The Washington Junior Nationals hope their road to respectability started at Cyclones Arena in Hudson, N.H.
That’s where the Junior Nationals won two of three games in late November in an Atlantic Junior Hockey League showcase.
The wins gave the Junior Nationals a 5-19-2-1 record. They won just three games all of last season, and they eclipsed that number thanks to their success at the home of the Northern Cyclones.
Coach Anthony DiPalma, who took over at mid-season last year, is especially proud of the Junior Nationals’ 2-1 overtime victory over the Boston Junior Rangers, one of the AJ’s top teams, at the showcase.
Lots of college scouts and other AJ coaches and players were in the stands for the mid-afternoon game, and DiPalma in confident his team’s performance gave them an eyeful.
Mike Darosa scored the winning goal with the teams playing 4-on-4 in the 5-minute overtime session, which began with the Junior Nationals killing off the final 19 seconds of a Junior Rangers power play.
Darosa collected a centering pass from Dan Shirilla and banged the puck past goalie Brad Rochville at 4:15.
“It’s a play we work on a lot at practice,” Darosa said. “The puck deflected off a defenseman, and I was in the right place a couple feet in front of the crease.”
“It’s a simple play, going hard to the net, but it’s the way we have to play,” DiPalma said.
Goalie Mitch Collum was in the nets for the Junior Nationals’ 5-1 win the previous night over the Laconia Leafs. He made 21 saves, Aaron Madsen scored a pair of goals and Shirilla had a goal and an assist.
DiPalma was going to start Collum against the Junior Rangers, but Collum convinced his coach to give backup goalie Stanislaw Zhuchin an opportunity to play.
“I told Mitch it’s his call, so I did it,” DiPalma said.
Nobody knew it at the time, but it was Zhuchin’s 18th birthday. He celebrated by making 24 saves and earning his first AJ victory. He allowed only a Matthew Swett power-play goal at 3:45 of the second of two 25-minute periods.
“The win over the Junior Rangers was a huge morale boost for us,” DiPalma said. “It wasn’t a lucky victory. We outshot them (32-25).”
The Junior Nationals were beaten 5-0 to the Cyclones the next day, but the loss and the injuries they suffered during the game didn’t dampen the team’s enthusiasm during a nearly nine-hour bus ride back to Washington.
“I think we showed everyone in New Hampshire that we’re a good team,” he said.
Update: Unfortunately for the Jr. Nationals they weren’t able to carry the progress forward, falling in their next four games. They hope to earn some wins in a Dec. 21-22 home-and-home series against the Philadelphia Jr. Flyers.
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