Extended runs of success are nothing new to the St. Louis Junior Blues.
Single-digit totals in the loss column at the end of the season, Central States Hockey League titles and a spot at nationals are commonplace for the team. The Junior Blues even put together four straight USA Hockey Junior B national titles from 2004 to 2007.
This season, however, St. Louis has found an unprecedented level of success for the team and league, which are now competing on the Tier III Junior A level.
The Junior Blues were – and still are – the last unbeaten junior hockey team in the country.
\”At about 16 games, coach [Jack Behan] told us there hasn\’t been a team he\’s coached make it to 16,\” defenseman and assistant captain Eric Aldag said.
That was just the beginning.
The Junior Blues made it to the halfway point of the league schedule at 24-0-0-0. Then, they added two more wins last weekend to make it past halfway to 26 games.
\”It\’s hard not to talk about it,\” said Chris Hutton, another assistant captain who is tied with teammate Nick Saracino for the league lead with 56 points. \”We say, ‘We want another win,\’ then ‘Another win.\’
\”We\’re not satisfied. We want to keep going. Now, that it\’s 26, we want 27.\”
It is hard to picture such a streak lasting an entire season. Getting through December even seems like a lot to ask with the team entering the most difficult stretch in its schedule.
\”We have Dubuque here in St. Louis this week, then up in the league showcase we have to play Pittsburgh and Cleveland twice each,\” Behan said.
The Dubuque Thunderbirds, Cleveland Junior Lumberjacks and Pittsburgh Junior Penguins are 2-3-4 in the standings, all have winning percentages of .792 or better and have also separated themselves from the rest of the pack in the 13-team league.
\”It\’s pretty special. We want to keep it going as far as we can,\” said defenseman and team captain Barclay Berner. \”I think we\’ll be alright if we lose one.
\”If it\’s going to happen, it happens. You can\’t expect to go undefeated for the whole season.\”
The Junior Blues have made it this far with a style typified by many of their championship teams through the years.
\”We\’re a quick, very fast, skilled team,\” Behan said. \”We\’re maybe a little young overall and size-wise we\’re not big, but we skate very well.\”
Berner helps make up for any shortcomings the team might have.
\”He\’s a pretty big, strong kid,\” Behan said of the 6-foot-1, 200-pound defenseman. \”He\’s very physical. He makes the whole team bigger with the way he plays.
\”He has such intensity and he\’s such a physical player.\”
Berner leads a defense that has allowed a league-low 35 goals in the 26 games.
\”I think our biggest concern going into the year was how the defense was going to round out,\” Behan said.
With almost all its firepower back among the 11 returning players from last season\’s CSHL championship team, St. Louis also leads the league with 182 goals, exactly seven per game.
\”This is by far the most players we\’ve ever brought back,\” Behan said.
The Junior Blues feature four of the league\’s top five scorers. In addition to Hutton, who has 24 goals, and Saracino, who has 23, the team has Ryan McGrath in fourth place and Tim Tankeev in fifth. McGrath has a team-high 25 goals among his 46 points. Tankeev has 42 points on 15 goals and 27 assists.
\”Playing for this team, we have high expectations to fulfill,\” Berner said. \”We\’re doing our best to keep the tradition alive.\”
Story courtesy of Red Line Editorial, Inc.