The Squirt A's of the Howard County Youth Hockey Club gave themselves a late Christmas present last week at the New Jersey Thunderbirds Invitational Tournament.
The team finished undefeated and took home the first-place trophy.
The Squirts outscored their four opponents, 20-2, as their defense, led by goalie Lenny Barnard and defensemen Robby Falk, Mike Jazwiecki, Nick Zahrobsky and Cedric Cato, controlled the action.
Howard County got off to a good start, defeating Mercer, 6-0. Adam Levinson led the way with a hat trick, Brian Moscoe had two goals and T. J. Mathieson had one. Steve Blakely, Bobby Steen, Justin Bridle and Falk each scored two assists, and Zahrobsky added one. The defense limited Mercer to eight shots on goal.
The team then advanced to meet the host Thunderbirds and came away with a 2-1 win. The momentum shifted back and forth until late in the second period when Falk sent a bullet to Steen, who passed it across the goal mouth to the waiting stick of Kyle Chacon who put it in to make it 1-0.
Minutes later, the Thunderbirds answered with a goal, but Levinson got the game-winner 17 seconds later off an assist from Derek Williams.
Next, Howard easily defeated the Glaciers, 9-1, outshooting them, 48-6. Howard and Chacon each scored two goals, and Blakely, Moscoe, Cato, Zahrobsky and Jazwiecki each had one.
In the championship game against the Thunderbirds, Howard again broke it open in the second period when Blakely scored assisted by Levinson and Falk. Five minutes later, Blakely struck again, making it 2-0 on an assist by Williams and Mathieson.
Levinson then got an insurance goal in the third period, off an assist from Zahrobsky, to put the game away.
It may not have been pretty, but a win is a win.
Such was the philosophy of Skins manager Rick Campbell after his team opened the Howard County Recreation and Parks Winter Men's Basketball League, Sunday Division I schedule with a 40-38 double-overtime win over The Burg last weekend at Mount Hebron High School.
Playing together for the first time as a team, the Skins shot poorly and were inconsistent on offense. But led by leading scorer Bryan Rawlings and a starting lineup averaging nearly 6-foot-4, the Skins prevailed.
After regulation ended with the game tied at 32, the teams played evenly in the first overtime, and were tied at 38 in the second before Orlando Whaley hit the game-winner.
"This was the first time we've all really played together, and we really didn't play that well," said Campbell. "We'll be a lot better later on in the season."
* In other opening-week games, Celtics-Not defeated Glass Block, 60-51; Fred Frank Bailbonds beat the Supreme Sports, 66-50; Knudsen Homes thrashed Clyde's, 92-62; and Dawg Brick got by Bode Floors, 63-41.
The big winner on the day, however, was the Northern Division, which posted wins over Southern Division teams in all five games.
Interdivisional play will continue Sunday morning, at Centennial High School as Clyde's meets Fred Frank Bailbonds at 9, Bode Floors takes on Knudsen Homes at 10, The Burg plays Dawg Brick at 11 and Glass Block plays the Skins at noon.
The other game on the schedule, scheduled for noon at Mount Hebron High, pits the Supreme Sports against Celtics-Not.
The league plays an eight-week regular season, with the playoffs slated to begin Feb. 28 and the championship game March 21.
* In Division II play, the Lakers opened their season with a 50-41 win over Industrial Wastes at Mount Hebron High.
After Industrial built a six-point lead by halftime, the Lakers surged ahead midway through the second half. After the lead changed several more times, the Lakers used a late charge to put the game away in the final two minutes.
Dave Novak led the Lakers in scoring.
* In other Southern Division games, Wine beat the Legends, 41-28, and the Dream On Team defeated Bricks-R-Us, 45-37.
* In the Northern Division games at Atholton High, the Wilts edged Pete's Raider, 62-60; the Irish Prize Pub defeated Baxter, 61-41; and K.A.O.B. upended the Baby Brigade, 56-47.
* Teams from the Eastern Division also clashed at Hammond High. Fitness Formula beat Baltimore Aircoil, 53-46; the Untouchables were just that, running past the Longshots, 71-26; and Mutha's was a 65-42 winner over Young Guns III.
Divisional play continues this Sunday, with the Northern Division tipping off at Atholton High, the Southern Division at Mount Hebron High and the Eastern Division at Hammond High. Games are every Sunday morning at 9, 10 and 11.
All teams play eight regular-season games, with the playoffs beginning Feb. 28 and the title game set for March 21.