By Mike Dougherty
BREWSTER The schools are separated by some 1,200 miles, but the hockey programs are worlds apart.
Mahopac was a little in awe.
The Indians played host to Centennial High School, a team that has won the Section 5 title back home in Minnesota each of the last three years. It was an eye-popping experience for a team that normally isn’t thinking about hockey in July.
It’s unlikely Mahopac will ever see another team on this level.
“Nobody around here is close,” Indians defenseman Joe Mastracola said. “They would easily outskate any team in Section 1. I think Centennial is the best team we’ll ever play. They’re all big. They’re all physical. They’re all good. It was fun, though, for us to play against kids like that.”
After the Cougars settled in, they rolled to a 7-1 win.
“It was a lot of fun and our guys all got to see how a strong team plays hockey,” Mahopac coach Chris Lombardo said. “They did all the little things right. They do everything with a purpose, there’s no wasted activity. They don’t just shoot the puck for the sake of getting shots.”
Centennial is very much like most large schools here in Section 1, except there’s a rink on the campus. Many of the players compete in more than one sport.
Of course, hockey is a way of life in Minnesota.
“There is some pressure on us,” senior forward Steve Heron said. “Everyone back home expects us to win and represent the state.”
Each year, the program raised funds to make a summer trip. The Cougars were up at 4 a.m. Wednesday to catch a flight to New York. A total of 21 juniors and seniors are part of the excursion.
If the goal was to play strong competition in the offseason, it would make sense to stay in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, but this is essentially a cultural exchange.
“This is so cool,” said assistant coach Ted Cheesebrough, who organizes the summer trips and reached out to Lombardo several months ago. “We did Colorado last year. It sounds a little cheesy, but hockey is the same language whether you’re in the Midwest or here on the East Coast. It’s a vehicle to get us out here to meet different people and see different sights.”
And when the puck drops, it’s all business.
Mahopac brought in a few outside players to fill out the lines, and was hanging around most of the first period. The deficit grew quickly when Centennial sharpened its focus.
The next stop is the Prudential Center, where the Devils organized a skills camp with New Jersey high school players. A scrimmage against junior teams from Connecticut and Long Island are scheduled for later in the week.
And there’s plenty of time for off-ice sightseeing.
The Cougars have plans to visit the 9/11 Memorial and the Statue of Liberty. After the game in Long Island, they are heading to Jones Beach.
“We got to walk around the city after we got here,” Heron said. “It’s so much different from anywhere I’ve been, so much different from anything we have in Minneapolis or St. Paul.”