By Collin Saccoman
This article was originally featured in the Febuary, 2016 Hawk Tawk Mag-E-Zine, the exclusive online newsletter for Waterloo Black Hawks season ticket holders.
It was my junior year at Shattuck-St. Mary’s and tryouts had just finished up. Sunday morning the rosters were posted. I had made the U-18 prep hockey team, giving me the chance to claim a national title with the 19 other guys who made the team with me.
Since Shattuck has built up their reputation, there’s always some sort of pressure for going to USA Hockey Nationals. We weren’t focused so much on the pressure, as much as we just wanted to end up with the title. Our coach, Tom Ward, told us on a day-to-day basis that nothing changes. We play the same way every game, the Shattuck way.
Although the year had just begun, I knew this would be a special team. Out of the 20 guys on the team, there were ten returners and ten new players, myself being among the ten new guys.
The group included former Hawks Larry Jungwirth and Rem Pitlick, as well as Clayton Keller, who plays for the National Team Development Program now. Before I made prep, I played with Larry and Rem on Shattuck’s bantam and U-16 teams, so I was very familiar with them, not only as people, but their hockey style as well. I knew Larry loved to shoot the puck, and exactly where and when he wanted it. Rem was more finesse, so I knew if I gave it to him, very likely it was coming back for a great opportunity. Clayton Keller however, that was my first year playing with him. I had watched him while he was on bantam tier I, so I knew already he was very skilled and crafty.
As our season went on, our team continued to win on a regular basis, only boosting our confidence level that much more. Although Nationals were still a ways away, we prepared ourselves every day.
Four weeks before Nationals, adversity arose. During a game against the TPH Thunder, a player slammed into my hand, causing a bone to break in my wrist. I was worried that my season would be over, and my shot of playing for a national title would end. However, a blessing from out of nowhere happened. The doctors told me that I would be able to play in Nationals, but wearing a brace to protect my wrist. The journey wasn’t over yet.
The tournament was originally supposed to be held in San Jose, California, however it was moved to Green Bay. The Cornerstone Ice Center was a place I’ve played in many times, so it was familiar for the most part. There were four or five rinks in the building, all of which we played in.
Before the games started, Coach Ward reminded us we’d prepared for this test. There was no reason to freak out. Just play the way you play.
After a season of endless training and adversity, the moment was near. Our bus pulled into Green Bay for the National Championship. Wearing the brace, my wrist was stiff as a board, making it impossible to flex my stick to make a hard pass or shot. Even though I could not help my team with the puck, there was still a job needed of me. I played a physical game, hitting opposing players every time they touched the puck, using my club to my advantage.
Even though there were not as many seats as in Young Arena, everywhere around the ice sheet was packed. There were more people standing than there were sitting; it was a great atmosphere to play in. The facility itself was large, but each individual rink did not seem very big. I do not remember how many teams exactly were competing for the title, but we played 6 games total, including the championship game.
This was my first experience playing with some sort of brace or medical device limiting my movement. However, the way our system worked was drilled into the back of my head, so even though I couldn’t shoot or pass as hard, I knew how to get the puck to my teammates easily. My main objective was to play physical. Our team as a whole was not very physical – more skilled – but the physical part is where I came in. Every shift I would make one to three hard hits to shake up the other team. Also on the penalty kill, I could make the block, but then my teammates knew, since I couldn’t ice it, they would step in and do that part for me.
Through the tournament, my cage got pretty beat up. The game before the championship, I took a puck to the cage right where my mouth was, so if the cage wasn’t there, I would’ve lost a few teeth. At one point in the tournament, we had to kill a 1:30 five-on-three penalty kill, where I took another puck to the mask. We ended up killing the first 1:30, then the next 30 seconds five-on-four. During the five-on-three, they took slapshot after slapshot in order to try and score. Most of the shots did not get close to the net, because we blocked almost every single one.
At the end of the final game against Victory Honda, my team was victorious! After going behind, we scored twice early in the second period, then went up 3-1 in the third. The final score was 4-2.
We had won the 2014 National Championship! Even though every guy on our team faced some sort of challenge, we overcame the obstacles to win the national title. Celebrating with my team and family will truly be an experience I will never forget.
Editor’s Note: Collin Saccoman and his teammates claimed Shattuck-St. Mary’s third U-18 national title in four years with their win in 2014. It was the Sabres’ sixth championship in ten seasons.
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