Arizona Rubber

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AHU advances seven from 18U AA “Dream Team”



Seven players from the 2014-15 Arizona Hockey Union (AHU) 18U AA team are not back with the team this season, but that’s perfectly fine with the organization.

The “Dream Team” has moved on goaltenders Aaron Gittings and Tanner Ronning, defenseman Kevin Savela and forwards Ashton Amaya, Isaac Lee, Alexander Shupe and Alex Storjohann from the nationally top-ranked team of a year ago to various levels of junior and college hockey.

AHU 18U AA coach Shawn Babin believes the team reached such great heights last season because the team was able to have player continuity for several seasons.

“I was able to keep the team together and grow,” Babin said. “Keeping the team together for four years – that was a big plus for all of those kids – it made them better because they were always together.”

The team’s alumni was part of a powerhouse team that saw the squad win back-to-back state championships, take home five tournament wins in 2014-15 and finish fifth in last year’s USA Hockey National Tournament.

Amaya and Storjohann, have signed to skate with the United States Premier Hockey League’s Richmond Generals Junior A team.

“Alex and Ashton are doing the same thing they did with me,” Babin said. “They are working well together and helping their new team like they did with ours.”

Amaya, who played for Babin for three years, set himself apart at the Generals tryouts with his ability to find the net and create opportunities to score from all over the ice.

“He sees the ice well,” Babin said. “I saw him mature and get better since he was put in the system. He was able to exceed in it.”

Joining Amaya, Storjohann, who played for Babin for five years, was also a standout at the Generals tryouts.

“I saw him go from a fourth-line guy to being one of best guys on our 18U AA team,” Babin said. “He’s a great two-way player.”

Gittings (pictured) was recruited by the Eastern Hockey League’s Philadelphia Jr. Flyers and impressed the Jr. Flyers brass when he recorded three shutouts in four games at a pre-draft showcase. Gittings played for four years for Babin.

“He won a lot of games and championships for us,” Babin said. “I think he will play at higher levels in the future.”

For Shupe, he’ll play at Northern Arizona University for the IceJacks ACHA Division II team, joining former AHU teammate Daniel Diaz. Shupe spent three years with Babin, who says speed is a strength in Shupe.

“He is very quick,” Babin said. “With his maturity and his speed, he will exceed at NAU.”

Another alum staying local is Lee, who has joined the Arizona State University Division II Maroon team. Lee played for Babin for just under five seasons.

“He can play defense and forward.” Babin explained. “He’s a smart defensemen and has become very good with the puck.”

Ronning and Savela have moved up the ranks to play for the Phoenix Knights Junior A team in the Western States Hockey League. Both played two years under Babin.

“Once we put him Ronning and Gittings in the net, we started winning tournaments and championships,” Babin said. “Juniors will do Tanner good. I believe it will help him reach a higher level.”

Babin said Savela, though younger than the other former players that have advanced up the hockey ladder, will respond to the challenge of junior hockey.

“Kevin is a very good defensemen,” said Babin. “He will excel and move on. He is a big kid and he can hit.”

Knights coach-GM Chris Walker has high expectations for Ronning and Savela.

“I’m looking forward to seeing them grow as players,” Walker said. “They have to make adjustments from Midgets to juniors, but I’m confident they will make a seamless transition.”

The AHU is proud to help promote its youth players successfully, which is part of the AHU mission, added Babin.

— Katy Wolpoff