The quest for the cup came to a close for the JV ice hockey team. As the overwhelmingly favored top seed in the JV state playoffs, the boys were meeting expectations, if not exceeding them.
It was business as usual for the Patriots in their state quarterfinal game vs. Whitman on Feb. 20. Both sides got on the board early, and the score remained at 1-1 for about half of the first period (six minutes). For a moment, it seemed as if Whitman would give the Patriots their first real test of the season.
Any hopes of an upset were put to rest by the Patriots, abruptly. In the remaining six minutes of the first period, they poured on three more goals to give themselves a 4-1 lead entering the first intermission. As both teams skated back onto the ice for the second period, the Patriots’ body language made it clear that the pummeling would proceed well past the first period. The Vikings, on the other hand, didn’t appear like they were willing to do much to stop it. “We were in their heads,” sophomore center Jake Smith said, “but it really doesn’t change the game. You still have to go out there and score more goals.” And score they did… a lot.
Throughout the span of the second period, the boys racked on three more goals while only letting one Viking puck get by them, leaving a 7-2 scoreline. All that stood between them and the semi-finals was one final period in a game that was all but over.
With a five-goal cushion on their side, the coaches turned the team’s attention to fundamental play instead of trying to run up the score. The boys now had to complete five passes before taking a shot on goal, a class move as well as a clever one.
With the coaches’ mandate in place, the Patriots were still able to slot one last goal past the Vikings’ goaltender, and at the sound of the horn, the team had cemented their place in the semi-finals with an 8-2 victory.
Leading the charge for the Patriots was sophomore winger Eric Quam, who netted a career-high four goals and added on one assist. “I really want to contribute to the effort my team gives,” Quam said, “I want to help them win.”
The boys won 3-0 in their semi-final match against Bethesda Chevy-Chase on Feb. 27. The team had to fight much harder in this game (for a longer amount of time too), but the defense stepped up big time.
The boys advanced to the JV state championship against Blair, whom they tied 4-4 earlier in the season. It all came down to one final game. A game that would decide who would walk away with the state crown. The Patriots’ journey- unblemished- almost assured that the team would get the job done. Sure, the only game they didn’t win was a tie to Blair, the team they were facing in the finals. Sure, Blair would bring down some varsity players, but the Patriots were riddled with varsity-caliber players on their squad. They had to win. It was a sure thing.
But there’s no such thing as a sure thing, and the Patriots found that out the hard way.
The Patriots fell to the Blazers 6-1 in their first loss of the season. It was just as stunning as it was heartbreaking for the Patriots’ side. The boys, notorious for getting a big lead early and having the game in their control, had no answers for a Blair side that- as expected- brought down some of their varsity players for this game and also had goalie Ben Boa on their side, who led all Montgomery County goaltenders with a 1.57 goals against average.
Blair got on the board first and never looked back, completely flipping the script of how most Patriot games go. Blair dominated the puck from the opening face-off in the first period. They held it in the Patriots’ zone practically the whole time. Despite the lopsided possession, the defense held strong, and entered the first intermission down 1-0 to the Blazers.
The second period initially showed promise for the Patriots. The possession was less lopsided, and the boys were able to get the puck past the Blazers’ blue line, but several close chances in front of the goal were squandered by either an errant pass or a tough save by Boa.
The Blazers were not the only team that provided a stellar goaltending performance. Yes, allowing six goals doesn’t seem good at all, but most, if not all, were at the fault of the defense. Graham’s countless saves, on the other hand, were the only thing keeping the Patriots’ hopes alive in the second period. At one point he made not one, not two, but three consecutive point-blank saves to temporarily keep the score at 1-0. The Blazers did eventually manage to sneak a puck past Graham, and the score at the end of the second period was 2-0.
Even though the game had been one-sided, the fat lady had not sung just yet. Any fan of hockey knows that a two goal-lead is the most dangerous lead in hockey. The boys just needed a rally. The Blazers came firing out of the gate, scoring just 30 seconds into the third period. Still, there was hope.
The dagger came with just eight minutes left in the game. The Patriots had a power play, and the Blazers were feeling the pressure. The Patriots were beginning to groove. Passes, for the first time in this game, were consistently connecting. They just needed to put the puck in the back if the net to get a spark. After a few close shot attempts, the puck rolled to a Blazer defender who proceeded to make a routine penalty-kill clearance. The puck passed the mid-line just as time expired on the two-minute penalty, where emerging from the penalty box was a lone Blazer. Left helpless by bad timing, there was little Graham could do to stop the Blazer, who practically strolled to the net and gave Blair a 4-0, when just seconds before it could’ve easily been 3-1. This was the goal that effectively ended the game. The Blazers were visibly elated, while the Patriots, visibly deflated (no Patriots deflation pun intended) without a single one of their players showing any confidence that this game could be won.
Blair scored their fifth goal with just three minutes left. The boys did get some consolation, when Quam netted an otherwise meaningless shorthanded goal with just 26 seconds left to ruin Blair’s shutout, but any pride from that goal was quickly shoved down the drain, as Blair scored their sixth and final goal just six seconds later.
What was supposed to be a top sports moment in Wootton sports history (at least for JV) became anything but in just a mere 36 minutes of game play. Their boosted opposition proved too much to handle, and the Patriots were simply outplayed.
All in all, there were many things one could take away from this season. These boys deserve recognition for their remarkable run, but they also deserve criticisms for blowing the perfect season in the championship game. Say what you will about this team, but one thing is certain: At least they didn’t blow a 3-1 lead.
And in this day and age of sports and social media, that’s not too shabby.
JV Sports Editor