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‘All about the kids:’ Foothills captures 18U Tier II states

 

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For the past six years, the Littleton Hawks claimed the Colorado Amateur Hockey Association’s 18U Tier II state championship.

The Foothills Flyers started a new streak with a convincing 3-1 win over the Denver Jr. Pioneers on Dec. 11 at the South Suburban Ice Arena in Littleton to win the 2016 crown.

Max Engle scored twice, while Jacob Gombos and Charles Huang posted two assists each to back Nicholas Scott’s 33 saves in goal.

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Foothills coach head Jeff Jentz said seeing the players celebrate was very satisfying.

“It’s just great,” said Jentz. “I’ve coached a lot of these kids for the past three seasons and we’ve always been a pretty decent team during that time. For me, it’s always been about this group of kids and seeing get to what I have always believed is their potential. Going into the tournament, I wanted to make sure we were full of confidence and to do that, we just needed to take it as the first step in a journey, rather than anything more than that.

“It’s that tricky place you find yourself in at the end of the year in almost any sport, especially in amateur hockey, where you need to take your next opponent seriously while also understanding that there is more than one next opponent and more than one important team coming up. I thought our kids handled that really well.”

In the tournament, which featured three teams, Foothills opened the event Dec. 4 with a 4-1 win over DU, followed by a 4-1 victory over Littleton the next night. The Jr. Pioneers edged Littleton 4-3 on Dec. 6 and then DU was again victorious Dec. 8, 5-3 over Foothills.

Jentz said his team is a pleasure to coach and work with, both on and off the ice.

“This season is all about the kids and I think we have some incredible individual talents,” said Jentz. “That said, these guys have done a really nice job this year supporting one another. One thing I said to them after we won (the state title) was, ‘My heart is full of love and joy for you guys and I know how meaningful this is for each and every one of you.’ We do have some star players, but this team doesn’t shine if each guy on the team does everything they can at every practice and in games, especially this time of year. All these kids are the best players on their high school teams and they have to find a way to cycle through two teams and give everything they can to what we’re doing at Foothills. That’s not easy, but these guys have friendships and bonds that allow them to support one another and our stars to shine.”

The 2016-17 Flyers squad is comprised of forwards Josh Hellem, Diego Lovato, Nicholas Marchese, Josh Pusar, Bradley Render, Jonathan Tanji, Nathan Weiss, Ryan Whannel, Engle, Gombos and Huang; defensemen Jack Bonniwell, who also serves as team captain, Corey Box, Lane Levine, Alexander Solzman, Cameron Suchomel and Brendan Williams; and goalies Alex Karas and Scott. Joining Jentz on the bench are assistant coaches Aaron Bain and Skylar Elisberg, while Jennifer Weiss is the team manager.

Moving ahead, the USA Hockey Youth Nationals is set for next spring, but being superstitious, Jentz won’t budge on how his Flyers team will be preparing from now until March.

“I’ve been fortunate in that this isn’t my first state title and prior to this, I have never engaged in what we’d be doing afterward to any extent of playing,” said Jentz. “In the back of my mind, I guess I have some idea, but like I said, I’ve always believed these kids could do this.”

— Matt Mackinder