FRISCO, Texas — It was almost as if Mikayla McLaughlin of Glenburn could feel her older sister, Katie, sitting on her shoulder.
“I felt the pressure. If we didn’t win, it would be almost as if we didn’t live up to expectations,” she said of the Tier II Girls Under-16 youth hockey national tournament.
Fortunately for McLaughlin, her Connecticut Polar Bears successfully defended their title with a 4-3 win over the San Jose (Calif.) Junior Sharks on Sunday.
Katie McLaughlin played for the title-winning Polar Bears in last year’s tournament.
“She would have let me hear about it” if they hadn’t won again, said 15-year-old Mikayla McLaughlin.
Both girls are completing high school in Connecticut, Katie at The Taft School in Watertown and Mikayla at Kent School in Kent. Both played ice hockey for Brewer High School for a year, said Mikayla McLaughlin — Katie on varsity and Mikayla on JV. Their older brother Reid, now a graduate school student at the University of Maine, also played for the Witches.
Mikayla McLaughlin plays defenseman for the Polar Bears as opposed to forward, which is what she plays for Kent School.
“They had more forwards than defensemen, so I offered to play defense,” she said.
McLaughlin posted four assists in her team’s six games during this year’s tournament, including one in the championship final.
The Polar Bears entered the tournament on an upbeat note.
“We were No. 1 for our regional,” she said, “so we had a little bit of confidence.”
They won their first two games in national pool play, 6-2 over the Brewster (N.Y.) Lady Bulldogs and 4-0 over the Assabet Valley Girls of Concord, Mass.
The Potsdam (N.Y.) Ice Storm downed the Polar Bears 4-1 in the third game, but the Polar Bears still were able to advance to the quarterfinals.
“After that loss, we realized the stakes were higher and we needed to step up,” said McLaughlin.
The Polar Bears downed the Chicago Bruins 6-1 in the quarters, then pulled out a tense victory over the East Coast Wizards of Bedford, Mass., 3-2 in quadruple overtime.
Those wins set up the finale with San Jose.
“We led 4-2 [late in the game],” said McLaughlin. “They scored with 39 seconds left. They had pulled their goalie [to get an extra skater on the ice].”
The Polar Bears held the Junior Sharks in check for the final 39 seconds to claim their second straight national title.
It wasn’t a foregone conclusion that the Polar Bears would win. They had to overcome a couple of key difficulties.
The first was that the Polar Bears were “just coming off spring break,” said McLaughlin and hadn’t practiced.
Fortunately, the team had already gone through most of the season meeting that same challenge.
“We all go to different schools, so it’s hard to get together a lot,” said McLaughlin. “We practiced twice before the [nationals].”
That was two more practices than they held during the regular season, which coincides with the high school season.
“We played games every Sunday,” said McLaughlin. “That [only playing games] was one disadvantage we had compared to other teams.”
It didn’t hurt them much.
“We all clicked right away. We started off the first 14 games undefeated before the Christmas tournament,” said McLaughlin.
The Polar Bears finished 29-4-1 for the season, including playoffs. They won the Connecticut state championship before advancing to the regionals.
“We had to finish first or second in the regional to move on,” she said. “We finished first, we were undefeated.”
McLaughlin, the youngest in her family, will be back next season, going for the Polar Bears’ third straight U-16 girls title.
“We’re losing about half our players as they age out,” said McLaughlin. “But we’ll still have a pretty good team.”
She has decided, for the most part, which position she’s going to play.
“I’ll probably stay on defense,” she said.
Trautz Hockey Schools set
Tobin Trautz, assistant coach with the Colby College men’s hockey team, will be holding a summer skills and player development clinic this summer at Penobscot Ice Arena in Brewer.
The eight 90-minute sessions will run on Sundays from June 24 through Aug. 12 and feature skating, skills, position-specific development, situational play, 12 hours of on-ice instruction and NCAA guest coaches.
The sessions will be split into two age groups, 1998-2000 birth years and 1995-97 birth years. There is a maximum of 26 skaters and four goalies per age group.
The program cost $300 per skater and $200 per goalie.
For information, call Trautz at 229-7239 or email him at email@example.com.