The Housatonic-Northwestern-Wamogo Mountaineers have stormed out of the gate this season, outscoring opponents 22-7 en route to a perfect 5-0 record.
“We expected to be 5-0 or 4-1 at this point,” said head coach Dean Diamond who has coached the Mountaineers for 11 seasons. “We’re not surprised; the players have done everything we asked.”
The Mountaineers have had the benefit of an easy start to the season; the five teams they have beaten are a combined 4-16.
“We’re trying to get better, the 5-0 start doesn’t mean anything, I don’t think we’ve played as well as we could or need to be playing to beat the better teams,” said junior center James Huften. “We’ve been working on our all-around game and the coaches have been keeping us enthused for the entire season.”
Diamond tried to schedule harder teams earlier in the season but wasn’t able to. He has found some benefits of it though.
“It’s hard to schedule the way you want to, I didn’t want it to be as easy as it was,” said Diamond. “Us up here in the corner, there are no rinks so it takes us to January to get clicking, it’s very hard for the kids. Now we’re starting to click and work out the kinks.”
This season the Mountaineers were able to field a team with 18 players including captain James Heuschkel, the lone senior, and a tight knit group of seven juniors.
“As a class we’ve been playing together since squirts,” said junior starting goalie Eric Chin. “Some of us have been together for four or five years and some even longer.”
With only one senior on the team, the junior class has stepped up to help Heuschkel be leaders on and off the ice.
“I’ve been trying to lead by example,” said Huften who is one of the team’s assistant captains. “Me and a couple of the juniors have stepped up to show the freshmen or the first year players what it takes to win.”
“I remember how our captains behaved when I was a freshman and try to do what they did,” said Chin. “Even if it’s off the ice, trying to make them feel included even if I just say hey to them in hallways or give them a head nod.”
Last season the Mountaineers snuck into the Division-III State Tournament, with a 9-11 record as the ninth and final seed.
Playing six games in 11 days, the Mountaineers defeated Shepaug-Litchfield-Nonnewaug 6-4 in the third to last game of the season to clinch the team’s first State Tournament berth in three seasons. The fourth berth in program history.
“It was such an exciting end to the season,” said Chin.
The Mountaineers would go on to lose in the first round to eighth seed New Fairfield-Immaculate 3-2, but they have been using the little taste of the State Tournament as motivation this season.
“It was so exciting, I want to make it again this season and see how far we can get,” said Chin.
With the easy part of the schedule behind them, the Mountaineers will face tougher opponents the rest of the way, facing off against Sheehan twice this month, a matchup against New Fairfield-Immaculate and then Hall-Southington in February. They also will play Masuk once this month and once again in the regular season finale on Feb. 28.
“We are excited to see how we stack up against the better Division-III teams,” he said. “We want to make people believe in us, show what we can do against the better teams.”
Diamond sees his team finishing off the season strong and is hopeful they will make some waves in the State Tournament and possibly make some school history.
“We would like to get out of the first round, which has never happened in our four trips” he said. “At least getting to the second or third round could happen this season.