Young hockey team primed for success

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By Phil Scherer

Prior to this season, Los Alamos High School hockey coach Kevin Brake believed this season could be a bit of a rebuilding year. The team graduated a large number of seniors after last season, and was relying on a new group of players to step in and fill big roles.

After playing three games this season, Brake no longer believes his team is going through a rebuilding year. With a perfect 3-0 start, and 25 goals scored so far, his sights are set as high as ever. 

“What I like is that we are getting effort from across the board, we are getting contributions across the board,” Brake said.

One of the things that encourages him the most about this team is that the scoring has come from all over the roster, not just one of his forward lines. In fact, the scoring has been incredibly balanced. Four players lead the team with four goals scored, Benjamin Rees, John Charles, Ray Guffee and Sean Mitchell.

Brake has no doubt his team has enough talent to compete with any team on its schedule. The question he has is whether the team will show enough composure and maturity to stay in games when things don’t look good.

“If they are willing to outwork the other team, we can be very, very good,” Brake said.

The first sign that things may work out well for this team came Saturday in the team’s home opener against the Taos Ice Tigers.

Late in the second period, Taos led the Hilltoppers 3-1, and appeared to be in complete control.

However, LAHS didn’t see it that way. Instead of bowing their heads and accepting defeat, the players kept working and tied the score by the end of the period, and won the game 7-4.

Rees, one of the team’s two seniors, believes the resiliency showed in that game is one of the big differences between this team and previous years.

“I think we all realize that any game we play this season we have the potential to win,” Rees said. “And even when we are down by a couple goals, we know we can get it back.”

Jake Rutten, the team’s other senior, said that this year’s team came together well from the very first practice, and that the results are showing up on the ice.

“I think we are taking this year a little more serious,” Rutten said. “Practices are good, and we haven’t had any team problems yet. We are always hustling.”

Consistently, Brake and his players mentioned that this year’s team has a different feel to it than previous years, and that a big reason for that is the sudden infusion of youth.

Over the last few years, Brake has built his team around an experienced group of defensemen, and created opportunities for the offense with solid defensive play. This year, the team has just one senior on defense, and is still adapting to a new style.

Brake believes that as the year moves along, the defense will step up and play that familiar style, which will only make the team stronger.

Another part to that different feel is the feeling of positivity that is stronger than ever before. It is something that junior forward Jared Carnes noticed immediately.

He said that last year, people had a tendency to become negative when things didn’t go their way.

But this year, he has seen teammates supporting each other far more often, and having the desire to pick up for each other’s mistakes.

“I think a lot of that has to do with having a much younger group of guys,” Carnes said.

Brake agreed that this year’s group is more positive, and believes it shows in practices and in games.

“At times in the past I’ve had teams where as soon as something bad happens, everyone starts chirping at each other on the bench,” Brake said. “This team is a lot less likely to turn that way.”

It may be early, but Brake is encouraged by what he has seen so far, and believes that defeating Taos, which has been a rival for years, is a good sign that this team could be special.

“Taos is going to be right there at the end of the year as one of the top teams, and I think we should be right in there too,” Brake said. “I don’t expect much less. They are starting to build my expectations for what we can do moving forward as we continue to grow.”