From Jan. 2 to Jan. 8, West Ranch hockey made its second pilgrimage in as many years to Minnesota for the Eden Prairie Border Battle hockey tournament. And for the second year in a row, the favorite moment of the trip was playing pond hockey. The Cats warmed up by the heat of an open fire in between playing 3-on-3 games. “They’re out there all day skating around in below-zero weather,” said Wildcats coach Chris Greene. “I think it was actually like two degrees. But it’s just so great to see the kids playing. They’re all smiles the whole time.” When the Cats weren’t out on the pond, they were all business when it came to be tournament time. The team won an exhibition game 5-2 before losing in the following three and every player relished the opportunity to skate against solid teams from the east coast. “They’re stronger hitters, they’re better skaters, their systems of play are different,” said forward Justin Badillo. “You just kind of learn different styles of hockey and how you can implement it to your game.”
The Wildcats felt more prepared, too, already having a taste of Minnesota hockey from last year’s tournament. Greene was pleased with how his team responded to the competition. “Just playing against these other teams, the competition side of it, is good to see other hockey programs out there. And it helps our team out. It’s a challenge going into it, but it’s a challenge that’s fun and exciting to go through.” West Ranch also had the opportunity to skate at the University of Minnesota’s Mariucci Arena and receive a training session from Bill Butters, a former NHL-er and Golden Gopher who was coached by Herb Brooks. Davis Drewiske, who played for the LA Kings and Montreal Canadiens, was also on hand to give some pointers. “I think it’s nice to have a different aspect form a different coach, so when you get that kind of guidance, it helps you in what you need to do in order to win games,” said Josh Watts, a forward for the Wildcats. The Cats are hoping that the east coast experience will jump-start their LA Kings High School Hockey League season. They’re currently 4-5 and dragging a two-game losing streak with them into this Friday’s matchup with Valencia. “I think overall we just want to come out with the heat,” Badillo said, “We’re going to come out wanting the puck more than the other team. We’re going to come out wanting to win.” West Ranch plays the Vikings at 5:15 at Ice Station Valencia.