Ridgefield Lions Bantams are Connecticut State Champs!
Ridgefield Lions Bantams are Connecticut State Champs
Heading to National Championship in April
On March 5, the Ridgefield Lions Bantam A ice hockey team won the Connecticut Tier II State Tournament, defeating rival Wonderland 3-1 in the final game for the 2017 title and a trip to the National Championship. With the Lions the number one-ranked team in the state, there was considerable pressure to win it all, but the coaching staff conveyed a calmness that allowed the team to focus on its goal and play with purpose. This is a talented and intensely motivated group of hockey players, and they are especially well prepared to play at such a high level. The Lions won not only all five of its tournament games, but also the organization’s first trip to the USA Hockey National Championship in Coral Springs, Florida, where next month they will compete for a national title.
Head coach Mike "Buzzy" Schneider, a fiercely competitive coach with a long track record of success, including a Tier III state title two years ago, led his team to a regular season record of 22-4-1, as well as a title at the Silver Stick tournament in November. That title also earned them a berth to the Silver Stick national championships in Port Huron, Michigan, in January. When asked how he was able to get his team to perform at such a high level, Schneider said, “I teach them the importance of doing all the little things correctly and to give 110% on every shift. I instill in them the importance of trusting their teammates to execute.” This selfless style of play was apparent to anyone who watched the team this season, as they passed the puck consistently and without hesitation. All season, Schneider kept the focus on team-oriented goals and asking each player to do his or her part in to help the team achieve them.
Coach Schneider also emphasized the importance of having an all-consuming drive to win. “Of course you want talented and skilled players, ” he said. “But as a coach, what matters more to me are those players who are passionately competitive and fiercely driven to succeed. If winning is your goal, you have to want it more than anything. ” The 2017 state title clearly illustrates that the team fully embraced their coach’s competitive spirit.
When asked to explain the team’s success, assistant coach Jeff MacDonald said, “We had solid performances and significant contributions from every player on the team, and our goaltending was the best in the league.” The numbers back this up. During the five games of the Connecticut state tournament, the Lions scored a total of 22 goals but let in only four. This included a 4-2 win over East Haven to open the tournament, back-to-back shutouts, with 7-0 and 6-0 wins over Hamden and New Canaan the following day, a 2-1 win over Yale in the semifinals, and a 3-1 win over Wonderland in the championship game. Goaltenders Catie Boudiette and Ryan Maguire were simply outstanding, always giving their team a chance to win and often completely shutting down their opponents. Boudiette remarked, “We knew that since we were the number one seed, other teams would bring their best against us, but we were confident because we believed in each other.” According to captain CJ Stafford, “Catie really stepped up and came prepared to play this season. We would not have won a state title without her. And Ryan was outstanding.” Ridgefield goalies coach Rob Sutherland concurs, “The success of the team’s goaltending is a result of very hard work and dedication to their position. Catie and Ryan have a great relationship on the ice and they push each other to do better.”
Coach MacDonald also emphasized the team’s depth. “You don’t go this far with only one good line,” he said. “This is a good group of kids, with a lot of talent and dedication.” He also said that the team took nothing for granted and that despite its talent, they knew that they had to play their best every time they stepped onto the ice. The level of competition in Connecticut is fierce, with strong, well-coached teams throughout the state. Defenseman Drew Greeley complimented the coaches’ drive and intensity. “Our coaches are both very serious about the game and how we play. Buzzy and Jeff are not afraid to make you sprint or sit you if you did not show up to play. This keeps us focused and at full speed all the time, which relates to our success. They’re not maniacs, though. You look at some coaches and they go crazy. Buzzy and Jeff both love the game like all of us but know it is up to us, not them, to go out and get a W. This gives them a laid-back but serious attitude.”
