Quartet Of Lakers Teams Competing For State Titles This Weekend
Four different Jamestown Lakers teams will enter this weekend participating the New York State Amateur Hockey Association Tier III tournament in Buffalo in pursuit of championship banners to hang in the rafters of Northwest Arena.
After finishing last year’s championships with one final and one semifinal appearance, this year’s contingent of coaches and players from the Chautauqua County Youth Hockey Association will make the trip north once more with even higher expectations.
Leading the way from the top will be the 18U Lakers Midget team and coach Jordan Farnham.
The Lakers will meet the Onondaga Thunder at 8:15 p.m. today on Rink 1 at the Northtown Center in Amherst for their first game of the tournament.
“We were in Rochester again last weekend playing an AA tournament where we played the top team from the state of New Jersey and then a team from Montreal,” Farnham said. “We were able to go 1-3 there and get a really good win over Monroe, who got a win over us the first two times during the league. It was nice to gain some confidence from there and learn from some of the mistakes that we have been making.”
Farnham’s roster includes many of the same players who aided the Jamestown Raiders to strong high school seasons each of the past two years, but also includes players hailing from Bradford and Warren, Pennsylvania.
On Saturday, the 18U Lakers will meet South Westchester at 10 a.m. before taking on Thousand Island at 5:30 p.m., with both of those games also taking place at the Northtown Center.
All of the teams in action this weekend will look to pick up wins in their first three pool games in order to advance.
“We strive to be good five on five. We want to be aggressive, but also keep that third guy high in the middle to help support. When we do that we are able to kind of hem teams in their own end and we are able to go from there,” Farnham said. “When we are working and clicking on all cylinders all three of our lines are solid. We are going to rely on our power play. Obviously this is what wins and loses these tournaments is power play and penalty kill.”
The Lakers sport the same goaltending duo as the Raiders during the high school season, with Tommy Chapman and Kaleb Bender each contributing minutes between the pipes.
“Chapman had a good year and so did Kaleb. Kaleb really took his game to the next level,” Farnham said. “Having Jake (Gerace) back, he is 100 percent now, he has had a really good year. I mean he had 32 points and we only played 26 games. We have really just had a good senior class.”
Both Midget programs have earned spots in this year’s tournament, with coach Jim Bergman leading his 16U team back following a run to the finals last season as Bantams.
Bergman’s team will meet the Palisades Predators at 4:15 p.m. today, the Bedford Bears at 10 a.m. on Saturday and Thousand Island at 6:15 p.m. on Saturday.
The Lakers first game will be at the Northtown Center while both of Saturday’s games will be at the Cornerstone CFCU Arena in Lockport.
“Earlier in the season I think we were 12-1-1 in the league and went to the break there with jayvees and varsity. There were three or four players who went up to play for the varsity,” Bergman said.
Like Farnham and company, the 16U Lakers have made it a point to schedule some difficult games in the run up to their NYSAHA finale.
While playing in the 18U division of the tournament in Rochester, the Lakers swept all of their games against older competition.
“I’m really confident going in to states this week. I think that not just winning (in Rochester), but playing that many games at a high intensity brought the team back together and brought us back to where we need to be.”
Bergman has been able to rely on strong play from netminder Jackson Yost this year, and has had the benefit of rolling a trio of talented forward lines without having to focus on one top offensive unit.
“This is what is making us a good team. Good teams usually have one good line, we have three good lines. I can put any line out against another team’s top line and we are going to match them,” he said. “We have a lot of speed and I like to use more of an in-your-face technique. Our forwards are right on you on the backcheck and our defense are right on you taking the body.”
Four of the players with Bergman for last year’s run to the finals now form the core of the 14U Lakers Bantam team, which will play Cicero at 3:45 p.m. today at Cornerstone, South Westchester, at 8 a.m. on Saturday at Northtown Center and Ogdensburg at 7 p.m., also at Northtown Center.
Maxx Yehl, Alex MacCallum, Jack Wells and Wade Daniels will each bring finals experience from their Bantam season a year ago, while the remaining portion of the Lakers will carry state tournament experience from a trip to the semifinals last year under coach Matt Finnerty.
“The second-year guys have been encouraging. They bought into the system and bought into what we want to do and the first years have followed,” Finnerty said. “Our identity is to play with speed, move the puck, skate fast. We’re not that big and we are mainly first-year players, so we have to play fast as best we can.”
While Finnerty’s squad has been able to rely on the physical play of their older foursome, the team primarily looks to create chances using speed and an offensive zone cycle that aims to produce a high number of shots.
“If we play with our speed then the second years can lead in the physicality.”
The fourth and final Jamestown team traveling north this weekend is the 12U program under head coach Jim Copeland.
An athletic group from top to bottom, Copeland and company are guided by strong defense from the back while the duo of Jameson Walsh and Ritter Coombs have turned in stellar offensive seasons.
Copeland’s team will meet Oswego today at noon, Pelham at 6:15 p.m. today and Ogdensburg at 2:15 p.m. on Saturday.
The first game against the Buccaneers will be at the Northtown Center while the remaining two on Saturday will be played at Cornerstone.
Of all the reasons that the Lakers have enjoyed success this season from top to bottom, one of the most important keys has been getting players accustomed to the modern game from a young age.
“The coaches are communicating with each other. The coaches believe in developing the kids, the development is huge,” Finnerty said. “Over the years now all of these coaches have allowed the kids to develop the way that they are supposed to, to be comfortable with the puck and be a good skater, good passer. So now I think we are just getting the fruit of what we have bought in to.”
Also aiding the growth of the CCYHA has been an increase in numbers over the recent years, as well as the experience that players have picked up playing in higher-level tournaments at the state and regional levels.
“This is something that I am really excited about. I believe this is the first time in Lakers history that all the state-qualifying teams have made it at the same time,” Bergman said. “I just look down through and see all of these teams from the ADM program and the Mites and Squirts. The coaching is phenomenal right now. The association and the board should be really proud of what they have done right now. The kids are playing really good, quality hockey.”