There is a buzzing in the air around the Vermont Lumberjacks Premier locker room. There is a sense of excitement. The energy is stemming from success fresh off the first Premier Showcase of the season in Bedford MA. This year, the Jacks looked quicker, smarter, and more determined to shake off past demons and perform on the Eastern Hockey League's highest stage.
“The guys were just excited to get showcased in front of the college reps. There is always a sense of excitement going into the showcase season,” Lumberjacks Premier Head Coach, Doc Delcastillo said. “As their coach you love seeing guys getting noticed for what they do on the ice and seeing it translate to possible college opportunities for them.”
Naturally the showcase is where the team wants to perform at their best. The scouts are watching, the energy is high, and the prospect of being noticed would fill any player with a desire to win. Showcase games are played featuring two periods both twenty-five minutes in length, not your typical sixty-minute contest of three periods. Every moment counts.
Game one would be against the New York Applecore, a team that the Lumberjacks seldom see in the regular season, but have nonetheless been successful playing against in the past. It was a fast paced affair. In the first period the game was an even contest, with the Applecore striking first about two minutes into the game. This was something second year Lumberjack Dom Kuziak made a point to fix quickly as two goals were scored inside of the next five minutes of play off of his stick.
“Last season we won one showcase game, and I just thought ‘were not going to have a repeat of that’ and I thought ‘someone’s got to step up,’ and my line with Nate Foster and Kyle McDonald seemed to click that game,” Kuziak said. “It felt like we were six months playing together.”
In the second period, Lumberjacks’ second year returners, Kyle McDonald and Nate Foster were able to combine for a couple of goals. Newcomer Ryan Hill would score as well.
Kyle McDonald made the transition this season to the Premier level after playing a season with the Elite team. His first goal as a Premier player was on the biggest stage possible.
“It’s great playing with Dom and Nate early on. They have made the adjustment easy for me to transfer from not just one team to another, but from one level of play to the premier level,” McDonald said. “It has been very positive.”
McDonald recognizes the importance of the showcase, and the team’s veterans have been alongside helping not just him, but all the newcomers adjust to a new team.
“The showcase was a big weekend, and all of the vets have taken all of the new guys in and have been teaching them the ropes,” McDonald said. “I look to them as teachers, if they have something to say I’m listening and then doing what I need to do to improve.”
A rare occurrence in any hockey game is seeing a game finish without a single penalty on the clock, but the Jacks and the Applecore were both able to stay out of the box and perform well for the scouts. But, the Lumberjacks doing all the little things right, sound goaltending from second year returner Jack Burkel, and clear cut dominance of the offensive zone is what mattered in the end.
The Lumberjacks would fall the next day to the Philadelphia Little Flyers in a low scoring affair 0-1. But they have so much to take away from a tighter-played showcase compared to previous seasons.
“I have had quite a few scouts saying to me that our team keeps improving. I think we are a better team than we were last year. We are very professional off the ice, I think we have a good team,” Delcastillo said.