Quality hockey, energized fans and free admission can usually keep a student section coming back game after game. And as Bishop O’Connell Coach Flip Collins has figured out this season, free pizza certainly doesn’t hurt.
The first-year coach has taken to ordering 10 pizzas to be delivered to the Knights’ student section between the first and second periods. Word has gotten out about the improving O’Connell (9-5-2) squad — it sits atop the Patrick division of the Northern Virginia Scholastic Hockey League after a 6-4 win against then No. 10 Woodbridge — and the free food. Collins estimates there were about 20 student fans for the first game of the season, and the crowd was about 100 for the most recent home game.
Collins, who comes from Massachusetts, a lineage of hockey players and a prep school playing career, has already seen a change in the culture of O’Connell hockey.
“We want to enhance the experience for the kids,” he said. “When you play travel, you leave Saturday and come back Sunday. It’s not like you’re on the football team; your buddies can’t come watch you play.”
He recognizes that O’Connell games will need to rival the atmosphere of Briar Woods and Stone Bridge meetings if the private school is to recruit talented players from the Ashburn area and the Ashburn Xtreme club team. Collins already has about 15 travel players interested in playing for O’Connell next season. A typical Knights hockey recruiting class in past years was about two or three players, he said. They graduated only one senior from last season and returned senior left wing Ian Schneider, senior defenseman Bodga Dragacevac and junior center Luke Collins.
The Knights haven’t made it to the playoffs since 2009-10, and a shot at the postseason this year should only help their recruiting chances. Collins has also taken his team across the river to play MAPHL teams such as No. 1 Gonzaga, St. Albans, No. 8 Spalding and No. 10 DeMatha.
The opening of new high schools in the Ashburn area will also split up much of the Ashburn Xtreme hockey talent, making room for lesser-decorated teams such as the Knights to sneak in.
Collins is also working to start O’Connell’s first girls’ hockey team to compete in the Mid-Atlantic Girls Hockey League with local teams from Holton-Arms, Spalding and Holy Cross.
“I think we’re going to get really good people, and people are going to want to start playing for O’Connell as one of the top programs,” sophomore forward Daniel Avdioukhin said.
Avdioukhin transferred from Paul IV this year and is leading the team in points with seven goals and 10 assists through six games. He brings with him skating and stick-handling skills honed from years of training at European hockey camps run by his brother, Alex, a 2001 O’Connell grad.
The win against Woodbridge gave the Knights a glimpse of what they are capable of going into playoffs and the importance of coming out strong. O’Connell was down two goals early and scored three unanswered goals to take control at 3-2 and maintain the lead.
“I think they came out thinking they were going to beat us and we came out as hard as we could and outplayed them,” Avdioukhin said. “We wanted it more.”
Marriotts Ridge (2-5) dropped from second in the Howard division of the Maryland Student Hockey League to seventh after it was discovered to have played an ineligible student for much of the 2013 season. The team was operating under the guise that his paperwork had been approved, Coach Chip Sheehan said, and effectively “blew the whistle on themselves” when they inquired as to why the player wasn’t showing up on the roster. . . . Whitman (7-3-1) forced a tie with No. 9 Churchill, 2-2, after losing to the Bulldogs, 5-3, earlier in the season. Douglas Bruchalski and Benjamin Barrett scored for the Vikings.
Gonzaga blanked Georgetown Prep on Friday to stay unbeaten. . . Stone Bridge held off rival Broad Run, 6-4. . . . Landon has not lost since the last week of November. . . . Spalding drops down a spot after consecutive ties against St. Albans and DeMatha. . . . Despite a handful of out-of-area defeats, DeMatha returns to the rankings with a 2-0-1 record in the MAPHL — good for second behind Gonzaga.
1. Gonzaga (17-0-1) LW: 1
2. Stone Bridge (7-0) LW: 2
3. Landon (5-1) LW: 3
4. Atholton (9-0) LW: 4
5. Wootton (9-0) LW: 5
6. Briar Woods (5-1) LW: 6
7. Langley (5-1-1) LW: 8
8. Spalding (5-2-2) LW: 7
9. Churchill (8-2-1) LW: 9
10. DeMatha (9-16-1) LW: NR
Records through Tuesday.