HYANNIS — The bars are open, the restaurants are filled, and there’s a cluster of cars in the parking lot of the Cape Cod Mall. But the biggest attraction on this Friday night in mid February is taking place at the newly-minted Hyannis Youth and Community Center.
The lavish $25 million building, erected last fall, is home to the Cape Cod Cubs, one of 32 teams in the International Junior Hockey League that serves as a stepping stone for 15 to 20-year-old skaters who have aspirations of playing at the collegiate level.
With a mixture of national and international players, the Cubs opened their 65-regular and exhibition game schedule in early September with an emphatic 9-1 win over Maine Moose that portended future one-sided performances.
Much of the Cubs’ success this season can be attributed to several home-grown players who’ve helped the first-year franchise take storm of the seven-team Super Elite Division of the IJYL.
Thanks to the efforts of former Cape Tech defenseman Jeff Erving, former Harwich forwards Shaun Gould and Jake Domos, and Chatham senior Leo Cain, the Cubs (35-4-3) have out-scored the competition 228-114, and are on the cusp of claiming a division title.
With just a few games left in the regular season, the Cubs have a three-point lead over the second-place Hackettstown Harleys of Exeter, N.H., and are riding a six-game unbeaten streak as the playoffs approach.
“We’ve more than met our goals,” said coach Dan Hodge, the son of former Boston Bruins great Ken Hodge. “We’ve exceeded them.”
Gould, a veteran of the IJHL who played for the Walpole Express last year, has racked up 27 points (12 goals, 15 assists). Domos, who joined the team in January, has also played a part in the team’s high-octane offense with three goals and 19 assists, and Cain (five goals, six assists) and Erving (three goals, eight assists) have provided firepower while also fortifying the team’s defense.
Throughout their remarkable run, which began with a 13-game winning streak,
the Cubs have cultivated a large fan following, the likes of which the players all said they’ve never seen before. Interviewed independently, each of the skaters used one word to sum up fan support - “Incredible.”
“You step out onto the ice and there’s 2,000 fans cheering for you,” marveled Cain, who noted the musical interludes between shifts and free car giveaways between periods evokes a semi pro atmosphere. “I think people are just happy there’s a Cape Cod hockey team. There hasn’t been one for years.”
Hockey higher than the high school level on Cape Cod has had a short and unsubstantial lifespan, beginning with the original Cape Cod Cubs, a minor league team that began play in 1973 in the Eastern Hockey League.
According to published reports, the Cubs were followed by the Cape Codders of the North American Hockey League, the Cape Cod Freedom of the North Eastern Hockey League and the Cape Cod Buccaneers of the Atlantic Coast Hockey League. None of the four teams were able to sustain anything more than two years, and the Bucs folded in 1982.
So when the puck dropped for the team’s first home game, fans came out in droves, and the Cubs saluted their supporters with a 6-3 win over the Boston Jr. Blackhawks.
“I was hoping we’d get a big turnout of fans at each game and surprisingly that’s what we’ve had all year long,” said Gould. “I thought it was going to slow down after a month or so, but the fans have been really supportive.”
Winning has a way of doing that, but it took some time for the team, featuring more than a dozen players from Russia and a few from Norway and Canada, to truly come together.
“At the beginning of the season, the team was divided,” said Gould. “The Americans were on one side of the locker room and the foreigners were on the other. After Christmas break, we switched up the seating arrangements and mixed in with each other.”
Since then, the Cubs have become comrades – even if all they can say to each other is “hello” and “goodbye.”
“Once you get to know the guys, you realize they’re just like you, they’re kids who love to play hockey,” said Erving. “When you’re out on the ice, it’s all the same sport, no matter what country you come from.”
Gould said the team gets together to watch televised games from time to time. The Americans have also provided transportation, driving team members to Pure Hockey in Braintree to buy elite equipment.
“The local kids have stepped up as leaders and helped the new kids get acclimated to the area,” said Hodge. “They’ve shown them around and made them feel at home even though they’re thousands of miles away from their actual homes.”
While the foreigners have adapted to life in the U.S., on the ice, the Americans have tailored their game to the visitors’ style of hockey that favors speed and skill over strength and skirmishes. That’s evident alone by the scores of the games, which are sometimes higher than those of American football.
“The way some of these guys score goals is like nothing I’ve ever seen before, and they do it like it’s nothing,” said Erving. “So our job on defense is to protect the goalie, give the pucks to the forwards and let them do what they do best.”
The Cubs’ knack for netting rapid-fire and highlight-reel goals was on display last Friday night when they potted three in the opening two-and-a-half minutes en route to a 13-7 win over Mass Mariners.
Gould was on the passing end of the Cubs’ third goal, setting up a teammate on a gorgeous give-and-go. Gould later assisted another goal in the middle stanza, and Domos added a third-period penalty shot with a slick backhander that would have even beaten Martin Brodeur.
The Cubs are able to operate as a well-oiled machine mainly because they roll out four lines, each as capable of doing damage as the next.
“The toughest part of playing in this league (aside from the 6 a.m. practices and eight-hour bus rides) is getting used to the speed of the game,” said Cain, who played for Cape Tech/Chatham, D-Y, and Harwich-Chatham as an underclassman. “But in some ways, it’s actually easier than high school because everyone is in a rhythm. Everyone keeps moving and keeps cycling though.”
Friday’s game lacked a little fluidity, however, as the teams combined for 37 penalties that included an ejection of a Cubs player who failed to stop fighting while being restrained by the refs.
While tempers flare at times, the Cubs have also shown a sentimental side, wearing pink jerseys for a set of home games last month to raise money and awareness to benefit the Caroline Fries Foundation.
