by Eric Torres, Editor-In-Chief
Braves hockey continued their tradition of excellence, earning a first-round bye in the playoffs following a strong and tough regular season.
This season, the Braves, participating in the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League (ADHSHL), posted a record of 10-5-2. Their 29 points, the third-most in the league, was not only enough to take the second seed in the playoffs, but also clinch a very important first-round bye.
Even more impressively, this was the Braves’ first full season in Division 1 of the ADHSHL. They entered this division following a Division 2 championship in the 2019-2020 season, which was their second in four seasons, with three championship games reached over that four-year span.
Despite earning the second seed, the Braves’ start to the year was rocky at best. The Braves started the season 1-3-0 after tough losses to Santa Margarita, Lutheran (Orange) and the Capistrano Coyotes. A tough schedule and new players, which meant a lack of chemistry at the beginning of the season, played a big role in the slow start.
“Honestly, we started against the hardest teams, and we had a lot of new guys on the team, so we needed to get it together,” said senior goaltender Kevin Zamazal.
However, the Braves turned the season around. After that 1-3-0 start, the Braves won their next three en route to taking the next six out of seven. In the end, the Braves only lost two more games in regulation for the rest of the season.
“We played our system more, we didn’t just focus on one guy. We made better passes and got more chemistry,” said sophomore forward Patrik Cech.
Furthermore, in that three-game win streak, the Braves got revenge on both Santa Margarita, who currently holds the first seed in the playoffs, in a thrilling overtime win, as well as the Capistrano Coyotes, in a 6-1 blowout. Unlike the Trinity League, the ADHSHL has different divisions, meaning that there was no competition against teams like “The Team in Red” and Servite. Instead, the Braves have rivalries with teams such as these two.
“Santa Margarita is our rival because every time that we play, it is a very physical game, and it is very tight. There’s a lot of energy when we play,” said junior defenseman Tyler Gagnon.
In order for this type of season to take place, especially in a sport like hockey, contributions came from everywhere. Nichollas Nelson, from Downey High School, led the team with 16 points. Elsewhere, the Braves received a push from their underclassmen, with contributions from Patrik Cech, with twelve points, and freshman center Ty Izadi, who added five goals and four assists in only nine games played.
“Everyone played well. Patrik played well, and Ty Izadi played really well and got a good start for his freshman year,” said Kevin.
Even with a top-three offense in the division, the defense also carried their weight. The Braves surrendered 58 goals in their 17 games played. With the offensive capabilities of the team, this figure is more than good enough for a top seed in the playoffs. Defensemen, such as Tyler Gagnon, stepped up to hold other teams at bay.
Finally, the goaltending completed a well-rounded team performance in the regular season. Kevin Zamazal posted a respectable .885 save percentage and averaged 3.28 goals against per game.
“Kevin stood on his head the whole year. Everyone did their part and did what they were supposed to do,” said Ty.
In order to succeed in the playoffs, the Braves will need to play at their highest level, while also remembering the adjustments that put them in this spot. Although they hold the second seed, no team is to be overlooked, especially with the amount of time since the last game. Furthermore, a deep run could allow for the return of senior first-line defenseman Donovan Felton, who is currently sidelined with an ankle injury.
“We need to keep playing like a team and play it simple. We beat the good teams by playing simple and doing the easy stuff. We also need to take our chances,” said Kevin.
This year, the Braves’ chances to win it all are at their highest. Beyond holding the second seed and a first-round bye, the Braves defeated every team that is on their side of the bracket already this year. Furthermore, due to the seeding, the two teams with the highest points in the division, Santa Margarita and St. Mary’s are seeded on the other half of the bracket. This means that the Braves will not face either team until the final, should they make it.
“We have a big chance to win. In the bracket, we are on the right side, and we have already beat all the teams on our side. If we play our system and we play well we should get into the finals,” said Patrik.
Due to a first-round bye, Braves hockey does not play their first playoff game until March 10 at Anaheim Ice Rink, which will start at 6:30 P.M. They will face the winner of the matchup between Bellarmine Prep and Pacific Ridge School, with a trip to the semi-finals on the line.