Providence College commit Tanner Adams and the 15U Saints will likely need to go through No. 4 Mid-Fairfield if they want to win the New England district title and advance to Nationals in Dallas. 

WOONSOCKET — Scott Gainey has coached in enough USA Hockey New England district tournaments to expect the unexpected.

Even though his 15U Academy team enters this weekend’s regional in Exeter, N.H. as one of just two teams in the field ranked inside’s top 40, Gainey isn’t penciling the No. 10 Saints into Sunday afternoon’s final against Connecticut powerhouse Mid-Fairfield, which is ranked fourth in the country.

“I like our chances a lot because we have a really good group, there’s a lot of talent and they work hard,” Gainey said Tuesday afternoon. “We have kids with good hockey IQ on the ice, so I think it’s going to be interesting. I think it could potentially be a two-horse race, but we’ve seen in the past where someone gets clipped early. We’re preaching that to our guys because we know that if we show up, we can beat anybody.”

The 15U team was simply unbeaten in the 2020 portion of the season, racking up 10 straight wins with only one of those victories coming by a goal. Just like the U16 and U18 teams, Gainey’s squad was forced to spend February traveling back and forth to western Pennsylvania to play games on the weekends.

They suffered a 6-4 defeat to No. 5 Shattuck St. Mary’s and a 3-2 overtime defeat to Detroit Little Ceasers, but the Saints enter this weekend with a 15-2-3 record and victories over No. 7 North Jersey Avalanche and No. 12 Bishop Kearney Selects.

A few talented kids who will likely earn a trip to the United States National Team Development Program evaluation camp – which has yet to be announced – are leading the way. Providence College commit Tanner Adams and Chris Pelosi have been consistent in the offensive zone. Long Islanders Michael Hagens and Christian Venticinque have also impressed in their jump from bantam to midget hockey.

Gainey has also been pleased with the growth of a number of other skaters who didn’t come to Mount St Charles with the same hype as Adams.

“Those kids from Long Island are pretty good, but we’ve had a lot of kids really develop because we’ve had a lot of ice time, even if we don’t have a lot of games,” Gainey said. “We’ve seen a lot of kids really improve and play a bigger role than we initially thought they’d play. The three that pop in my head are Anthony Cardilli, Alexios Georgaklis and Maddox Tulacro. All those kids have used their size and embraced their role of being tough on the puck and tough in front of the net.”

The weekend starts with Friday night’s contest against Connecticut Elite before a pair of contests Saturday against South Kent at 11:30 a.m. and the showdown with Mid-Fairfield at 7:30 p.m. The semifinals and final take place Sunday with the winner of the tournament earning an automatic spot at Nationals later this month in Dallas.

“We can’t look at the finish line because we have to get there first,” Gainey said. “We have to take care of each team and if we can play within ourselves and play good hockey, we can put ourselves in a good spot. We’re going to have to manage shifts and, as coaches, we’re going to have to manage each game because it is tough.”

Devin Rask’s U16 team, which has gone through a roller-coaster season, joins the 15U team in Exeter this weekend for their New England district tournament. The Saints, who lost to South Kent in last season’s 15U final, started the campaign winless in their first three games, have improved and posted impressive wins over the likes of Bishop Kearney Selects, the Buffalo Jr. Sabres and the Long Island Gulls to enter the weekend ranked 10th in the country.

The Saints face a Connecticut Elite team they already hammered 7-1 this season in their first game on Friday night. Ben Robertson, Seth Constance and the Saints take on the Northern Cyclones and Seacoast Performance Academy in their two pool-play games Saturday. Seacoast is ranked seventh in the country, but Mount beat them 5-3 at Adelard in October.

“Seacoast is going to be a tough team for them and at that age group the Connecticut teams are always tough,” Academy co-director Matt Plante said. “Everyone’s always a tough out at regionals. You obviously have to go up there and execute and perform and do all of that, but if that all happens, all of our teams are in a good position to go to their national tournaments.”

The U14 team, which didn’t get the chance to play a district tournament last season because of the pandemic, joins the U18 team in Hudson, N.H. for its district tournament. The Saints enter as the favorite because coach Frank O’Connor’s team is ranked fifth in the nation. The next highest-ranked team in the field is Mid-Fairfield at No. 21.

They open district play Friday night against the New Hampshire Avalanche. They return to Hudson Saturday to play Seacoast Performance Academy and Mid-Fairfield. The semifinals and district title game are on Sunday.

“Both Frank and John O’Connor did a terrific job putting that team together and really building on last year,” Plante said. “All the credit goes to those guys because they worked hard to get the team to where it is. All of our teams have a good shot at winning this weekend.”

Follow Branden Mello on Twitter @Branden_Mello

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