IHAAZ Midget division booming with 2017 season on tap
AZ Royals coach Nick Boyarsky played an instrumental role in reviving the Midget division of the Inline Hockey Association of Arizona (IHAAZ) a few years ago.
Boyarsky said he and Jeff Johnson, who coaches the Yuma Blaze, had their own league going when IHAAZ didn’t have one of its own for players ages 14-18.
“We personally championed for this division and ran our own league with four or five events,” Boyarsky said. “In time, other teams had a desire to be a part of it.”
The division has been thriving ever since.
“In the last two seasons, the IHAAZ has seen significant growth in the 14U and Midget divisions and in fact, going forward into the 2017 season, the 14U and Midget divisions have been completely sold out with no room for additional teams,” said Dean Koressel, the league’s tournament director. “With two divisions full to capacity, there will be no room for independent teams. In essence, independent teams will be placed on a wait list in lieu of programs pulling out.”
Independent teams were once needed to fill out the age divisions because program team numbers were down.
But with the popularity of inline hockey programs rising, independent teams hoping to land a spot in the IHAAZ festival series will have to take a back seat to programs that foster youth leagues and travel teams that support the very facilities and communities that they participate in.
No changes are expected to be made to that format until there are enough teams to fill a floor over the course of two weekends.
Three of the six teams in the Midget division are from the AZ Royals and Boyarsky said the fact that many of the players on those teams grew up playing the sport in the younger age divisions is the reason the division is booming.
“You have players who have been playing in the tournament series for a half-dozen years and they enjoy the game,” Boyarsky said.
Last season, the Blaze made a statement as the first Midget division team in IHAAZ history outside the metro area of Phoenix to win a title (pictured).
The Blaze defeated the Royals for the championship, creating a belief among non-metro area teams that a title was realistic. In the past, those teams struggled against teams from larger metro areas that had deeper talent pools.
“Yuma was a very well-coached team and they were prepared to play us,” Boyarsky said. “It was a great accomplishment for them.”
With a new season on the horizon, the competitive nature of the league is even greater.
“I believe that this is going to be a very competitive season,” said Prescott Storm coach Justin Bailey. “My expectations for my team are to see us go in and compete and battle every shift of every game and see the players grow.”
Bill Beckman of the Havasu Dust Devils has similar thoughts.
“It should be a great season – I hope it’s as competitive as it was last year,” Beckman said.
As competitive as the league is, there are lessons the coaches hope their players learn.
“I want them to learn that they can achieve whatever they want and our hard work will pay off at the end of the season,” Bailey said.
Beckman said the importance of effort is stressed to his players.
“We have always believed that any game where our players give 110 percent is a win no matter what the scoreboard says,” Beckman said. “That being said, we also do everything in our power as coaches to prepare our players the best we can for each game.”
Competition is alive and well and the future of the Midget division looks bright.
“We’re in a good place and it appears it’s a division that is going to be sustainable into the future because of the interest among the players,” Boyarsky said.
— Brian Lester