Jr. Sun Devils teams looking to shine in AZYHL playoffs
As the temperatures begin to warm around the Valley, so, too, does the intensity of Arizona’s youth hockey season.
The Arizona Amateur Hockey Association has completed the Tier I state playoffs, with the Tier II games fast approaching. Both decide state champions and award USA Hockey Youth Nationals tournament berths.
But postseason glory doesn’t end there.
Once again this year, the Arizona Youth Hockey League (AZYHL) will stage postseason league playoffs to decide de facto state champions for Arizona’s younger levels of competition.
For the more than a half dozen Desert Youth Hockey Association teams in the AZYHL, it provides a golden opportunity to create a memorable postseason moment.
Without the AZYHL playoffs, Jr. Sun Devils teams like Jon Koshiol’s 10U Major Squirts might have ended their year with a more low-key regular season tournament against unfamiliar out-of-state competition.
But as they wind down the final weeks of the year, Koshiol’s group has set their sights on winning their league championship. It is an opportunity that his group will be focused on in their last practices and during an upcoming trip to Fargo, N.D., for a challenging weekend tournament.
“That’s pretty much our goal,” Koshiol said. “Our main goal for the kids is that we want to try and win the end-of-the-season championships.”
Even his young group of players is anxiously awaiting the chance to stake a claim as the top team in the region.
“That’s something that gives them a goal to shoot for,” Koshiol said. “To have something to look forward to at the end of the season is important.”
Founded a few years ago, the AZYHL brought together teams in Arizona and from other southwest markets (this year, for example, Koshiol’s division includes teams from Phoenix, Flagstaff, Las Vegas and El Paso) to try and structure a more consistent schedule for younger age levels.
Koshiol admitted the results have been both positive and negative.
On the one hand, he acknowledged the simplified scheduling work his team manager has had to do this year, but also noted that it has become tougher for his group to schedule non-league scrimmages against opponents playing in a different AZYHL division.
“There’s pros and cons to doing that, having a league that is more structured versus just making it optional and setting up scrimmages,” Koshiol said.
For example, this year, Koshiol’s Jr. Sun Devils have played each of their six division foes twice, compiling a 9-3-0 record in the 12 games, good enough for a second-place regular-season finish.
“(The league) determined who would be in each division based off a seeding tournament (at the beginning of the season),” Koshiol said. “(That decided) how many games it would be and then our managers just worked together to put up the schedule.”
They can turn that into a first-place championship bid in the playoffs next month.
Years ago, the old Sonoran Youth Hockey League and Grand Canyon State Games gave now-AZYHL teams the chance for a state playoff run.
The new league has brought that exhilaration back. It also provides the opportunity for another learning experience for the young Jr. Sun Devils bunch.
“We’ve got to come together as a team, will be supporting one another and will be passing as a team and competing as a team,” Koshiol said of how his group will prepare for the season-concluding event, lessons that will pay dividends for his players throughout their youth hockey careers.
“You can have great talent on your team and a few talented individuals that can control a game, but when everybody is working together and the machine is working together, you are going to have a lot more success.”
— Jack Harris
(Feb. 20, 2018)