Arizona Rubber

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Mission AZ teams thriving in second year of CSDHL play


Mission AZ 2

Two years into one of its most ambitious undertakings, the Mission Arizona hockey club appears to be thriving.

Mission AZ is in its second season icing two teams in the elite Central States Developmental Hockey League (CSDHL), and in Year 2, the program’s Midget Major 18U and Midget Minor 16U clubs are adjusting nicely to the demands of the highly competitive league.

“This was a big step for us to take last year,” said Jeremy Goltz, the executive director of Mission AZ, founded in 2006. “It’s arguably the best Tier II league in the country – it was an honor to be invited, and it’s a significant move for us.”

The 18U team is coached by Goltz with assistance from Mitch Wasser and Doug Cannon, and its roster features forwards Andrew Aziz, Brett Charron, Matt Christofferson, David Crawford, Daniel Gavrilles, Sam Goff, Mark Krivyak, Blake Sutton, Hunter Whitney, Wyler Yancy and Ricky Zink; defensemen Matt Briody, Eddie Cannon, Alex Clover, Hunter Feagins, Nick Portik and Nick Steele; and goalies Michael Norris and Isaac Ritschel.

At the 16U level, the team is coached by Goltz with assistance from Cannon, Wasser and Terry Tessmer, and is comprised of forwards Kevin Bird, Ethan Decker, Cole Golden, David Gvelesiani, Sam Hinnant, Jon Iacono, Josh Ihling, Emmanuel Malki, Robbie Piano, Kyle Tessmer, Logan Testani and Andrei Yanovich; defensemen Adam Beckerman, Ben Brockway, Dimitri Thorsen and Brad Woodroffe; and goalies Harrison Corse and Taz Joplin.

Goltz said both teams struggled last season, which was to be expected for the first year in a league that features teams mostly clustered around Chicago and Minnesota. Littleton, Colo., is Mission AZ’s closest geographical opponent. The travel was more extensive than many of Mission AZ’s players had experienced, the competition was better, and the tough physical nature of the play took some getting used to.

“Last year, it was a little rough,” Goltz said. “Our guys couldn’t quite keep up, and these were tough teams that we were playing – it was physically demanding. In our second year, our Midget Minor team is still making some adjustments, but the Midget Major team is really starting to turn the corner.”

The Major team gained some significant momentum in December with a road trip on which it won four out of six games and put itself squarely in the playoff hunt.

With a track record of success over the last decade, Goltz felt it was time to explore some new options for his top teams, and targeted the CSDHL as the right spot for Mission AZ’s most advanced players to test their skills against the highest level of play possible.

“We had a couple years with our 16U team in the semifinals of nationals and our 18U team in the quarterfinals, and we felt like our program was close to breaking out,” Goltz said. “We wanted to put ourselves in a position to win a national championship, which (our state) hadn’t had since 2005.

“It was the next step – to go out and play the toughest teams we could on a regular basis. Hopefully, that will propel us over the top. In some regards, we’ve taken a step backwards because we got a little overwhelmed with the level of play, but this season, I’m starting to see progress.”

“Last year was cool, but really tough,” said Krivyak, a center on the 18U team who played on the 16U team last season. “Having that experience last year really helped me and my teammates – we all really grew from the experience.”

Added Whitney, a right wing who has been part of the Mission AZ program since he was 10 years old: “My play has gotten better by competing against better players consistently, and the team’s has, too.”

Goltz couldn’t agree more, and feels strongly that Mission AZ is moving in the right direction with the CSDHL.

“The advancement that I’ve seen already, especially with the players who have been at it a year and a half, is ridiculous,” Goltz said. “To me, it’s absolutely the best thing we can do for our program.”

Photo/For Mission Arizona to progress and grow as a top-tier program, trips to Rockford, Ill., are commonplace for CSDHL games.

— Greg Ball