bridge (5-0) LW: 4
3. Landon (3-1) LW: 5
4. Atholton (7-0) LW: 8
5. Wootton (6-0) LW: 10
6. Briar Woods (4-1) LW: 2
7. Spalding (5-2) LW: 6
8. Langley (4-1-1) LW: 9
9. Churchill (6-1) LW: 3
10. Woodbridge (3-1-1) LW: 7
Records through Tuesday