By Evan Johnson
The Woodstock Wasps youth hockey team has traveled far for their wins this season. Of the 43 games played, the team has established a 31-11-1 record while traveling to faceoff against teams in Northern New York state and Connecticut. The Wasps’ record has become so formidable that teams have at times refused to play or canceled games at the last minute.
“We had a hard time finding games this winter, and traveled far and wide to have losses to highly competitive teams,” said head coach Dave Willis.
Early next month, youth hockey team will travel to Coral Springs, Fla. for the USA Hockey Youth 14U Tier II National Championships, a first for the local hockey team.
The Wasps’ progress follows their state championship over Essex in early March, the same team that beat them in triple overtime last year.
“That felt really good,” Willis said, regarding their win.
The team now plays in the Tier 2 14U Division, which was previously called Bantam AA. The new division means players can check.
“Woodstock is one of the smallest youth organizations in the state of Vermont but it has good athletes,” Willis said, “We don’t have one superstar, we have a lot of kids that want to work hard.”
And the Wasps have been putting in their time on the ice. In addition to their regular practices, this season the team committed themselves to strength and conditioning workouts twice a week at the Woodstock rink and tracked their progress.
The work paid off; in early season games in late fall the Wasps were out-skating outscoring their opponents. They did this while only having ten skaters—three defensemen, six skaters and one sub. Willis said most teams will have four to six defensemen and three “lines” of forwards that can be swapped during play.
The week following the state championship in Stowe, the Wasps played in a local tournament in Woodstock that featured 45 teams from the Eastern seaboard. In the championship game, the coach of the opposing team from Bronxville, N.Y., asked Willis if all of his players were sick.
“I said, ‘Nope, that’s all we got,’” Willis later said.
The Wasps won that tournament as well.
The Wasps are heading to the national tournament as the only Vermont team in their age group. In preparation for the tournament, they’ve been practicing in Hanover, N.H., at the Dartmouth College arena. Willis has also brought in players from the Woodstock High School varsity team to help keep up the pace.
Willis recently reached out to a childhood friend and powerskating coach at the Chicago Blackhawks for any words of wisdom.
The coach replied in one word: “Believe.”
As they get ready to go up against some larger and equally talented teams from all over the country, Willis said confidence will be their watchword.
“When the kids play their game with confidence, they play really well,” he said. “Because with confidence comes creativity and a certain sense of calm.”
Two thirds of the team will enter their high school experience together. Willis said a cohort of talented players could yield future successes.
Many of the players are lacrosse players as well and will be packing their sticks along with their hockey gear in preparation for the spring season.
“We’re looking forward to playing in the sand,” he said.
Editor’s note: The Wasps are raising money through a crowdfunding website to offset travel costs. To support the team, go to www.gofundme.com/wyhtonationals.
The Woodstock Wasps pose with the trophy after winning the Pot O’ Gold Invitational Tournament this month. The team will head to Florida for the USA Hockey Youth 14U Tier II National Championships next month.