Littleton proud of 18U AA’s yearly dominance
The Littleton Hockey Association is in the midst of a dynasty.
With five consecutive Colorado Amateur Hockey Association state championships at Midget 18U AA, the Hawks have seemingly cornered the market on the level in recent years.
Brian TenEyck, Littleton’s hockey director who coached both the 2010-11 and this year’s title-winning teams, says the club does put a concerted effort on delivering continuity with the program’s 18U AA squads year after year to ensure success.
“We do work to put the best teams possible on the ice, but we’re also sensitive to how many new players we add,” said TenEyck. “We don’t want to disrupt any team dynamics from previous years.”
Rick Adams, who’s served on the 18U AA team’s coaching staff the last three seasons, says the Hawks’ dominance also speaks to the players’ commitment to putting the team above all else.
“We’ve been consistent year to year in trying to instill the importance of team accomplishment versus individual accolades,” said Adams. “We remind each team that they’re representing not only their current team, but those past Littleton championship teams and the entire Littleton association.
“We’ve been fortunate to have ‘buy-in’ from so many players and families.”
To qualify for states at 18U AA, a club has to finish in the top four in Colorado Competitive Youth Hockey League regular-season play. From there, it’s a double-elimination showcase for the right to be called champions.
Littleton has bested the Arapahoe Hockey Association in the state championship finals since its five-year run started. The Arvada Hockey Association and Boulder Hockey Club have also proven worthy opponents in recent years.
The winning has become expected amongst the players year after year, says TenEyck, with each group not wanting to be the Littleton club that snaps the string of dominance.
“The teams have definitely taken on the belief that they don’t want to be the one that ends the tradition,” said TenEyck. “I know it was definitely a big part of our motivation this year.”
And with a state championship at the AA level, teams earn a berth to the USA Hockey National Championships, which are traditionally showcased in March.
At nationals, the Hawks have been knocked out of the tournament in the quarterfinals the last three years. Two years ago, Littleton defeated the eventual national champion, Missouri’s Affton Americans, in round-robin play.
“That was difficult to watch,” TenEyck admitted.
With the state’s Midget AA seasons culminating earlier than others due to the demands of high school hockey – many Midget AA players participate – that leaves the champs with over three months to scratch together informal games and practices in an effort to be their very best come nationals.
No easy task, says TenEyck.
“It’s been difficult,” he said. “We’ve seen a decline in the number of players who choose to play (high school hockey) from our club, but it’s still tough to keep the kids together 3-5 times a week.”
TenEyck, though, says this year’s group has been lucky enough to have played a handful of games since states heading into February, and will play close to 10 more before nationals, which this year will run from March 24-31 in Troy, Mich.
“Going into nationals each year, we know we’ll have a tough schedule and see the best teams in the country right away,” Adams said. “We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
– Brian McDonough