AHSHA Division 1 state champion Pinnacle Pioneers ready for USA Hockey Nationals
Last month, Pinnacle High School captured the AHSHA Division 1 state championship with a 1-0 win over Notre Dame Prep.
The Pioneers hope there are more wins to come as they venture to the USA Hockey High School National Tournament later this month in Plymouth, Minn.
Pinnacle head coach Glenn Karlson said being able to repeat as state champs at the Ice Den Scottsdale was a goal from the start of the season.
“This season, it wasn’t so much the team improving skill-wise, but more of us finding team chemistry,” said Karlson. “With only six of 17 players returning from last year’s roster, it took time to find line combos and parings that worked well with each other. We enter every season with the feeling and thought of winning a state title and making a Nationals run. This year was no different. That was the goal from the first day. We never lost sight of that goal throughout the season. The staff and team realized that the league was stronger and the other schools were hungry to unseat us, but we knew we had the team to get the job done all year.”
During the 2017-18 season, Pinnacle reeled off a 12-7-1 record, good for second place behind Notre Dame Prep (19-0-1), which made the state title win a little bit sweeter for the Pioneers.
“There’s no word I could use to describe the feeling,” said senior forward Josh Ihling. “It means everything to me to win again. That was our goal from the beginning of the season and all of us seniors wanted to go out on top. We accomplished that, and I still can’t even believe it. This team came together and bonded unlike any team I’ve ever played on before, even more than last year’s championship team. We were heavy underdogs, but no one on the team ever gave up. No one believed in us. Everyone in the state thought Notre Dame had already won, especially Notre Dame.
“We knew we were a better team and that we could beat them, and we came together as a team and did just that.”
Pinnacle senior forward Tucker Honing agreed with Ihling.
“The feeling of winning states is such a surreal feeling that you will probably never experience again in your life,” Honing said. “After playing AAA for many years, it is safe to say that you will never get a thousand-plus people to show up three hours before puck drop for a championship game, and the post-game recognition on many levels has been absolutely incredible. The feeling is unmatchable to anything I’ve ever experienced in my life so far. I love how close I feel with my teammates and how much of a brotherhood this team is. I also like how this team can all come together and accomplish whatever we want to put our minds to.”
Aside from the state title and bid to Nationals, Pinnacle had individual players recognized by AHSHA as junior defenseman Justin Sturm was named All-Arizona and All-State, while senior forward Grant Ziegler and junior forward Max Cocreham were also tabbed All-State with Honing, Ihling, senior forward Sam Hinnant, senior defenseman Adam Beckermann, sophomore defenseman Logan Derryberry and senior goalie Taz Joplin garnering All-State Honorable Mention accolades and junior forward Will Lachapelle chosen for the All-Academic Team.
Ziegler is also one of eight league players nominated for Student-Athlete of the Year by the Arizona Republic, while Karlson was named Coach of the Year by the same publication.
“It feels great to win states, and winning states two years in a row feels awesome,” said Ziegler. “I like being a leader on this team and doing what I can to help make us successful. We did very well last year at Nationals and plan to exceed what we accomplished last year (going 2-2 in Cleveland, finishing eighth).”
“It was a great feeling to win states,” added Hinnant. “I was on the state championship team last year and it was great to repeat as champs. I think what is great about our team is we all really like each other, and we work hard and play for each other. My expectations for Nationals are to go and play hard and make a good run for W’s.”
Karlson noted that the revamped roster for the 2017-18 season was, in a sense, an upgrade from the 2016-17 team.
“Every year, the team dynamic or the makeup changes,” explained Karlson. “With this team, we knew that we had big voids to fill from the year before. We had lost some top-end talent and leadership. However, the incoming players allowed for more depth through all positions. We are bigger and deeper than the previous year.”
But were there any superstars on the team this year? Or a different player making a difference each game?
“We have a few standout players, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Grant Ziegler,” said Karlson. “He is a player that commands other teams to game-plan for him. He always draws the attention of players on the ice because if you don’t, it will cost you on the scoreboard. With all that being said, we couldn’t do it by him alone and the team had many players step up on different nights to help capture the W’s and a goalie (Joplin) that was like facing a brick wall.”
The national tournament runs March 22-26.
Karlson said that while most of his team members have played travel hockey before, that will be to their advantage on the national stage.
“We prepare for Nationals like any other tournament,” Karlson said. “Most of the boys on the team have played travel at some point in their career, so they are all used to the schedule and the increased practice schedule leading up to Nationals. As for the mental side, it does help that we have players that experienced it last year and can provide veteran leadership and prepare the ones who will be here for their first time.
“I like our chances. We play every game to win. Nationals doesn’t change that. We realize we are going against the best each state has to offer, so we are also realistic it will be a tough challenge to win it all. I do think we are built better for this tournament than the team last year. We are bigger and stronger. The added depth will help a lot. Last year, we ran into some injuries and fatigue that put us at a disadvantage once in the brackets.”
For Honing and Ihling, confidence is booming with Nationals looming.
“I expect us to do very well at Nationals this year,” said Honing. “I believe this team has very high potential to compete and win at a national level. It is not going to be easy and we will have to face many different forms of obstacles during our national climb, but with this brotherhood, I believe we have a chance to become national champions.”
“Expectations are definitely high going into Nationals,” Ihling added. “As a senior, I just want us to create a building block for those who come after us and in the future, hopefully there will be a national championship banner hanging in the halls at Pinnacle.”
2017-18 Pinnacle Pioneers
Brian Baier, Senior, Defenseman
Adam Beckermann, Senior, Defenseman
Max Cocreham, Junior, Forward
Logan Derryberry, Sophomore, Defenseman
Luke Hicks, Senior, Defenseman
Sam Hinnant, Senior, Forward
Tucker Honing, Senior, Forward
Josh Ihling, Senior, Forward
Taz Joplin, Senior, Goaltender
Will Lachapelle, Junior, Forward
Chase McLaughlin, Senior, Defenseman
Thomas Miller, Junior, Defenseman
Braxton Nohr, Junior, Forward
Humberto (TJ) Quirarte, Senior, Forward
Justin Sturm, Junior, Defenseman
Jorden Werner, Junior, Forward
Jarrod Wolfert, Senior, Goaltender
Grant Ziegler, Senior, Forward
States photo/Garren Tee Photography
Top photo/Jake DeLay
— Matt Mackinder
(March 21, 2018)