Reigning state champions dominate Blazers on rink
WHEATON ICE ARENA, Dec. 16 -
The Blair community ice hockey team is not affiliated with or sponsored by the Montgomery Blair High School athletic program or Montgomery County Public Schools. The team is an independent group of Blair students.
Blair ice hockey (2-4) fell to the dominant Thomas S. Wootton Patriots (5-0) Wednesday night in the Blazers' first loss at home this season. Despite a mostly competitive game, Wootton shot to a six-point lead in nearly six minutes during a string of goals late in the second period, which allowed them to win by seven points.
Wootton, the two-time reigning state champion, controlled the rink for the majority of the game with most of the action concentrated in Blair's defending zone. Blair's strong defensive lineup kept the Wootton scorers at bay for the first half of the game, with the score tied 1-1 midway through the second period. At that point, the Patriots gained a burst of momentum that disoriented the Blazers and knocked the puck into Blair's net six times. Wootton stole a commanding 7-1 lead heading into the second break.
Blair coach Kevin McCabe said that the spurt of Patriot goals in such quick succession knocked the Blair team out of sync, forcing them away from their initial strategy. "We had a plan, and we stuck to it for a period and half. When they scored the second goals, we lost focus," he said. McCabe attributed Blair's temporary breakdown to a panic that incited some Blazers to play a more individual game and lose patience.
Blair forward senior Jens Josephs scored the Blazers' lone goal early in the second period, when he shot the puck from close range on a sharp assist from sophomore Alex Stewart. But for most of the game, Wootton's defensive presence was so dominant that Blair had trouble keeping the puck in their attacking zone long enough to get a good shooting angle. Wootton wore out the Blazers by forcing them to play a defense-heavy game, which reduced the impact of usual Blair standouts like Josephs and seniors Max Pollacco and Logan Schwebel.
McCabe said that Blair had planned to aggravate Wootton by boxing the Patriots into a small, limiting space on the rink. "They're a team of racehorses; they want to run. Let's give them the perimeter. Let [freshman Blair goalie Michel Devynck] see the shots," the coach advised.
Devynck was Blair's brightest spot throughout the game, consistently executing difficult saves against an onslaught of 47 Wootton shots on goal. During the first period, Devynck stopped the puck even after a Wootton player knocked him backwards into the goal.
Devynck said he managed to maintain composure amidst the flurry of activity by telling himself that he was as talented as the oncoming Wootton offense. "Whenever I play against a good team like this, I say to myself, 'I can keep up with these guys,'" he said.
According to Wootton head coach Dave Evans, the Patriots were able to take the lead in the second period once they got over the initial frustration of Devynck's goal-tending and Blair's aggressive defense. "They stopped thinking about what they were doing and started playing smart hockey," he said of his team.
Schwebel and senior David Tao were able to use their skating skills and speed to make a few breakaway plays during the game, although they were ultimately unsuccessful. But McCabe said that the game was a lesson in dealing with problems on the rink. "You've got to manage your mistakes, and that's what I'm trying to teach the boys," he said.
While pucks flew and the game became more physical, the atmosphere on the stands grew more antagonistic. Shouting matches ensued between fans of the two teams, and ice rink security threw three Blair fans out of the arena. One Wootton parent threatened to call Principal Darryl Williams to complain about Blazers' behavior.
The boys' ice hockey team plays their next home game against Sherwood on Jan. 13 at 8:15 p.m.
Editor's Note: David Tao is Editor-in-Chief of Silver Chips Online.
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