DeMatha dove into a hectic December schedule and quickly started sinking. The Stags opened a stretch of 11 games in 19 days at a tournament in Western New York and picked up their first three losses of the season by a combined score of 13-2.
Three weeks later, No. 1 DeMatha has come up for air on the back of eight straight wins and heads into winter break undefeated against local competition.
“We came in maybe a little too cocky. We thought we were hot stuff in Maryland, and we go up to New York and these kids are the real deal,” senior captain Ty Brandt said. “We didn’t do nearly as well as expected.”
The jam-packed early-season schedule is designed to help the Stags in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference and Mid-Atlantic Prep Hockey League playoffs, where champions must win three games in a week. DeMatha has not won the MAPHL championship since 2008, and Gonzaga and Landon have split the last seven titles.
“The schedule forces us to face some adversity and prepares us for the playoffs where there isn’t time to recover,” senior defenseman Teddy Whitehead said. “[Gonzaga and Landon] are the two powerhouses that have run the MAPHL, but we don’t let their past success affect our plans for future success.”
The Stags returned five defenseman from last year and have allowed 18 goals in 16 games outside of their road trip, including wins over Gonzaga and Churchill. After dispatching St. Mary’s Ryken, 10-0 on Tuesday night, DeMatha (15-3-1) begins a span of 16 days without a game.
Last Sunday, the program hosted an alumni game where past players set their expectation for a strong finish following such a promising start.
“The message was more ‘you better win’ than ‘do your best,’” Brandt said. “[The alumni] are proud of us. They’re like, ‘We haven’t won a championship in a long time. You guys better bring it home.’”
Marriotts Ridge seniors Chris Jones and Jack Watson knew the plan when they lined up for the opening faceoff. So as the puck dropped and Jones slid it forward to the left side, Watson was already there waiting to collect the pass in stride and skate in for the breakaway. Eight seconds into Thursday’s game against Mount Hebron, the Mustangs were already on the scoreboard.
The play is called the wheel, and it’s one of many introduced by the late Tom Serio. The longtime Marriotts Ridge assistant coach died after suffering a heart attack this summer at 58 years old, but his unorthodox playcalls and principles live on with the Mustangs, who improved to 9-0 after their 7-1 victory over Mount Hebron.
“When we’re in big games, it translates into huge plays,” Jones said.
Serio joined the staff in 2006, a year after the program launched, coaching and working with his children as Marriotts Ridge developed into a top Maryland Student Hockey League team. Serio implemented a lacrosse-derived system that helped the Mustangs — the 2015 Howard County Cup champions — become a perennial contender.
“We wish we had him back. Our coaches now are great, but we all know Coach Tom is missing and it’s really hard,” Watson said. “The team and I, we’ve all said that we have to do this for coach Tom.”
The Mustangs wear a patch with Serio’s name on their right sleeve in Coca-Cola font and colors; he worked for Coca-Cola for 32 years. In past seasons, the players have had their sights set on the Howard County Cup, but it’s the newly renamed Serio Cup they are targeting this winter.
“We just want to play for Tommy,” Jones said. “That’s our goal, to win that cup.”
Combined for two goals and five assists in wins over Quince Orchard and Glenelg and has 26 points on the season.
O’Connell and St. Albans skated to a 3-3 tie last Thursday . . . John Taylor had two goals and an assist in Churchill’s 4-1 win against Glenelg on Monday. The Gladiators were coming off wins over River Hill and Mount Hebron with a combined scoring margin of 14-2 . . . Broad Run shut out Freedom-South Riding on Friday, 1-0 . . . Whitman bounced back from a 5-3 loss to Georgetown Prep with wins over Bethesda-Chevy Chase and Blair . . . Wootton lost to Bethesda-Chevy Chase on Friday, 2-1.
1. DeMatha (15-3-1) Last week: 1
2. Gonzaga (7-2) LW: 2
3. Stone Bridge (3-0) LW: 3
4. Churchill (8-2-2) LW: 4
5. O’Connell (5-2-1) LW: 5
6. Broad Run (4-0-1) LW: 6
7. Georgetown Prep (4-3) LW: 8
8. Marriotts Ridge (9-0) LW: 9
9. St. Albans (4-2-1) LW: 10
10. Whitman (7-2-1) LW: NR
Dropped out: Wootton (6-3) LW: 5
Records through Tuesday.