The Reading Jr. Royals Midget 16AA Hockey Team has prepared itself well for the upcoming district playoffs in New Jersey by winning its division with a 20-3-1 record.Although the U16s started the season by going only 2-2-1, they quickly turned things around outdistance the Ducks (18-3-3) and Quakers (18-4-2) in the Delaware Valley Hockey League (DVHL) standings.
Of the 18 boys on the team, four are from Wilson School District, including Alex Lupco, Corey Miller, Max Farrara and Colin Williams. Also Courtney Bergeron, the coach's wife and team manager, is a Wilson grad. Other players are from local schools, and a few are from outside of Berks County.
"Antoine (Bergeron, the coach) and the kids have worked really hard this year, and it shows," said Elaine Lupco, whose son, Alex, is a member of the team. "He has strict rules and high expectations, but he knows how to have fun with them, too."
On Feb. 13-17, the U16s traveled to Quebec to play three games against Canadian teams comprised of 16 and 17-year-olds.
"The kids fought for their lives up there against bigger, more physical teams," Courtney Bergeron said. "The first and second games were 3-0 losses, but the way we played we felt we walked out of there with a win."
In the third game, the U16s were tied 2-2 in the third period with TGV Pentagone, located about five hours from Montreal, when the Canadian team scored with 15 seconds left to cause heartbreak for the team from Reading.
"We were the only U.S. team in the 39 years of the tournament," said Courtney Bergeron, who said that her husband's hometown of Valcourt is about 30 minutes from the tournament.
"I was really proud of the guys' performance in Canada," coach Bergeron said. "It was a complete team effort. There were 47 teams at this tournament, which we plan to go back to."
In league play, the U16s recorded their first win ever over the Quakers.
"This was a huge confidence builder," said Bergeron in his second year at the helm. "Last year, we missed districts by one point even though we won our last six games."
At the moment, Bergeron is a volunteer coach, who has a full-time job outside of hockey, but he would like someday to coach as a profession.
"I love hockey so much and would like to coach full-time, but I have a long way to go and a lot to learn in coaching wherever it take me," Bergeron said. "I know what I can do on the ice, but coaching is way different."
Bergeron played Jr. Hockey in Quebec and was chosen by the St. Louis Blues in the third round of the 2000 NHL draft. The defenseman played in the ECHL for the Reading Royals and Trenton Titans from 2002 to 2006 before he was forced to retire due to a fractured spine he suffered in a Reading uniform and another injury he incurred in a Trenton jersey.
According to Bergeron, of the team's three losses all have been tough to take, especially a 7-0 defeat, which would have clinched the division championship.
"This loss meant we couldn't clinch for another week, but we won our last three games (to seal the deal)," Bergeron said. "If not for the 7-0 loss, we would have had the fewest goals against in the league. Our two goalies (Jordan Sweigart and Jordan Potosky) combined for seven shutouts in 24 games."
Next, the U16s are looking forward to traveling to New Jersey to compete for the Atlantic District Championship as the No. 1 seed from the DVHL. If they win, they advance to the Nationals in Buffalo, NY. "The district tournament is a double elimination event," Bergeron said. "Every team in the DVHL is dangerous, especially the Quakers."
After the season has concluded, Joe Stock, a defenseman, Sweigart, a goalie, and Josh Sherman, a center, and the team's leading scorer, who is only 15, will play against the best of the NJ league in an All-Star game in Red Bank, NJ.
However, despite all these accomplishments, coach Bergeron believes it wouldn't have been possible without the parents.
"Special thanks to the parents for their support," Bergeron said.
"Without them, it wouldn't have been a successful year."