Pacific Cup Tournament Series relaunch successful on Arizona inline court
There is hope that the inline hockey schedule can get back to a more normal setting in the 2021 calendar year after the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out all but a few kernels of the 2020 summer season.
The NARCh Finals, for instance, were initially postponed to late summer/early fall with the hope of getting in the destination-draw tournament in before the end of the 2020 calendar year. Ultimately, that did not take place.
Instead, the NARCh schedule is set to reboot — fingers crossed — at the 2021 NARCh Winternationals, tentatively set for March 12-14 at The Rinks-Irvine Inline. The NARCh regional qualifier in Irvine, traditionally the largest qualifying tournament of the season and usually second only in participation numbers to the NARCh Winternationals and NARCh Finals, is scheduled April 22-25.
The 2021 NARCh Finals are scheduled July 9-18, also in Irvine.
Two other tournaments on the 2021 NARCh schedule have been rescheduled. The Rocky Mountain Cup (previously the Christmas Cup) is now set for Feb. 5-7 at Legends Family Sports in Colorado Springs while the NARCh East Coast Invitational is scheduled Feb. 26-28 at the Hotshots Indoor Sports Arena in Mt. Pleasant, Pa.
While California rinks currently remain off limits due to state and local health protocols, NARCh has been able to successfully hold tournaments in Arizona with the relaunch of the Pacific Cup Tournament Series. The Arizona Pacific Cup faced off a new and exciting chapter in NARCh history Dec. 4-6 at the Barney Family Sports Complex in Queen Creek, Ariz.
Eighteen teams participated across five youth divisions (8U through 16U) at the 39-game event.
That numbers continue to grow is an encouraging trend.
The Tucson Indoor Sports Center will host a pair of additional Pacific Cup tournaments: a youth tournament Jan. 15-18 and an adult tournament Jan. 29-31. Thirty teams are registered for the youth tournament (10U through 18U divisions) and 13 teams are registered for the adult tournament.
Teams from California, Oregon and Arizona answered the call for the inaugural Pacific Cup clash. California teams won their share of respect – and medals – on the skating surface.
The OC Blades won three divisions titles (12U Silver, 14U Gold and 16U Gold) and posted two runner-up finishes (10U Gold and 12U Silver) to pace teams from the Golden State. The Silent Knights captured first place in the 10U Gold) division while Nor Cal’s Konixx Mutiny placed second in both the 10U Silver and 16U Silver divisions.
Top Arizona teams included the Knighthawks (gold medals in 8U and 12U Gold), Arizona Junior Wildcats (first in 10U Silver, second in 8U), Yuma Blaze (first in 16U Silver, second in 14U Gold), Konixx Arizona (second in 16U Gold) and Prescott’s Team X (second in 14U Silver and a semifinalist in 10U Silver).
The Oregon Rollin Reign took first place in 14U Silver and second place in 12U Gold.
NARCh president Daryn Goodwin admitted relaunching the Pacific Cup Tournament Series in the middle of a pandemic was not easy.
“With the help of motivated coaches, parents, players and great facility cooperation, the tournament would not only happen, but prove to be a tremendous success,” he wrote on the tournament website.
“Teams from Oregon, Northern California, Southern California and Arizona provided a great mix of teams that were, for the most part, unfamiliar with each other. It’s safe to say that the teams from outside of Arizona have never played in a roller hockey tournament in Arizona.”
Otherwise, it proved to be a “typical” NARCh gathering.
“Suspenseful games and incredible finishes were the norm, not the exception,” Goodwin added. “Last-second goals, sprawling saves to secure a victory and kids leaving everything on the rink for their teammates and coaches. We also found out that parents can still cheer loud and be heard clearly through their masks. It was a tremendously rewarding weekend since we’ve been trying so hard to have tournaments with no luck.”
Teams and spectators alike had to abide by rink protocols as the so-called “new normal” descends on current society.
That checklist included stay at home orders for anyone with a cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, fever or chills or anyone currently under quarantine or isolation. Moreover, every person entering the facility needed to wear a mask; players needed to wear a mask to and from the locker room and after removing their helmet following a game. Rveryone was required to maintain at least six feet of social distance inside the facility.
To make sure benches were completely clear, coaches were required to keep teams inside the locker room until their scheduled game. Once games were over, players and parents had to exit the facility. Parents were not allowed on the rink for the championship ceremony. Players received their medals and photos were taken by staff members.
Goodwin said it took the cooperation from coaches, players and parents to make it a safe and fun event.
In closing, Goodwin called the Pacific Cup Tournament Series opener “an epic weekend.”
“I can’t thank everyone enough for putting in the effort to make this weekend a success,” he said. “From all the teams that traveled in, to our hard working and professional referees and scorekeepers, to the facility staff. It was a tremendous team effort in these very trying times.”
Hopefully, more is to come after a nine-month hiatus.
The Knighthawks defeated the AZ Junior Wildcats 8-5 to capture the 8U title as Carter Hardison led the way with three goals and three assists. Connor Hillegonds paced the runner-up team with a hat trick.
It was the Wildcats’ turn to skate into the win column with a 7-4 victory against the Konixx Mutiny to finish on top in the 10U Silver championship game. Gavin Molina led the Wildcats with two goals and two assists while teammates Drake Martell and Henry Shoun both scored two goals. Diego Barcenas notched two goals in a losing effort.
