IHAAZ season on tap as energy, optimism at all-time high
IHAAZ is closing in on the start of another season and the growth of the league as well as the interest from the outside is undeniable.
Teams from Mexico have already committed to playing in a couple of festivals during the upcoming season, which starts Feb. 7 in Yuma, and a team out of California is looking to make a trip to Arizona as well for a festival.
Those games will count as exhibition contests, but that interest is an added boost to a league that already is expecting to have 28-30 teams participate in the league this year between the 8U division all the way up to the 18U division. The number puts the league at maximum capacity without having to resort to two weekends per festival, as was the case in the last decade.
“We’re really excited with the continued growth we’re seeing after the changes we made to the IHAAZ structure three seasons ago,” said league tournament director Nick Boyarsky. “The league format has been well-received, and the level of play keeps elevating every season. The interest from out of area teams to attend festivals to play exhibition games will help keep things fresh and add some new blood to the mix, which I think helps break up the monotony of smaller divisions.”
Boyarsky said the appeal to teams from outside the league proves the stability of IHAAZ as a whole.
“Teams like the ones from Mexico see the same division sizes and club names year after year and know if they commit to a trip like this, they will have a good event to play in,” Boyarsky said. “I think we’ll see more interest from Southern California teams in the coming years, too. IHAAZ hosts events in months where many of the larger national tournaments do not (because of the pull of players for ice hockey). Knowing you can drive five or six hours and have a four-, five-, or six-team division of well-coached teams with professional, top-quality officiating is a big reason to come.”
IHAAZ has also been able to forge a strong relationship with ice hockey players in the Phoenix area rather than try to work against them.
“Our relationship has been through the involvement of parents of ice hockey players who are staunch roller hockey advocates,” Boyarsky said. “Back six or seven years ago when the Royals started, it was driven by two fathers whose sons were competitive ice hockey players, who wanted to see their child (and their child’s teammates) experience the fun of roller hockey. They saw how it was helping their ice game. We now have a new generation of those parents in Dustin Jans and the Knighthawks and Nick Paris and the Royals.
“They work with their managers from their players ice teams to schedule games that allow the players that are participating in roller the chance to do both. Then word spreads to the ice teammates about how much fun they are having and the team and program just builds.”
The fun that comes with playing the sport has indeed been a factor in adding to the popularity of IHAAZ and the new season ahead is expected to be an enjoyable one.
“I think we’re going to get a sneak peek at what the new upper class of IHAAZ looks like, which is really exciting,” Boyarsky said. “The 18U division is going through a slow changing of the guard as the older players who have been dominant with teams like the Royals and Blaze age out and younger players from the Jr. Wildcats, Knighthawks, and others start making their way in. It’s also possible we could have up to six 8U teams this year, which is incredible since we struggled a few seasons ago to just have four.
“Overall, I think we’re going to see some really competitive games in all age groups this season, and parity makes things so much more exciting and fulfilling.”
— Brian Lester
(Jan. 24, 2020)