The goal of any team is to make it to and win the championship game of whatever league it may be playing in.
The same was true for the Wilkes-Barre Miners Junior ‘A’ hockey team, which joined the Northern States Hockey League in March after being purchased by owner Ray Welsh, of Meshoppen.
Welsh knew that owning a team would warrant a lot of work, which would hopefully bring future success to the program.
Little did he know, it wouldn’t take that long for the Miners to become successful.
The Miners made it to the NSHL championship game before losing 4-3 in overtime to the Jershey Shore Wildcats on March 16, but the inaugural season was far from a failure.
“When I got the rights to franchise in late April, we had two players signed to the team, who were also my two sons,” Welsh chuckled. “Eventually more people came in and with the quality of players that we had come out it was a pretty good season for our first year. It’s great for the organization to make it to the championship game like that.”
Four of those players to join the team also included Hunter and Lewis Hackling, of Noxen, in addition to Shane and Brett Welsh, of Meshoppen.
The Miners, who finished the regular season at 28-12 overall, earned the 3-seed and faced Maine Wild in a three game series in the first round of the playoffs.
The Wild took the first game, 3-2, but the Miners responded with a 3-1 win in the second game and put the series away with a convincing 6-1 victory on March 9.
In the winner-take-all semifinals game, the Miners faced last year’s reigning champion in the Syracuse Stampede.
In a battle of wills, both teams fought to double overtime before the Miners netted the winning goal and the 4-3 win on March 15.
In the championship game, Wilkes-Barre was pitted against the Jersey Shore Wildcats, who had traded wins and losses against the Miners in the regular season.
Jersey Shore took a 1-0 lead after a first period goal but the Miners answered to tie the game with a goal from Mike Fitzpatrick.
The Wildcats scored again in the second, but Wilke-Barre responded again, this time with a goal from Gavin Abbott. The Miners scored again with another goal from Fitzpatrick to take a 3-2 lead, but Jersey Shore would tie the game in the third on a powerplay goal with 1:38 left to force overtime.
In overtime, the Wildcats again took advantage of a powerplay and found the back of the net, earning a trip to the AAU Nationals in Las Vegas, Nev., to be played in April and ending the Miners’ season.
“We started the season out with 13 players and more and more talent kept coming in as the year went on that really built our lineup,” Welsh said. “We developed the players and once they started playing into our system and believing in it, everything started coming together.”
Lewis Hackling finished the playoffs with two assists and Shane Welsh also added an assist. For the season, Welsh earned 11 goals and 14 assists in 39 games, while his brother, Brett, played in 18 games.
Lewis Hackling played in 40 games and ended the regular season with five goals and two assists. His brother Hunter scored one goal and had one assist in 34 games.
With a year under his belt, Welsh plans for the Miners to remain competitive in their sophomore season, as well as to continue the development of his players to compete at the next level.
“Right now we’re really trying to get the players on to college to get them their education because that’s what it’s really all about,” Welsh said. “If we can get them there with hockey as an add-on that’s what we set out to do. Many kids get turned away and told that they’re not good enough, but those kids who played for us obviously are. I’d rather get five or six kids to school than win a championship, though that would be nice, too.”
As of now, Welsh has already begun fulfilling that goal, as NSHL Defensemen of the Year, MJ Maerkl, recently committed to play Division III hockey at SUNY-Morrisville for the 2014-2015 season.