Caroline Fries, the sister of Cubs co-captain Corbin Fries and daughter of assistant coach Wes Fries, was a former figure skater and hockey player at Barnstable High School before succumbing to rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer, last year. Her foundation was started to support disadvantaged and at-risk youth who need a safe haven at the Hyannis Youth and Community Center.
On Jan. 25, the one-year anniversary of Fries death, the Cubs skated to a 7-5 win over the Maine Moose, with Denis Kachin and Michael Donoghue scoring in the final five minutes to give the home team an emotional win.
“Mr. and Mrs. Fries are always here helping out, so anything you can do to help their family and make them smile after what happened, you’re going to do,” said Erving. “Those games touched them and it definitely touched a lot of the guys on the team.”
The Cubs can add even more meaning to their season by bringing home a national title (playoffs begin March 5-7). While that’s the communal goal of the club, playing in the developmental IJYL is also a way for skaters to get noticed by college scouts. Gould is pondering playing at one of the UMass schools or UNH next year, while Cain is considering Wesleyan.
But for others, like Erving, who’s working in construction and plans on getting his plumbing and EMT license, this is his last chance to lace up the skates.
“It’s a lot of games, a lot of commitment and you have to put a lot of money into it, but it’s been a great experience and it’s definitely been worth it,” said Erving. “Playing hockey on a team like this with international players is something you’ll never get to go through again. It’s an experience you’re never going to forget.”
South Shore League Champion Skippers Knock Off Rough Riders In Opener Of Division Four State Tournament
COHASSET — Most coaches contend that beating a team three times in the same season is the toughest thing to do, but it didn’t prove to be a problem for the Cohasset girls basketball team.
The top-seeded Skippers used a suffocating full-court press and a well-balanced scoring attack to hammer out a 73-47 victory over Harwich in the first round of the MIAA south state tournament Monday night.
Cohasset moves on to the quarterfinals with a 21-0 record, while the 13th-seeded Rough Riders close the winter campaign with a 13-10 mark.
The Skippers’ starting five all reached double figures. Meredith Kelly and Sam Crough each had 13 points, Lindsey Davis and Carli Haggerty both contributed 12, and Tori Lehr finished with 11.
Sophomore Jen Gonsalves led Harwich with 23 points, six assists and six steals. Classmate Liz Thompson kicked in 10 and freshman Meghan Richer added 10 as well.
“Cohasset is a veteran team, and I think their press got to us,” said Harwich coach Peter Gonnella, whose team committed 19 turnovers. “We worked on the press break over and over in practice, but some people weren’t in their spots, and I think the pressure of being in the tournament for the first time got to us.”
Champions of the South Shore League, Cohasset manhandled Harwich 65-19 in the first meeting this season. The Rough Riders hung tough with the Skippers in the rematch, losing by 23 points in a game that was close going into the fourth quarter.
“We talked about how well we played Cohasset the second time around and how other teams in the league played well against them at the end of the season, so the kids believed we could beat them,” Gonnella said. “But against a team like that, which won the state championship two years ago and lost on a buzzer beater in the south final last year, you almost have to play a perfect game, because they’re that good.”
Cohasset flexed its muscle right from the start and jumped out to a 13-4 lead thanks to a three-pointer by Crough. Kelly converted a half-court steal into a layup moments later, and a block by Allie Farren – one of six rejections the Skippers recorded – led to Lehr’s turnaround jumper.
Gonsalves, who averaged a South Shore League-best 20.6 points per game this year, ended the hosts’ 11-0 run with a drive along the baseline to make it 19-6 at the end of the quarter.
“I kept telling the kids, let’s get it to 10 and try to maintain from there, but we couldn’t do it,” Gonnella said. “We’d get a rebound and turn the ball over with a bad pass down court.”
When they weren’t using a tenacious trap to set up transition baskets, the Skippers capitalized on a strong inside/outside game. Davis hit two shots from downtown, Haggerty scored twice in the paint, and Anna Seraikas’ steal and layup just before the buzzer made it 38-18 at the half.
Harwich switched from a 2-3 zone to a man-to-man defense after the break, but it didn’t slow down the highly-skilled Skippers, who opened the quarter on a 10-2 run, highlighted by Kelly’s front-court steal that led to a breakaway layup for Lehr.
Cohasset extended its advantage to 55-33 after three quarters and opened up a 68-38 lead on Haggerty’s three-point play midway through the fourth.
Gonsalves scored Harwich’s final seven points, and Thompson and Richer also ignored the scoreboard and gave a strong effort down the stretch.
“Beating Harwich for a third time wasn’t easy, I’ll tell you that,” Cohasset coach John LeVangie said. “They’re well-coached, they’ve got the leading scorer in the league and they play hard. They’ve got a good young team and they’re going to be tough the next few years.”
The Rough Riders figured they’d run into the Skippers at some point in the south sectionals, just not in the first round. After all, 13-win teams are rarely seeded last. That spot is reserved for .500 (or even sub. 500) clubs, but there weren’t any in this year’s Division Four bracket.
“I was disappointed with the draw, because we worked really hard to go 13-9,” said Gonnella. “I was hoping maybe we’d meet Cohasset at a neutral site. In that case, we might have been able to play them a little better, but we knew we’d have to meet them no matter what.”
While Harwich had hopes of making a deeper playoff run, there’s no denying the young club took a giant step forward this season by winning nine more games than last year.
“Our goal this year was to go .500 and make the tournament and we exceeded that,” said Gonnella, optimistic about the future. “Our goal next year is to win the league and go to the finals of Division Four.”
|CLICK ON THE SCROLLING HEADLINE ON THE LEFT FOR MORE OF THIS WEEK'S STORIES|