WSHL success fuels Jr. Eagles’ hunger for more in ’16-17
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In just three years’ time, the Colorado Jr. Eagles have made major strides in the Western States Hockey League (WSHL).
After two successful seasons to start their run in the WSHL, the Jr. Eagles went all-in for the 2015-16 season, finishing 43-7-0-2 in the regular season and advancing to the Thorne Cup championship series against the Idaho Jr. Steelheads.
Even after Idaho defeated the Jr. Eagles in three straight games to win the Thorne Cup, Colorado coach-GM Steve Haddon was not one to hang his head.
“What made the season so special was how tight our team was on and off the ice,” said Haddon. “Yes, we had success this season, but we went through a lot of adversity. The team stuck together and met anything that came at us head on.”
Talented forward Riley Roberts led the WSHL in scoring during the regular season with 70 goals and 125 points in 63 games, averaging just about two points per game. He said having his monster season wasn’t something he thought about prior to the season starting last fall.
“We were a close-knit group who cared about each other,” said Roberts. “We went out to every game and battled for one another. From an individual point of view, I didn’t necessarily expect to have the season I did. I just went into every game and tried to help the team in whatever way I could. It’s definitely a season that I will never forget and a group of guys who I’ve mad lifelong friendships with.”
After the season, two Colorado players – forward Austin Fetterly (NCAA Division III Finlandia University) and forward Tanner Ulland (ACHA Division I University of Oklahoma) – made college commitments for next season, with more to come, according to Haddon.
For Fetterly, he said what will stay with him the most is what happened after the Jr. Eagles finished their season in the Thorne Cup finals.
“The thing I’ll remember most about this season is being stuck on a bus for 30 hours trapped in a snow storm,” Fetterly said. “It was almost like we were given more time with each other. It’s going to be tough playing with a new group of guys next year after being part of such a close group of guys that cared for each other like we did. No one is going to get a chance to have what we had in that room.”
Defenseman Reed Scahill played the 2014-15 season in the North American Hockey League and had planned on starting his college career this year before seeing what the Jr. Eagles could offer.
“It was the victory lap of my junior hockey career,” Scahill said. “I got persuaded by Coach Haddon to come play one more year. I don’t regret it for a second. The people I met at the rink and outside of it will be lifelong friends and connections. On top of that, living in beautiful Colorado for nine months was unbelievable.”
And while Scahill said the finals games could have gone either way, Fetterly said it was just a matter of experience.
“Idaho was a very solid team and was fast, tough and skilled,” said Fetterly. “Tough to beat a team that has been there before and knows how to win. They got all the right bounces and were in the right places at the right times.”
Haddon is already looking ahead to 2016-17 with confidence brimming with optimism.
“We have a possible 11 returners and can add some pieces around that retuning core that has the experience of playing in a long playoff run,” said Haddon. “The goal stays the same – to move players on to the next level and win a Thorne Cup. Recruiting is always tough with so many junior teams out there, but we take a lot of pride in establishing ourselves as a first-class organization.”
Roberts photo/Mark Mauno
— Matt Mackinder