Thunderbirds sweep Tier I states, take two district crowns
The Colorado Thunderbirds have five new banners to display within the organization.
With three Tier I state championship victories Feb. 28 by the 14U, 16U National and 18U teams, plus 14U and 16U Rocky Mountain District (RMD) titles on March 13, the Thunderbirds are creating quite a gallery for championship banners and hardware.
The Colorado Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA) state tournament was held at the Cadet Ice Arena on the campus of the U.S. Air Force Academy, while districts were at the Ice Centre at the Promenade in Westminster.
The Thunderbirds’ 14U team rolled to a perfect 3-0 record at the event, defeating the Evolution Elite Hockey Academy in the championship final 5-2.
“These young men came together as a team and played for each other,” said 14U assistant coach Lev Cohen. “This group of men is not afraid to block shots, take a hit to make a play and do whatever it takes to make the team successful.”
In the title game, Dominic Sandoval and Lucas Sandoval each posted a goal and two assists and Cal Sandquist made 11 saves in goal.
Then at the Promenade, the Thunderbirds completed a 4-0 tournament with a 1-0 win in the final over the Dallas Stars Elite. Sandquist stopped all 26 shots and Dominic Sandoval scored the lone goal.
The 14U team is now off to the USA Hockey Youth Nationals March 31-April 4 in Anchorage, Alaska.
Angelo Ricci’s 16U squad also fashioned a perfect 3-0 mark at states and wrapped the tournament with a 3-2 overtime win over the Rocky Mountain RoughRiders. Mason Mannek was the OT hero.
Jonah Giem picked up the win in goal for the Thunderbirds with a 17-save outing.
“In general, it is a nice piece of the puzzle and one of the goals along the way is to win the state title,” said Ricci. “It is a necessary as it is part of the process to get to nationals. Our program has much bigger goals for all three teams which is to give our best effort so we can each earn a chance to play for the national championship.”
At districts, the 16U team again went 4-0, outscoring its opponents 28-2 along the way, including a 7-1 win over Dallas in the finals where seven different players scored and Giem stopped 14 shots.
The national tournament in San Jose, Calif., is next for the 16U squad.
For the Thunderbirds 18U team, being crowned state champs is something that hasn’t been done in a handful of years. Back in 2013, the 18U team lost in the state tournament, but won the RMD tournament to qualify for nationals. Teams didn’t have to win states to get to advance to districts that year.
Thunderbirds 18U head coach Nick Hantge said his team never quit, even when it would have been easy to do so.
“I am most proud of our players for the way they played as a team and despite the ups and downs of our season, never giving up,” Hantge said. “We all knew we had a special group that could accomplish great things and our players didn’t lose sight of that this season. The leadership from our captains, returning Thunderbirds and guys who have played 18U AAA last season was second to none.”
At states, the Thunderbirds won all three games and downed the Colorado Rampage 3-0 in the final on the strength of a 29-save shutout from goaltender Daniel Swail.
“This team is special because they all didn’t grow up playing together,” explained Hantge. “They come from other programs and we even had a few from out of state. They all were able to come together this year and share common team goals, like winning a Tier I 18U CAHA state championship, something that hasn’t been done by our program for several years.”
The 18U group finished 1-2 at districts.
— Matt Mackinder