The Minutemen, a club team of 12- and 13-year-old boys, won 10 consecutive games en route to bringing home the 1999 North American Silver Stick championship in January. The squad won five straight games to take the Eastern Regionals in October and did the same when it competed against the best teams from Canada and the United States in the Jan. 22-24 tournament.
``This was a single-elimination tournament, so it was a do-or-die situation each time we went out on the ice,'' Valley Forge coach Jerry Domish said. ``It's incredibly tough to win 10 games in a row, especially when you're competing against the best teams from across the country and Canada.''
The squad is now preparing for the Eastern Regionals of the season-ending United States Hockey League tournament, which will begin next Friday in Hamilton, N.J., and includes only club teams from the United States. The nationals will be held the weekend of April 9-11 in Washington, D.C.
The team's Silver Stick accomplishment is an impressive one when you consider that there are 18 qualifying regions throughout the United States and Canada. According to the International Silver Stick Association, regional tournaments are held throughout North America.
The Minutemen earned a trip to Port Huron by beating five peewee AA powers in the Eastern Regionals, a three-day tournament at Ice Line in West Chester.
``It's sort of like college basketball's March Madness,'' Domish said. ``You have to win your region before you get to play for the national championship.''
It was the second time in three years that Domish had guided a Valley Forge club team to a North American Silver Stick championship. The Squirts, a group of 10- and 11-year-olds, skated to the title in 1997. Many of the players on this year's peewee team, including standout goalie Danny Meyers of Voorhees and third-line center Tim Gehring of Exton, were part of that championship squad.
``We won this tournament before, so I already knew what the feeling was like,'' said Meyers, 13. ``It's the best feeling in the world to win a tournament like this, because so many good players are involved.''
Teamwork, said 13-year-old Paul Worthington, was one of the keys to capturing the Silver Stick title. Worthington, who lives in Penndel and whose father, Paul, is a team manager, has been part of the Valley Forge program for three seasons.
``We all wanted to win this tournament pretty badly,'' said the younger Worthington, a right winger for the Minutemen. ``If one player didn't want to win, we wouldn't have been successful.''
The Minutemen practice at Center Ice in Oaks. Domish, 44, is part-owner of the facility, which was built less than two years ago and houses two rinks. He has been coaching youth hockey for 20 years.
Seventeen players made the trip to Port Huron, although a few were sidelined with injuries and did not participate.
Valley Forge, which competes in the United States Hockey League, advanced to the championship game of the Silver Stick tournament by edging Toronto, 1-0, in overtime in a semifinal. The Minutemen allowed only one shot on goal in defeating the Sarnia (Ontario) Sting, 4-1, in the final.
Mandes, a 13-year-old resident of Doylestown and a seventh grader at Holicong Middle School in Buckingham, produced nine goals and five assists in the five tournament games. Domish said Mandes is ``big, strong, and has an incredible slapshot. And he's got great anticipation skills.''
Mandes, Worthington, and Chad Kolarik of Abington form Valley Forge's top line. One of the squad's better defensemen is Ryan Gunderson, a close friend of Worthington's and a student at Shafer Middle School in Bensalem.
Meyers, a seventh grader at Voorhees Middle School, yielded only five goals in the January tournament. The 5-foot-5 goalie notched a shutout in an opening-round victory and made several clutch saves in the win over Toronto.
``I have to give a lot of credit to the people in front of me,'' Meyers said. ``The defense was really good.''
Meyers is one of two New Jersey residents playing for the Minutemen. The other is Wyatt Fox of Ewan in Gloucester County. Fox, a defenseman, was selected to the Silver Stick all-star team along with Mandes and Worthington.
Valley Forge's second line includes workhorse center Greg Gallo of Dublin and wingers Kevin Switek of Philadelphia and Dan Meyer of Havertown. Gehring is flanked on the third line by Marc Bucks of Leesport and Tim Geverd of Horsham.
The Minutemen, whose season began in mid-August, have played in more than 70 games this season. Their record is 61-11-3, and all the losses have come against older bantam teams (13- and 14-year-olds).
And now, the team is getting set for another tournament run.
``I think it will be tough to win nationals,'' Gehring said, ``but we have a lot of confidence after winning the Silver Stick.''