With a blend of players from four high schools, the Northport-Huntington Hockey Club has qualified for the USA Hockey High School Varsity National Championship beginning Thursday in St. Louis.
The 22-4-1 Tigers will find out Wednesday who they play in the first round.
They won all five games in the New York State Amateur Hockey Association High School Club Tournament in Saugerties, culminating the march with a 5-1 win over Arlington on March 1.
The team, composed of nine players from Northport, eight from Huntington, two from Harborfields and one from Glenn, ran into a bump before the championship run, falling to St. John the Baptist, 6-1, in the Suffolk County tournament.
"That was disappointing," said senior defenseman Teddy Pupilla of Northport. "The loss to St. John the Baptist lit a fire under us for the state invitational. And we played great hockey in the state tournament."
"It's a championship mix of players," said Northport-Huntington coach Mike Porcello. "They came back with a vengeance in the state tournament because they knew they shouldn't have lost in the Suffolk tournament. They played with a real purpose at the state tournament."
Center Sam Kurathowski, who attends Huntington High School, is in his third year with the varsity, and said the defensive approach has helped Northport-Huntington win.
"We play a lot of D zone coverage," Kurathowski said. "We believe if they can't score, they can't win. And when we get our opportunities we have to make the most of them. We don't turn the puck over much."
Porcello, of East Northport, is in his fifth year of coaching the club. He said his team has allowed no more than one goal in 13 of the 27 games this season.
"When it's about defense there are sacrifices that need to be made to win games," Porcello said. "Our guys are all in on our philosophy. We take a lot of pride in shutting down opponents."
Northport-Huntington will need to play lock-down defense to have a shot in the 16-team nationals.
"We're all psyched and we know the competition will be stiff," said senior defenseman Tim Horne of Harborfields. "But we're playing well and the guys know it's a once-in-a-lifetime chance."
Frank Coyle, the general manager of the Northport-Huntington hockey club, has been coordinating travel, hotels, uniforms and fundraising to make the trip go smoothly.
"They're all so excited about the nationals," Coyle said. "It's pretty amazing to see how far our club has come. We started in 2002 and we used to have to call people and recruit just to roster a team to be eligible to play in the league. Now players come to us."
Northport-Huntington won only two games three years ago and put a junior-varsity team on the ice that finished 3-24. Last year, the Tigers started 0-4-1 and finished strongly for a 10-8-1 record.
"It's all about commitment and teamwork," said Kurathowski. "We've been through tough times together. We bonded and blended our strengths to form a championship-caliber team. And now we're off to the national championship."