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18U: Little Flyers trio climbs USA Hockey Ladder of Development to NAHL

05/21/2021, 3:30pm EDT
By AL

Gross, Matousek and O'Connell shine in NAHL call-up

Three members of the Philadelphia Little Flyers 18U team were still playing hockey last weekend as they climbed the Ladder of Development to the North American Hockey League.  Forwards David Matousek (Johnstown Tomahawks) and Patrick O’Connell (Janesville Jets) made their NAHL debuts, while Goaltender Liam Gross was in-betweens the pipes for the second weekend for the Tomahawks. 

Liam Gross a 6’1” 185lb 2002 birth year goaltender from Fort Washington, PA has been a two year player with the Little Flyers 18U team under Head Coach Dave Dorman.  In his time in the black and orange, Gross has put up impressive numbers, posting a 1.74 Goals Against Average and .916 Save percentage in AYHL play.  The PA native has been as impressive in NAPHL league play with a 1.01 Goals Against Average and .957 Save Percentage this season.  “The past two seasons have been a real challenge for me, Coach Dorman has continuously asked me to raise my level and work harder and I did just that. These past two seasons were honestly the best of my life.   Being with two extremely tight groups who challenged me every day to get better is something I will always appreciate. This year I struggled off the bat and found myself on the bottom of the depth chart.  I had two choices, step up and push for award or tuck my tail between my legs and pack it up. I choose the ladder and stuck to the grind. I worked my butt off with the help of coach Dorman, my teammates and my family.  The hardships I faced this year with my game have prepared me for every aspect of the world of junior hockey and I think I’ve shown that in my first two games in the NA”  said Gross when asked how the last two seasons have prepared him for the call-up to the next level.  Gross is undefeated in two starts for the East division leading Johnstown Tomahawks, making 60 saves in those two games with a .909 save percentage.  “It felt great getting the call two weeks ago, I was ecstatic when Coach Dunkleberger told me I’d be getting a game I was so excited I really didn’t even know what to think.  In my first two starts I just stuck to my routine and stayed focused on getting the team an extra 2 points to secure the second seed in the NAHL” continued Gross on what is was like to receive the call-up to the North American League.

There was a familiar face in the starting line-up with Gross this past weekend, in the form of Little Flyers teammate David Matousek.  Matousek, a 5’11” 170lb forward from Karlovy Vary, CZE made his NAHL debut this past weekend, seeing time in all three of Johnstowns games.  The left handed playmaker, led the Little Flyers to the NAPHL Dixon Cup Championship game scoring 8 goals and adding 2 assists in the 6 game post season tournament.  “The Little Flyers organization and Coach Dorman have been preparing me and my teammates for opportunities like this since the day I started playing for them.  They prepared me to play with speed and ability to make plays and put me into a good position to take advantage of this great opportunity” said Matousek after Sunday’s win.  While Gross made 28 saves in the Tomahawks defense zone, Matousek lit the lamp twice for Johnstown to help his Little Flyer teammate earn his 2nd career NAHL victory. Matousek was named the first star of the game after his two goal performance.  The first NAHL goal of Matousek’s career came just 6:08 into the first period of Sunday’s game to give Johnstown a 1-0 lead.  The second goal of the game came just past the hallway point of the second period to put Johnstown up 4-2 at the time, Gross, Matousek and their Tomahawks teammates held on for a 5-4 win.   “It felt good to be named the first star of the game, it’s a memory you never forget but I’m happier that I was able to come in here and play at a high level to help the team get another win before heading into the playoffs” said Matousek on being named the First Star of the Game. 

Matousek’s Little Flyers line mate, Patrick O’Connell earned the call-up to the Janesville Jets for his North American league debut.  O’Connell, a 5’7” 155lb playmaking forward from West Chester, PA has been a cornerstone in building the Little Flyers 18U program into a national contender.  Over the past two seasons, O’Connell has amassed 158 points in over 115 games for the Orange and Black.  “I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this if it wasn’t for the hard work of coach Dorman and the rest of the staff with the Little Flyers preparing us for these moments and opportunities.  I couldn’t have asked for a better two years of 18u with the Little Flyers. Coach Dorman and the rest of the staff throughout the whole organization is the best of the best and have really helped myself and the rest of our teammates get to the next level and creating a winning team first culture said O’Connell when talking about preparing for this opportunity for the last two seasons at the 18U level.  O’Connell ‘s ability to create for his teammates showed in the game for the Jets, on Janesville’s second goal of Sunday’s game, O’Connell dished the puck through the neutral zone to a cutting teammate to gain the offensive zone which led to a goal from Jet’s defenseman Blake Dangos.  After the game, O’Connell was happy to find success at the next level in his first game “It was a great opportunity to play for the Janesville Jets, it couldn’t have been any better. It was really fun to pick up an assist and be on the ice as a contributor in my first game in the NAHL”

The success of the Little Flyers 18U team over the past two seasons under Coach Dorman has promoted five players from the 2020-21 roster to North American League opportunities.  In addition to the trio of O’Connell, Matousek and Gross playing in NAHL games this season, teammates Byron Hartley (Amarillo Bulls) and Chris Blango ( Lone Star Brahmas ) have signed NAHL tenders for the 2021-22 season.   
“We asked these guys two years ago to put their trust and confidence in us and to share in our vision of creating an environment, and building a culture, that would lead to competing with the best in the country.  We achieved that in a short time with the commitment of these players, and the trust and loyalty, that they have shown to our program. These three playing games in the North American Hockey League this past weekend for the Janesville Jets and the Johnstown Tomahawks, and our other two NAHL tendered players (Byron Hartley- Amarillo/ Chris Blango- Lone Star) is the culmination of what we have built with the Little Flyers midget program. The shared vision and commitment to pursuing daily excellence is what led us to being ranked #12 nationally. All 5 guys spent two years with us and we are grateful for their trust in the program. We know they are prepared for what lies ahead and know they will follow in the great tradition of fellow Little Flyers alum in representing our program well” said Little Flyers 18U Head Coach Dorman when asked about his players climbing the Ladder of Development.  Due to his success last weekend, Matousek has officially been offered a tender by the Tomahawks. 

Photo Credit: Phil Andraychak/Johnstown Tomahawks  

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