Jr. Grizzlies send two teams to nationals
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The Utah Jr. Grizzlies will have two teams represented at this year’s USA Hockey Tier II USA Hockey National Championships.
The program’s 16U AA and Bantam AA teams both earned invites to the event after celebrating Utah Amateur Hockey Association state championships in their respective divisions earlier this month at Park City Ice Arena.
The Jr. Grizzlies’ Bantams, led by head coach Jon Solomon, forged a 4-0 record at states, including a 5-1 triumph over the Davis County Golden Eagles in the championship game.
Depth, said the coach, made all the difference.
“We have 19 players on the roster, and these guys can all play,” said Solomon, whose club is 15-2-3 in its last 20 games (28-11-4 overall). “Even the guys who are new to AA have improved so much.
“Our captains are playing a big role, too, keeping our guys focused and in the right frame of mind this time of year.”
The Bantams won’t have to travel far for nationals, as their division will be contested at the Olympic Oval in Salt Lake City from March 26-30.
It marks the sixth season the Jr. Grizzlies’ Bantams have won states and advanced to nationals.
“We’re very excited to compete in front of our home crowd, and hope to put on a good show and play our very best,” said Solomon, who also credits the efforts of assistant coach Barry Waugamen, skills coach Daryl Olsen and team mangers Lori Jensen and Pam Tiede. “We want to enjoy every minute of the tournament.”
Team chemistry, along with a balanced attack, has played a big role in the Bantams’ success this season, says Solomon.
“Since the beginning of the year, the kids have had an eagerness to learn the game the way it’s suppose to be played, and it’s showed when it counts,” said the coach. “We’re a close group and play as one unit.”
And he’s hoping that translates into success in their own backyard at nationals.
“The boys are playing a good brand of hockey right now, and we hope to compete at the very highest level we can,” said Solomon.
Utah’s 16U AA squad punched its ticket to nationals after forging a 3-0 record in its division at the state tournament – also played in Park City – culminating in a 2-1 shootout victory over the Park City Ice Miners in the finale.
With 11 first-year 16U players on the roster, Olsen, the Grizzlies’ 16U head coach, is nothing short of impressed with the efforts of his team, which also competes in the National Junior Prospects Hockey League (NJPHL).
“It was an eye-opener for them (playing in the NJPHL), as well as the intensity of our practices which they’ve never experienced here in Utah,” said Olsen. “I liked the fact they came to practice wanting to learn, but we needed to find our work ethic; the kids had to make that choice to work to improve.”
The team’s growth since the start of the season has been nothing short of dramatic, said the coach.
“You have no idea,” said Olsen. “These first-year (players) have improved tenfold, and the second-years continued their improvement from last year.
“It takes a good four years of proper training and development to see the proper results, and the players who’ve been with us the longest have shown the greatest.”
At nationals, which for the 16U AA qualifiers will run from March 26-30 in Plano, Texas, Olsen expects his team to bring plenty of grit to the table.
“We want to be the hardest-working team every game,” said Olsen. “We may not win every game, but every team that plays us will remember us. Promise.”
Eagles Earn Auto Bid
Uncontested in its division, Davis County’s 18U AA team earned an automatic bid to its USA Hockey National Championships, which will be showcased from March 26-30 in Troy, Mich.
– Brian McDonough