Ridgefield Amateur Hockey Association board president Michael Luft believes that the Bantam A state championship speaks volumes to the organization and its core philosophy. “RAHA’s goal has been to help all its young hockey players reach their potential and succeed,” he said. “Not merely to find players elsewhere and bring them into the program.” Luft adds, “The Connecticut State Championship is a tremendous achievement, built through years of hard work and dedication. It is a testament to all of the RAHA coaches, players, and parents who stuck together over the years and committed themselves to something great.”
Luft is also quick to credit the outstanding coaching staff for the team’s success. “Coaches Buzzy and Jeff consistently emphasized the importance of team over individuals,” he said. “They insisted on selfless play, and it was apparent even early in the season at the CanAm Tournament in Lake Placid, New York, that the kids had dedicated themselves to this philosophy.” Throughout the season, teammates were always quick to dismiss individual accolades and insist that all praise be shared equally among the team. This is an impressive show of maturity and a willing embrace of the team-first philosophy.
More than half of the kids on this championship Lions squad have played together within the organization for their entire hockey careers, starting as Mites more than seven years earlier. For talented players such as these, there is often a temptation to find a different program that promises something greater, but this core group of players stuck together for years, culminating in the ultimate success as a team. Captain Michael Thompson emphasized, “Most of us have been playing together at RAHA for years. We practice together at home, we go to sticks and pucks together, and we just know each other really well. We can anticipate each other’s moves on the ice, which makes us a better team.” Captain Kevin McNicholas echoed this point as well when he said, “When a team knows each other as well as we do, playing together becomes second nature.” Boudiette also emphasized the team’s long history. “We’ve all been playing together since we were really young, ” she said. “[RAHA] is a great program. Everyone treats each other like a big family.” Said Drew Greeley, a defenseman, “We are a very serious team. When it comes to practice and game time, it is a strict hour before we are ready to go. We work hard on our own time and on the coaches’ time. We know what we want to do and how we can do it. Most of all, I think our success is due to what a tight group we are. We play other teams and see kids yelling at each other and parents yelling at each other. We all look out for each other. This helps us stay like a family, and then we don't have problems with kids on our lines, which could affect how we play. We're not selfish with the puck and that makes it easy to win games. “
Drew Greeley has been out most of the season with a devastating knee injury, but that still hasn’t dampened his dedication to the team. On the bench for every game this season as a player-coach, Greeley is an irreplaceable member of this RAHA family. “I’ve been playing with these kids since first grade,” he said. “It’s so great to finally prove we’re a great team.” Before games Greeley gets his teammates motivated in the locker room, and on the bench he helps with the door and always provides a positive attitude for his teammates.
It’s important to note that success did not always come easy for this team, but that it was resilient enough to learn from its mistakes. When the Lions came up one game short at the CanAm tournament, finishing with silver medals, captain CJ Stafford reflected, “We learned we were beatable if we didn’t give it our all. If we want to win, we’re going to have to leave it all on the ice every time we play.” This proved to be a valuable lesson for this young group of skaters.
Following their second place finish at CanAm, the team came together and talked about what it needed to do. Captain Mike Thompson emphasized, “We knew that if we played together as a team, we could beat anyone. We trusted our teammates, and that’s how we went out and played.” According to Coach Buzzy, after the loss at CanAm, he and the team all got together and mapped out its goals for the remainder of the season, which included a state title and a trip to “Nattys” (the national tournament). The team then went on to record more than 20 consecutive wins and accomplish everything it set out to do. “Being with most of these teammates since Mites or first-year Squirts really made this tournament much more of a priority. Early on as a team we gathered and wrote our final goal in the middle of the locker room whiteboard one word: Nattys,” added Drew Greeley. “We knew this was the last time some of us may ever play, or play with each other, that this was that tournament. Winning, and knowing you are the best at the end of your youth hockey career, is just such a great feeling. We were all glad we could get it done and have another opportunity to play under one name for a few more games.“
What these young men and women accomplished is extraordinary. They won a Connecticut State title by putting aside personal egos and dedicating themselves to the team. This is a tremendous achievement on its own, but the way this team won is even more special. The players on Ridgefield Lions Bantam A team accomplished their goals by sticking together, working hard, and endlessly dedicating themselves to their teammates—critical lessons these kids will take with them for the rest of their hockey careers and, more important, for the rest of their lives.
