Guilford, Conn. - The Hill Academy has been at the top of the ECEL since joining the league in 2014. In both the U18 and U16 divisions, the Academy boasts five ECEL Cups in their five years in the league, including a U16 championship last year in an overtime thriller over the Seacoast Spartans.
They look to continue this trend under Head Coach Travis Wight who played at the University of Maine in one of the best collegiate conferences in Hockey East from 2002-2006. While at UMaine, Wight and his team earned two Frozen Four bids, played in four straight NCAA Tournaments, and won the Hockey East Championship in 2004. During his time in Orono, Coach Wight gained experience playing with top-level teammates and perennial NHL stars such as two-time Stanley Cup champion Dustin Penner, Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard, and Dallas Stars backstop Ben Bishop.
As a result of his college days in Maine, he can relate to his players and help them achieve their dreams of playing Division-I hockey. “I was fortunate enough to play college hockey at the D1 level at the University of Maine,” said Wight. “Since most of our student-athletes have aspirations of playing collegiate-level hockey, I can use my experience to help them through the process and answer any question they do have.”
The Hill Academy is a preparatory school located just outside of Toronto, Ontario. Their location has led to some problems when it comes to their travel, but Wight believes that the ECEL is worth the travel due to its central location to college hockey programs. “Being a Canadian school, we have to deal with travel parameters, but it is worth it,” explained Wight. “The Boston and New England area is a prime location for NCAA schools to be able to scout and recruit. Being in their ‘backyard’ so to speak, it makes much more sense for us to come to down to the Boston area where there are multiple schools within a couple of hours, rather than them having to drive up or fly to Toronto; logistically it works well.”
One thing that seems to separate Wight and his ECEL coaching peers from other coaches is how much they stress player development. There’s a strong belief among these coaches that if you can develop your players at a high level, you will win at a high level as a result. Wight in particular believes in this model and it has helped the Hill Academy win numerous league matchups.
“My goals for the upcoming season are not so much with wins and losses, but more so development,” said Wight. “We all want to win, but I want to see players improve and take their game to that next level. This goes hand in hand with winning because if each player can achieve this, it will ultimately make us a better team.”
Following Hill Academy’s ECEL Cup title at the U16 level last season, this year’s U18 squad features one significant part of that same championship team in goalie Hayden Dunford. Dunford was a key cog for the U16's last year in net, as he amassed a 2.10 GAA and a .934 save percentage last season. If Dunford can repeat his last year’s performance at the U18 level, they have the potential to return to the throne of their division.
Both Hill Academy squads look to reign supreme at both levels simultaneously for the first time since 2015, all starting at the Fall Classic in Boston. The U18 group will begin its campaign against ECEL newcomer Tahoe Prep Academy on day two of the Fall Classic, while the U16 reigning champions will face off against the Boston Advantage in a must-see matchup on the same day.
Founded in 2013, the East Coast Elite League is a four-weekend showcase series that will provide maximum exposure for its member organizations and their players, by playing in top venues, in ideal scouting locations. Spread across the U15, U16, and U18 divisions and represented by several of the top hockey organizations across the country, the ECEL is the premier showcase series in the United States, unmatched in its format and exposure opportunities. For more information on the ECEL, log on to http://www.ecelhockey.com or on Twitter @ECELHockey and Instagram @ecel_tier1.