The Silent Knights topped the OC Blades by a score of 6-2 to capture the 10U Gold division. Kaylee Lehmkuhl led the scoring parade with two goals and one assist while Jaxon Tran scored twice and Connor Hayes tacked on a goal and two assists. Goaltender Devin Werbach stopped 12 of 14 shots to pick up the win between the pipes. Kaleb Adams led the Blades with a goal and assist.
The OC Blades sent two teams to the 12U Silver championship game as Elijah Ochoa and Joanne Park each collected two goals and one assist to key the OC Blades 08 team past the OC Blades 09 squad by a score of 5-3. Park netted the game-winner while Ochoa added an empty-net goal with 10 seconds to play. Logan Herpin led the OC Blades 09 with a hat trick in the loss.
The Knighthawks were back in the win column in the 12U Gold final with a 10-3 victory against the Oregon Rollin Reign. Joseph Lepore paced the Knighthawks with a hat trick while Brayden Willis contributed two goals and one assist. Sam Koch had a goal and two assists while Oliver Edelstein added a goal and assist for the winners.
The OC Blades defeated the Yuma Blaze 6-2 to claim the 14U Gold title. Jordan Nahoi-Barichar led the way with two goals, Dylan Jamison chipped in with a goal and assist, Elijah Ochoa and Konrad Ferber both scored once and Bella Mardesich dished out a pair of assists. Matthew Boelts keyed the Blaze with two goals.
In the 14U Silver final, the Oregon Rollin Reign skated past Team X 4-3 behind a goal and assist from Brayden Payne while Hayden Friske picked up a goal and assist in the setback.
Wallace Stribu tallied the final two goals of the 16U Gold championship game to snap a 2-2 tie to lift the OC Blades past Konixx Arizona by a score of 4-2. Vince Keller and Kenny Silhan both contributed a goal and assist in the win while Liam Wilde had a goal and assist in the loss. Dominick Barber scored once for Konixx Arizona.
The Yuma Blaze bounced back to shut out the Konixx Mutiny 8-0 to capture the 16U Silver final. Austin Estes led all scorers in the game with five goals and one assist while Justin Vandebarg (one goal, one assist) and Cole Gebhart (two assists) both collected two points as the Blaze outshot the Mutiny 22-7.
High scorer and top goaltender awards were handed out by age division.
Kaleb Adams of the OC Blades earned the 10U Division high scorer award with seven points (four goals, three assists) while Devin Werbach of the Silent Knights won the division’s top goaltender award with a .930 save percentage.
Cade Savoini of Team X earned the 12U Division high scorer award with 11 points (10 goals, one assist) while Maddox Marshal of the Knighthawks won the division’s top goaltender award with a .810 save percentage.
Cole Gebhart of the Yuma Blaze earned the 14U Division high scorer award with eight points (four goals, four assists) while Chris Martinez of the OC Blades won the division’s top goaltender award with a .920 save percentage.
Liam Wilde of Konixx Arizona earned the 16U Division high scorer award with seven points (four goals, three assists) while teammate Aiden Biswanger won the division’s top goaltender award with a .820 save percentage.
Despite the long layoff since March, interest remained to pull teams together.
Coach Nick Boyarsky said his 16U Konixx Arizona team was comprised of players from what would’ve been this past summer’s Konixx Outcasts team had there been a season to play in.
“It was a bit of a struggle to get a roster built with ice conflicts and COVID worries/cases but we pulled it off, albeit without the same players at every game and using two different goalies to make sure we always had one there,” Boyarsky explained. “This team took first seed overall and ended up losing by two goals in the championship game to the OC Blades team from California that we’d beaten by two goals the night before.”
Overall, it was a highly competitive field assembled for the relaunch. The upcoming Pacific Cup Tournament Series event in Tucson should be even more competitive.
“This second youth event is much larger with more teams playing and from more programs from both ends of California,” Boyarsky said. “I have an Outcasts 18U team entered with some of the Arizona State University freshman who haven’t gotten to play yet as well as other players from my program in other regions. There are some other Arizona teams in it as well – Tucson Junior Wildcats, Arizona Scorpions, and I believe, a Prescott team or two as well.”
For the moment, Arizona seems to be the hot bed for inline hockey on the West Coast.
The Inline Hockey Association of Arizona (IHAAZ) is set to start the 2021 season Jan. 22-24 with an event in Peoria. It expects to be a trend-setter.
“This season has a record 32 teams between 8U and 18U with the potential for 34 teams if ones from outside Arizona wish to play in 8U or 10U where we can fit one more each if needed,” Boyarsky said. “The breakdown right now is 8U (five teams), 10U (five teams), 12U (six teams), 14U (eight teams), and Midget (eight teams). Seeing the top two age groups so packed is a testament to what we have been doing the last four to five seasons as we brought in more and more younger ice players and made our events more friendly to their players.”
Boyarsky, who serves as program director for Arizona State’s collegiate teams, said no activity is on the horizon due to COVID-19 protocols and health safety issues.
While teams in the Western Collegiate Roller Hockey League (WCRHL) may not be currently active, the National Collegiate Roller Hockey Association (NCRHA) indicated it plans to hold a national championship tournament later in the spring for clubs that do get permission to compete.
The waiting game continues.
— Phillip Brents
(Jan. 13, 2021)