Zack Butler felt the season slipping away. Wootton was winning most of its games, but not the ones that counted, and that left the team on the outside of the Maryland Student Hockey League’s 16-team tournament last winter.
It was the first time in at least a decade that the perennial contender didn’t qualify for the postseason, according to longtime Coach Dave Evans.
“We lost horrendously to Churchill both times,” Butler said. “We could tell that . . . it was really iffy if we were going to make it.”
The Patriots (6-2, 6-1 MSHL) have a small margin of error competing in the Montgomery Division featuring two-time defending MSHL champion Churchill, which has made their strong start all the more significant. With an experienced group of upperclassmen — several of whom dropped from club teams to focus on high school competition — Wootton is climbing back into contention and trying to regain its 2014 title form.
Senior Nicolas Band, who was part of that title team two years ago, has eight goals and four assists while anchoring the defense with junior Zachary Lechner. Sophomore Hunter Band, Nicolas’s brother, has a team-high nine goals and 10 assists.
Wootton is also anticipating the return of sophomore John Billingsley, a Maryland lacrosse commit who has been out of the lineup with a hip injury.
Wins over Whitman, Bethesda-Chevy Chase and Walter Johnson have boosted Wootton toward the top of the standings, and the team has slightly more wiggle room in qualifying for the postseason due to a change in league structure. But a 3-2 loss to Churchill might be its most telling result.
The Patriots aren’t yet where they need to be, Butler said, and that showed as they gave up an early goal and never recovered in their lone league loss. Mechanically they are fine, Butler said, but “if we really want to win states, we’re going have to work on really synergizing as a team.”
“We have the skill, we have the depth. Our goaltending is good,” added Nicolas Band. “It just didn’t go our way that game and we will be ready for the next one and we’ll know what to expect.”
Goals scored by Damascus/Gaithersburg/Clarksburg sophomore Nick Mohardt in only five games played. He had four in Friday’s 7-4 win against Blake/Northwest.
Boggs leads the area with 142 saves through seven games. In a 5-3 win over Whitman on Monday, the junior allowed one goal over the final two periods as the Little Hoyas came back for a 5-3 win.
Yorktown ice hockey realized structure was the key to unlocking potential, so the Patriots set forth new season protocols with a focus on seriousness. The attitude shift is visible on game-day morning when players wear ties to school. Weekly practice has a newfound urgency that is on time and competitive.
“We’ve always been okay. In the past, you’d show up five minutes before, throw on your pads, and get on the ice ten minutes late,” senior captain Bobby Wells said. “We realized all the potential, so the captains called a meeting and said ‘the days of this being a joke are over. No more just showing up.’ ”
The ties double as an excuse to remind people in the Arlington community to attend games. Through social media, fliers, and GoPro videos on the morning announcements, the Patriots are attracting more of a crowd each game and backing it up on the ice.
In four games, Yorktown (3-0-1) has 22 goals scored by 10 players. The team’s strength is three forward lines capable of maintaining intensity from shift to shift.
“Some schools have a kid that will score 20 goals for them. We have three lines that can come out and play,” said junior forward Matt Neuman, who leads the team with six goals. “We’ve redefined and refocused. When you show up even to just our practice, there’s an aura of serious.”
“If we were on a team that played freeze tag or sharks and minnows, that might be fun, but you’re not going anywhere,” junior forward Liam Wells said. “It’s a hell of a lot more fun to win games than goof off in practice.”
DeMatha beat Churchill, 5-2, on Monday . . . Gonzaga topped O’Connell, 5-2 . . . Georgetown Prep has wins over Walter Johnson, Wootton, Spalding and Whitman . . . Jack Watson has 15 goals and 11 assists to lead unbeaten Marriotts Ridge . . . Georgetown Prep bounced back from a 7-2 loss to Gonzaga with a win over Whitman . . . St. Albans won three games over the last week.
1. DeMatha (10-3-1) Last week: 1
2. Gonzaga (6-2) LW: 2
3. Stone Bridge (3-0) LW: 4
4. Churchill (6-2-2) LW: 3
5. O’Connell (5-2) LW: 5
6. Broad Run (3-0-1) LW: 8
7. Marriotts Ridge (8-0) LW: 9
8. Georgetown Prep (4-3) LW: NR
9. Wootton (6-2) LW: 5
10. St. Albans (3-2) LW: 10
Dropped out: Whitman (5-1-1) LW: 7
On the Bubble: Glenelg (6-1), St. Mary’s Ryken (6-2), Langley (4-0-1)
Records through Tuesday.