April 11, 2013

YOUTH HOCKEY: Wheelden half of winning TD Garden Mini 1-on-1 team

By Bill Stewart bstewart@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Drake Wheelden skated onto the ice at the TD Garden in Boston and tried not to get lost in the moment.

click image to enlarge

CHAMPS: Grady Friedman, left, and Drake Wheelden recently won the TD Garden Mini 1-on-1 tournament in Boston. The duo successfully navigated through six rounds to win the boys 10-and-under championship.

Contributed photo

The 12-year-old goalie from a goalie-rich family was participating in the annual TD Garden Mini 1-on-1 tournament with teammate Grady Friedman.

The pair, who represented the Portland Junior Pirates, ventured to Boston on Feb. 2 for what they hoped would be a long day on the Boston Bruins' home ice.

"I was kind of nervous," said Wheelden, of Kents Hill. "It was an elimination tournament. One loss and you were done. I was pretty nervous. Our goal was to just keep playing."

And play on they did.

With Friedman the shooter and Wheelden in net, the duo successfully navigated through six rounds to win the boys 10-and-under championship. The divisions were set on birth dates from the previous year.

The semifinal and final rounds were televised on NESN during intermissions of Bruins games last week.

Wheelden and Friedman, a Falmouth native, defeated a team from Dover, N.H. in the semifinals before edging a Maine Gladiators team in the final.

"It was awesome," Wheelden said. "Our first goal was to make it to TV round, and once we got there, my goal was to win the whole championship. It was really cool."

In each of the semifinal and final rounds, the opposing shooter misfired on his first shot. However, Wheelden needed to make Grade A saves on the final two shots to preserve 1-0 victories.

Wheelden, who attends Maranacook Middle School, did not allow a goal in the six rounds of the tournament. Each goalie faces three shots in each round.

"It's a moment he won't forget, that's for sure," said Drake's father, Todd Wheelden, who is the director of auxiliary programs at Kents Hill School.

Drake added it was "pretty cool" to watch the semifinals and final on television last week.

"It was cool to hear the commentators say my name," he said.

Drake Wheelden learned to skate when he was 3 years old. He grew up through the Maranacook Area Youth Hockey Association before going to play with the Junior Pirates. He played for an AAA PeeWee team last season with the Pirates.

"He was born the same year (2001) they built the rink here at Kents Hill," Todd Wheelden said. "My job at the time was running the facility so it was a natural progression for him to start walking around and then putting on skates. It seemed as though it was pre-determined he would play goalie, but we wanted him to learn everything else first.

"It's some sort of chromosome or bad blood got into the family; I don't know."

Drake Wheelden, whose younger brother Fenix plays for the Junior Pirates AAA Squirt team, says he prefers goalie because "you get to play the whole game."

"You are kind of like the quarterback in football," he added. "It's just a lot of fun."

Bill Stewart -- 621-5640


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