Another banner season concludes for IHAAZ, with changes deemed a major positive
The Inline Hockey Association of Arizona had a decidedly different look this year, and that wasn’t a bad thing.
In this case, change turned out to be a good thing.
The older age groups, starting at 12U and going up through the Midget level, played not only for state championships but for regular-season titles as well, igniting more interest during the season and adding another level of competitiveness to the season, too, as records were kept.
Meanwhile, the 8U and 10U age groups continued to compete for medals at each of the festivals.
At the state finals, every age division had a round-robin tournament where every team had a chance to compete against each other one last time.
Once the round robin was complete, the 10U, 14U and Midget divisions went on to have the top two seeds play for gold and silver while the third and fourth seeds battled for bronze. Because there were only four teams in 8U and 12U, the top two seeds played for gold.
In all age groups, three awards were given out to the Best Goalie, Best Offensive Player and Best Defensive Player.
The Micah Lieb Memorial Trophy went to the top goalie and the Levi Wallace Memorial Trophy went to the top offensive player. The awards were given out based on stats from the season as a whole.
The goal for the season was to see the changes have a positive impact on the league, and that mission was accomplished.
“We set out to try something different, to try to liven things up a bit, and we think we met this goal,” said IHAAZ tournament director Nick Boyarsky. “The changes to the tournament and league structure were very well received. Everyone loved the league format in the older groups.”
League administrator Dave Lieb was pleased as well with how it all played out.
“Overall, I think the season was a success,” Lieb said. “We tried new things this season – a unique series of collectable festival pins for all players, a simple IHAAZ lanyard given to all players to hold their pins, the regular-season championship – with corresponding perpetual trophy – and cumulative regular-season awards, bringing back the all-star games at state finals. At the same time, we continued the same general festival format that has worked for over a decade and continued to stoke the growing statewide interest in roller hockey.”
It appears those changes will remain in place in the future as well and there is even a chance the 8U and 10U divisions will follow the same format as the older divisions going forward.
“Barring any changes in the offseason, this will become the norm, and we may even explore changing the format for the lower divisions as well,” Boyarsky said. “That’s something we’ll discuss in the offseason.”
There were skills competitions as well and the all-star games were revived as well. The all-star games had been taken off the slate because there just wasn’t enough time to get them in during the busy state finals weekend. A little schedule creativity made it work.
“I thought everyone had a lot of fun with that,” said Boyarsky. “The kids had a great time and we want to be able to keep that on the schedule going forward.”
There is little doubt that IHAAZ is as strong as ever, and the way things played out during the 2018 festival season further shows just how solid the foundation is that the league stands on.
That isn’t something that happens by waving a magic wand. It takes the effort of those organizing the festivals as well as the involvement of the parents and the coaches. The cooperation among the league board members has been integral in the success of IHAAZ as well.
“Our board is working as a team, and things are better than they have ever been,” Boyarsky said. “We have board members who are passionate and devote the time and energy to make the series better.”
But there were challenges along the way, particularly with avoiding scheduling conflicts for those that play both roller and ice hockey.
The majority of the tryouts for travel ice hockey were scheduled the same weekend as the state finals for IHAAZ this year, and because of the crossover of players, it took some creativity to make sure there wasn’t an issue that prevented players from being able to take part in both the state finals and the tryouts.
“Our league administrator and (Yuma Blaze IHAAZ board rep) Matt DiCori worked hard to work around every ice hockey tryout to make sure kids didn’t miss a game to attend a tryout,” Boyarsky said. “I’d say close to 30 percent of our league plays ice hockey, too, and a schedule was created to where they could make it back and forth from the tryouts to the tournament games.”
The fact that IHAAZ was able to come up with a schedule road map to make that work speaks volumes about the league and the effort that goes into making it a success, in addition to the cooperation with the ice hockey world.
“In years past, if something like that had come up, we wouldn’t have had the cooperation to make something like that work,” Boyarsky said. “We’ve done a great job of working with the ice hockey world to make sure no one has to choose which sport they are going to play on a given weekend.”
One of the other notable changes this season is the way things played out in terms of officiating.
Rather than have inconsistencies in how games were officiated, an effort was made to make sure there was consistency in the officiating throughout the festival season. Boyarsky looks forward to seeing that continue in the future.
“We worked with Mike Sarter to narrow in on a specific group of officials, a group we all felt understood the community and how to ref a series,” Boyarsky said. “We wanted to have a seamless deal for officiating from event to event so that the focus was on the players and not the officiating. I thought Mike and his crew did a fantastic job. I think everyone would agree we had the best officiating ever in the history of the league.”
Boyarsky noted the experience of the refs was huge in making that happen.
“We used more experienced roller refs and the same guys each week, so they had a much better feel for calling the games,” Boyarsky said. “I don’t think anyone really noticed the officiating, and the best officiating is when no one is talking about it. I felt like we hit it out of the park.”
A total of 24 teams competed in the league this season and more growth appears to be on the horizon.
Boyarsky said he could see 2-5 new teams coming on board next season, particularly at the lower age levels.
“The growth of our sport and the growth of our league is directly correlated with the ice hockey market,” Boyarsky said. “We had more of that than ever this year. There are more kids who play ice hockey playing roller hockey in the 8U and 10U groups than at any other age level. As the word spreads, we expect even more growth in the future.”
The appeal of playing roller hockey for ice hockey players is simple. It comes down to the more relaxed and fun atmosphere that IHAAZ offers to its players.
“People who play ice hockey see the benefits that roller hockey has on their game,” Boyarsky said. “Ice hockey parents enjoy the feeling that their kids can just go out and play and have fun and not have to worry about if the season is going well or not, or if a bad season is going to hurt their kid’s chance of making a certain team next year. The kids can just show up, play the game and have a good time.”
— Brian Lester
(July 13, 2018)