During the regular season, after a dominating 4-0 start, the Washington-Liberty Generals slumped into an inconsistent five-match stretch that included three losses and little scoring.
The high-school club ice hockey team didn’t panic. Instead, it made a few adjustments, regrouped, refocused, tightened its defense and rebounded with strong and stingy play.
The reward was winning the recent championship game of the Capital Scholastic Hockey League tournament, downing top-seed West Potomac, 5-2, in Prince William County.
Third-seeded Washington-Liberty (10-3) was 3-0 in the tourney, including a first-round bye, and allowed just six goals while scoring 15. West Potomac had defeated the Generals by a 6-2 score during that slumping stretch.
The league tourney title was W-L’s second overall and second in three years, after losing in the semifinals last season.
Looking back, that five-match stretch might have benefited the Generals, according to one player.
“From the beginning of the season, we were just happy to be on the ice. With everything that is going on, we weren’t even expecting a season,” W-L junior Matthew Clarke said. “But we knew we wanted to win this championship again. We really found our stride the last few games. I think those games we lost were the key to our success. After that, we knew it required every one of us to step up.”
Washington-Liberty head coach Matt Seney didn’t disagree.
“Those three losses created a little sense of urgency to play well,” he said. “It taught us we can’t just show up and play and have a chip on our shoulders.”
The Generals now have a four-match winning streak, with one April 10 match remaining against the Yorktown Patriots. That’s an annual neighborhood clash following the playoffs for each team. Yorktown competes in a different league.
In the title-match win against West Potomac (9-2), Kyle Wilson scored two goals and Harry Burmeister had two assists. Clarke, Oliver Black and Will Jamieson had the other goals and Ethan Rostker and Alex Bogachev added the other assists. Ethan Colston is the team’s lone senior.
Anders Nelson made 20 saves in goal.
West Potomac led 1-0 in the match, then W-L scored the next four goals to take control. Washington-Liberty outshot West Potomac, 34-22.
“I’m not the biggest goalie at 5-9, but we had a really strong defense and our players kept opposing skaters off of me,” Nelson said. “It was such a weird season with COVID and all of that. But this team had a lot of good chemistry.”
Seney agreed the defense was strong during the postseason.
“We buttoned things down and limited shots,” he said. “We learned to grow and develop during the regular season. This team had a lot of mix of high-end skill, talent and depth and we put that all together.”
Seney credited Burmeister for his strong postseason performances, getting a lot of shifts by centering two lines at times.
“We rode him a lot,” Seney said.
The coach said the line of Jamieson, Bogachev and Chris Hildebrand that was put together for the playoffs had a productive impact with its steady performance
“That line had chemistry and consistent play, you could see it right from the start,” Seney said.
The Generals defeated seventh-seed Bishop Ireton, 4-2, in the semifinals and sixth-seed Forest Park/Hylton, 6-2, in the quarterfinals.
NOTES: The Generals allowed just two goals in each of their three playoff victories . . . Wilson and Boyagian were chosen first-team all-league for their play this season, with Clarke making second team and Harry Burmeister and Nelson chosen honorable mention . . . Washington-Liberty also was the third seed when it won the 2019 league championship . . . The team’s three-year playoff record is 8-1.