Sunday, August 29, 2010

AMHL Championship Week: A Week for the Ages, Part I

Before the fall season is in full swing, let’s reminisce about mid-August, when AMHLers, ages 18ish to 60ish—from the teen scene to the AARP crowd—proved that, in the words of an NHL initiative, hockey is for everyone.

Tuesday, August 16
Concord, MA
Flyers vs. Blues

“C’mon, Brian,” Flyer defenseman Mike DeLeo yells encouragement to his goalie, Brian Monahan. The Flyers and Blues, tied at six late in the third period, prepare for a face-off in the Flyers’ zone.

Monahan, who surrendered six goals in the first two periods, has been standing tall this period. His son, AMHL rookie and fellow Flyer Daniel, watches as his dad, who has been in the league since its inception in 1998, dig his blades into the crease and then step forward to greet another AMHL regular. The fabled “Peterborough Pete” Kokas is unguarded and poised to shoot from the slot. Kokas, perhaps focused on the five-hole, fires—and watches Monahan, a classic stand-up goalie, snare the puck, wedged between his leg pads.

“Woo!” the ever-ebullient DeLeo exclaims.

Less than a minute later, Tuesday rookie Marc Vallee—who toiled in la ligue mercredi for twos season before he was called-up—skates with the puck, deep into Blues’ territory. In the face-off circle to Cook’s right, Vallee launches a rocket; the puck rises toward the top corner, over Cook’s glove, and then bulges the twine. Six au cinq, les Flyers.

During an AMHL-TV timeout, Monahan mimics the monolithic Montreal Canadien, Ken Dryden. Unlike Dryden, whose goalie stick was perpendicular to the ice as leaned on its handle, Monahan’s stick juts out at a forty-five degree angle, in perpetual poke-check position.

As Dryden perhaps gleaned material to include in his book, Monahan may be pondering his next save. Or maybe he’s reflecting on this season spent playing hockey with his Daniel.

The father will share, by e-mail, his thoughts about his son’s first AMHL campaign. “I think he gets the game, likes the action and was never big on hitting so (the AMHL is) a perfect place for him. Frankly sometimes his passes were what I admired the most and I was glad to see his points are lots of assists. Plus I think he has a nice shot. The guys on this team were just great with him which I appreciated too. Maybe the highlight was his two goals against Dana (Salvo) and crew including I think a tip-in either in the last minute or OT – I don’t recall.”

The Flyers don’t need OT to defeat the Blues, as Monahan’s goaltending stands up (and another goal from Vallee doesn’t hurt).

The Monahans mingle with the Koffee Cup and then skate toward the locker room.

Before Mike DeLeo follows them into the room where the revelry will continue, he says of his goalie’s performance, “two weeks in a row, he’s been standing on his head.”


Wednesday August 17
Concord, MA
Rangers vs. Sabres


Late in the first period, Mike DeLeo, now wearing his Ranger whites, works the d.-to-d. passing with Mike Gardner. The two longtime AMHLers help advance the puck up-ice to their forwards. The Rangers have dominated the Sabres thus far and lead, late in the first period, 3–0.

The crowd, all three youngsters (if two’s company, three’s a crowd, eh?) are fidgety, not for fear that their dad (Ranger forward “Grinder Greg” Longtine) and the Rangers will squander the lead, but because they’re, well, wee ones hopped-up on the donuts they scored from the donut room.

Baby-faced Ranger goalie Tyler Boudreau (pictured above), the only apparent twenty-something on the ice, has stopped every shot so far. Subbing for Bobby Kilkenny, Boudreau watches the second period action: The Rangers, led by fervent forechecker Warren Brown and bolstered by DeLeo and Gardner’s steady backline presence, continue to control the puck.

But Boudreau is called upon when the defense falters, when Sabre forward Paul Anastas robs the puck from DeLeo along the back boards. Anastas skates behind the net and then attempts a stick-side wrap-around. Boudreau is quick as a chipmunk, though, and stymies the sneaky Anastas.

In the third period, the Rangers ahead 5–0, a shutout is all but a forgone conclusion—until Anastas finally beats Boudreau, who seemed to have been screened on the shot.

The Ranger rookie allows just the one goal en route to his first Koffey Cup, and DeLeo earns his second title—this week.

Stay tuned for Part II
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