The Whitfield Warriors hockey program is no stranger to winning championships.
Whitfield will meet the Clayton Greyhounds at 8:15 p.m. Friday (Feb. 23) at Queeny Park in the championship game of the Founders Cup.
Whitfield last won the Founders championship in 2014. It previously won the tournament in 2011.
In addition, the Warriors have two Wickenheiser Cup titles on their resume. Whitfield won those championships in 2008 and 2012.
While Whitfield coach Andrew Kantrovitz said another title would be important to program, it’s not everything and not the main point for this team.
“Winning is obviously a lot of fun. But for us, it’s about going out there and competing and seeing what we are made of,” Kantrovitz said. “That’s the fun part. We almost couldn’t field a team this year so it says a lot about these players that they have made it this far.”
The Warriors played in the Wickenheiser Cup tourney last season. This year, the squad dropped down and was placed in the Founders Cup.
“Things change a lot from year to year, not just for our team, but for every other team in the league as well,” Kantrovitz said. “I think all of our players know what kind of team we are and that is a team that will play hard every single game.”
Whitfield takes a 6-13-2 record into the title game. Clayton is 7-11-3.
The Warriors sport a young team this season.
“We had a lot of Freshmen come in and contribute in huge ways, and it was really cool to see how quickly the chemistry formed between them and their older teammates,” Kantrovitz said.
“That made for a lot of really classic goals and fun games. Nick Sauter, our goalie, was absolutely huge for us all year. He is our Team MVP for sure. And each of our seniors stepped up in big games to give the team a boost.”
Whitfield finished the regular season with a tie against Holt and a win over Francis Howell North in regular season. That provided some much-needed momentum heading into the Founders Cup tournament.
“I think you want to be playing your best hockey come tournament time,” Kantrovitz said. “We got some key players back from injury around that time and that’s what really gave us momentum.”
In the quarterfinal series, Whitfield defeated Holt 3-2 and 2-0.
“The team played hard. Holt is a very good and physical team,” Kantrovitz said. “I have a ton of respect for their coach, Tom Edgar, and the way he gets his kids prepared to play. We knew it was going to be a tough, hard-fought series.
“Absolutely, it was a good hard-fought series. They won the Founders Cup last year and Tom runs a really top-notch organization over there with not a lot of numbers in terms of players. It’s always fun to play his Holt teams because you know it’s going to be a clean, competitive, physical game.”
In the semifinals, Whitfield played top-seed Parkway West. The Warriors swept the series, scoring 3-2 and 4-2 wins.
“Parkway West is a really good team. We were hoping we wouldn’t have to play them,” Kantrovitz said. “Nik (Zamora) also does an outstanding job with the group he has there. They play fast, physical and smart hockey. Similar to Holt, you always know you’re in for a battle when you suit up against West.”
Several Warriors are making their presence known this postseason, Kantrovitz said.
“I think all of the players have stepped up in the postseason, but our goalie Nick Sauter has been a difference maker for sure,” Kantrovitz said. “Our four seniors – Jack Goddard, Ari Singer, Eric Dalton, and Gray Barnes – have been fantastic on and off the ice.”
The Warriors know their championship foe well. Whitfield lost 6-2 to Clayton and before winning 6-1 in regular season.
Kantrovitz said he has a lot of respect for the Greyhounds. But what happened in the regular season is in the past.
“Clayton is another physical team with a lot of talent up and down the lineup,” Kantrovitz said. “They are in the finals for a reason, and the reason is they are a really good team. I think those regular season games pretty much go out the window at this point. They are firing on all cylinders and they present a huge challenge.”
Kantrovitz knows what he wants to see from his squad in the championship game.
“I’m less worried about the crown than I am hopeful that our team goes out and plays as hard and smart as possible for 45 minutes,” Kantrovitz said. “If they play with heart, play for each other, and give it absolutely everything they have, that’s a result I’ll be thrilled about.
“I’m very excited for them. They’ve earned it. They’ve worked so hard over the course of these last four or five months. I’m really happy that they are getting recognized for their efforts. This is a group that earns everything they get.”
In his second season at the Whitfield helm, Kantrovitz knows what he has to do.
“I’m just trying to keep the ship steady and make sure we stay true to who we are,” Kantrovitz said. “I have no doubt that both teams will come out fast and ready and I’m excited to see a great hockey game between two very competitive teams.
“Clayton is a fantastic team and we look forward to a really hard-fought championship game.”