The 2016-17 Lions captains are Michael Thompson, CJ Stafford, Kevin McNicholas, and Catie Boudiette. The squad also includes Matthew Ambrosio, Toby Berner, Jack Caiola, Samantha DeLeo, Tyler Everitt, Giancarlo Faraci, Drew Greeley, Taylor MacDonald, Ryan Maguire, Shane McCaghey, Patrick Rigby, William Stewart, Brody Trew, Bryce Wallace, and Kees van Wees.
This past week Charlie Capalbo, a CT hockey player, was diagnosed with a cancer that islocatednear his heart and lungs. A "Go Fund Me" account has been set up to help his family with the associated medical costs.The outpouring of support has been amazing with over $45,000 raised within the first 19 hours of the account having been posted. As of today, over $96,000 has been raised.Ifyouwould like to make a donation of anyamount,please follow the link below.
All Bantams (2003) and rising Peewees (2004) and are invited to a checking clinic, free with paid tryout registration. The clinic will take place at Winter Garden Arena on Thursday, April 6, from 8:10 p.m. to 8:50 p.m.
The clinic is designed to ease the transition to the Bantam level by teaching proper technique and player safety. It is primarily designed for players entering their first season of body checking, but all players trying out at the Bantam level are eligible to participate.
Please contact Eric Presbrey, Director of Hockey Operations, at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
Goals Beyond Hockey for Role Model Mentors Duo Harrison & Mason
Harrison Chuma and Mason Bloechle
RIDGEFIELD's HAMLET HUB
Written by Amy Mellinger, Role Model Mentors
Meet RHS Senior Harrison Chuma and fourth grade student Mason Bloechle, a pair of Ridgefield hockey players who recently shared their Role Model Mentors story.
I met Harrison and Mason during one of their weekly meetings. From the beginning I knew these two had a special bond. There was a level of comfort and respect that was hard to miss.
“It was my mom’s idea to get a mentor.” Mason told me. “I didn’t really know what that meant but thought it sounded good. I knew I would like Harrison as soon as I met him. We have the same haircut, and he loves hockey as much as I do!”
Harrison, a member of the Ridgefield High School varsity hockey team, is Mason’s mentor. Mason is known to show up at Harrison’s hockey games, tellings his friends, “That’s my mentor on the ice.” While their love of hockey is a big part of Harrison and Mason’s bond, there is much more to this relationship.
Weekly meetings begin with school work and end with fun. Harrison explained, “We usually start the session with homework, reviewing vocabulary words and reading, then we’ll play board games, shoot pucks or maybe get in a game of knee hockey.”
“We couldn’t be happier with the role model Harrison has become for our son,” remarked, Jennifer Bloechle, Mason’s mother. “Mason had an assignment in school recently to write an essay about one person in his life, and he chose Harrison. That choice -- and what he wrote -- showed us how much Mason looks up to Harrison.”
For a mentor like Harrison, playing a varsity sport and staying on top of academics is demanding. I asked Harrison how he finds the time to fit mentoring into his busy schedule. He was quick to tell me, “Being with Mason is like looking through a window back in time. Mason reminds me so much of myself at his age. It’s nostalgic. I like that I have the ability to impact someone’s life. I had mentors that helped me. My siblings, coaches, and teachers were not necessarily called mentors but I realize now, that’s what they were.”
It’s safe to say both boys put this relationship in the win column.
Role Model Mentors matches outstanding high school students with elementary and middle school students, based on shared interests and specific needs. In their weekly mentoring sessions, mentors offer younger kids a positive influence and a uniquely-tailored combination of activities. This might be study skills and sports, math practice and music practice or homework help combined with time for hobbies like robotics or art.