AAHA set for 14U, 15U USA Hockey Youth Nationals in 2017
The Arizona Amateur Hockey Association (AAHA) was already hosting the 14U Tier I Youth Nationals in 2017.
That much was known and a definite feather in the cap for all involved in Arizona youth hockey.
Then came Jan. 29 when USA Hockey announced an addition to its slate of 2017 and 2018 Tier I Youth Nationals – a single birth year national championship for 15-year-olds that was recommended by USA Hockey’s Youth Council, approved by its Board of Directors and will be conducted as a two-year pilot tournament with potential to become a permanent part of the Youth Tier I Nationals in 2019.
USA Hockey and the AAHA will host the inaugural event in Arizona from April 6-10, 2017. Tier I teams comprised entirely of players born in 2001 will be eligible to compete.
“Age 15 is a pivotal point in a hockey player’s long-term development,” said Kevin McLaughlin, USA Hockey’s senior director of hockey development. “They’re segueing between true youth hockey and the next level of competitive development, so by offering a single birth year Tier I national tournament for 15-year-olds, USA Hockey is putting those players in the best possible position to make that transition successfully.”
Geoff Pashkowski, an at-large, non-voting member of the AAHA who oversees state championships and player development camps, helped assemble the application to bring both Youth Nationals to the desert.
For Pashkowski, who has been involved with AAHA since 2003 and has attended board meetings since then, he no longer has children that play amateur hockey, but continues to be elected by the board year after year as an at-large member.
“We applied two years ago to get the 14’s here and were not awarded,” said Pashkowski. “We reapplied last May and were awarded the 14U Tier I National Championship event and once the pilot program was approved, USA Hockey notified me and asked if Arizona would like to host the 15s and that’s how it came about. We hope that by this happening, it says that USA Hockey is recognizing the growth of the sport in non-traditional hockey markets, especially in the Southwest, whether it’s Texas or us or somewhere else.
“Once we were selected, the board chose me to be the tournament chair. USA Hockey will appoint a tournament director and a committee to oversee game operations. Right now, as the chair, I’m helping to organize the event here in Arizona.”
Pashkowski said the association is in negotiations right now for a host arena or arenas.
And with the 14U and 15U age groups so highly scouted and followed by junior and college scouts, odds are the events will have a large presence from those contingents.
That’s a good thing, according to Pashkowski.
“Both of our Tier I programs, the Jr. Coyotes (Tier 1 Elite Hockey League) and Arizona Bobcats (North American Prospects Hockey League), play in high-level leagues at this point in time, so for the whole exposure thing, it’ll be for the general populace here to see high-level hockey more so than for the individual players,” explained Pashkowski. “The players know what level they need to be at, so if anybody will get exposed to a higher caliber of play, it will be the general people that don’t travel to those tournament events.”
As the host site, Arizona will have one automatic bid to each of the tournaments. The winner of the 14U AAA and 15U AAA state tournament (either the Jr. Coyotes or Bobcats) will get the bid. The runner-up will then play at the Rocky Mountain District tournament and if it wins that event, will get the second bid to nationals.
“Our numbers are up and more kids are playing the sport,” Pashkowski said. “It’s been a steady increase the last number of years. Kids want to continue to be involved in the sport.”
— Matt Mackinder