Arizona Hockey Union duo celebrates 2017-18 state championships
A pair of Arizona Hockey Union teams captured Arizona Amateur Hockey Association state championships as the 2017-18 season came to a close in recent weeks.
Michael Jordan once said, “Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”
For AHU Squirt White, winning a state championship is a testament that obstacles can be overcome.
The team started out the regular season losing four of the first six games and sat in last place. But as Mike Ditka stated, “You’re never a loser until you quit trying.”
The Knights made it to the championship in three out of the five tournaments they entered, only to fall in the end. It seemed they were destined to be a second-place team.
Squirt White ended the regular season winning four of their last six games to secure second place in seeding and started to show the strength of the team.
The start of playdowns saw the team go undefeated, finishing 3-0-1 in round robin play to finish as the top seed. They drew the 07 AAA Bobcats in the state championship.
The Knights scored first midway through the first with Lucas Paliwodzinski assisting on E.J. Green’s goal. Through the second period, the Knights maintained the lead with solid goaltending from Dominic Seligman. Early in the third, with the Knights shorthanded, Green extended the lead with a fantastic solo effort for the shorthanded goal.
With White now up 2-0, the Bobcats turned up the pressure with a barrage of shots, finally breaking through with a goal in the last three minutes. The stellar shutdown defense of Squirt White thwarted the Bobcats push, earning them the state championship with a final score of 2-1, despite being outshot 21-14.
In a season full of obstacles, Squirt White found ways to overcome them and come out on top. With the core of the team having been together for the last three years, the future looks very bright.
Next year, the team will move up to the Pee Wee level.
PEE WEE BLACK
AHU PeeWee Black’s journey to the state championship can only be described as a true team effort.
With 11 returners and four new but experienced players joining the team, the game plan at the start of the season was simply this: Games would be won in practice and then once the puck drops, channel your inner desire, discipline and dedication to get the job done.
This mantra held true through the final game of the season.
In league play, the team ended up finishing as the second seed, one point removed from the first-place Bobcats 11U, a team they split the season series with. Pee Wee Black progressed through round robin play with a perfect 4-0 record, outscoring their opponents 28-7.
As luck would have it, the Knights met the Bobcats in the championship game.
The Knights set the tone quickly by scoring 2:37 into the first period. That was all that they needed as goaltender Nathan Graybill stopped all 23 shots for the shutout. They went on to score four more times to roll to a 5-0 win, securing the state championship. In true team fashion, all five Knights goals were scored by different players.
In addition to the strong play of Graybill, allowing only seven goals in five games, forwards Matthew Benzing (eight goals, seven assists), River Lewis (six goals, eight assists) and Kai Hohoff (six goals, seven assists) combined to score 20 of the 33 AHU goals.
When asked how the state championship differed from other tournaments, defenseman Zach Delsante said, “Winning the state championship felt different because a lot of us know kids on the other teams and it really felt like we knew who we beat.”
Sydney Pinti, also a defenseman, was thrilled to capture a state title: “After we won, it was exciting raising the state trophy and celebrating with my teammates.”
Pee Wee Black finished the season with an impressive 40-10-1 record. Next season, they move up to Bantams.
— Bryan O’Sullivan
(May 1, 2018)