Colorado, Utah teams take in Tier II nationals; LHA 18U AA bags bronze
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Three Colorado teams and three Utah teams traveled to various locales across the country in late March to participate in the 2016 USA Hockey Tier II Youth Nationals.
The 14U event was staged in Charlotte, N.C., the 16U tournament in Wayne, N.J., and the 18U teams ventured to Amherst, N.Y.
In Charlotte, Chris Lockrem’s Boulder Bison team finished 1-2-0, winning their lone game 4-2 over the North Jersey Avalanche on April 2. The Bison also lost 2-1 to the eventual champion USA Eagles, based out of suburban Detroit.
“I think the biggest thing the kids learned is that they can compete at the national level,” Lockrem said. “As an organization, it is important for our younger kids to see the success and emulate our older players. It gives them something to look forward to and people to look up to. Competing with the best clubs in the country says a lot about our club as well as the Rocky Mountain Region. We have come a long way in the 20 years I have been coaching in this district.
“It has never been about one player. We had strong goaltending, gave up limited scoring opportunities and capitalized on our opportunities all season. That has been the key to our success all season. The kids played hard for the accomplishment of the team, not themselves.”
The Utah Golden Eagles also hit Charlotte and came away with an 0-3 mark at the national tournament.
At the 16U championships in New Jersey, the Littleton Hawks (pictured) won one game, lost another in regulation and another in overtime. Their victory was a 6-1 win over the Texas Jr. Brahmas to open the tournament.
“Earning a trip to nationals is always a great and exciting experience,” Littleton coach Kevin Whalen said. “Very few hockey players get the opportunity to compete in the national championship tournament. Although we fell short of our goal of winning the tournament, the experience for each player was tremendous and should help each of them become better hockey players in the coming years.”
Whalen added that his group far and away exceeded preseason expectations over the course of the season.
“We were a very inexperienced and young team as our season began and we exceeded many people’s expectations, including, maybe, our own,” said Whalen. “Being able to come together and earn the opportunity to play at nationals is something the players will remember for a long time. Each player grew on and off the ice in their efforts to get to and then compete in nationals. There were many great life lessons the players had reinforced in their journey to nationals that will help them both on and off the ice.”
Also in Wayne, the Park City Miners qualified for the event and fashioned a 1-2-0 record. The Miners’ one win came March 31 in a 5-2 victory over Team Nebraska.
The Littleton 18U team earned a berth at nationals as well and Whalen said that is a source of pride for the Hawks organization.
“As for an organization, with both the Littleton Major AA and Minor AA teams getting to nationals, as well as playing in the Central States Developmental Hockey League (CSDHL), they can take great pride in the Midget program. It offers great opportunity and experience to kids who want to compete at a high level,” Whalen said.
Whalen’s team had nine 2000 birth year players on it, so it will return with a great core to make another run at nationals next season.
“With the 74 games played and competing in the CSDHL this past season, they have great experience and an understanding of what it takes to win at this level,” said Whalen. “Next year should be a great opportunity for these young men to build on what they achieved this year.”
Brian Ten Eyck took his 18U team to Amherst and it also marked the sixth straight year the Hawks’ 18U team has qualified for the national tournament.
“After three years of being knocked out in the quarterfinals and making it to the national championship game last year, we had a pretty good idea of what to expect,” Ten Eyck said. “The experience is like nothing else and the competition is great. We worked for eight months to be there and had to be prepared every time we were on the ice. The biggest lesson we will take away is the importance of special teams and how untimely penalties really stand out in the national tournament.”
In Amherst, the Hawks finished third after losing 3-0 in the semifinals on April 3 to the eventual champion Southern CT Stars. They had beaten Team Ohio 3-2 in overtime earlier in the day as Reid Goodman was the hero at 8:11 of the extra period.
“We represented Colorado well and hope to be back next year,” said Ten Eyck. “We had almost two-thirds of the team approached by scouts and coaches from all over the U.S. and Ontario. It was great exposure for our team and the entire team bought in to their roles.”
On the Utah side, the Golden Eagles’ 18U team forged an 0-3 record.
— Matt Mackinder