Arizona Rubber

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Pair of AHU squads show well at CCM World Invite events

 

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The first weekend in November saw two Arizona Hockey Union teams attend the CCM World Invitational tournaments – the 16U AA Silver group went to Chicago, while 10U Squirt Purple headed to Port Huron, Mich./Sarnia, Ont., Canada.

The 16U AA Silver team entered the AAA division knowing they would be facing some of the top teams in the nation, and they were not disappointed.

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“We started off the tournament 3-0 and the fourth game, we played one of the best teams in the country,” said AHU 16U AA Silver coach Jason Evahnenko. “The first period, we got down 4-1 and with no scoring in the second or third, the game ended that way. As a coach, you always must evaluate where your team came from and where it is going. A few years ago at the same tournament, we went 0-4. This year, we went 3-1. We couldn’t be prouder of their growth, development and commitment to the game.”

The 10U Purple team has been to many tournaments in recent years, but has never headed north of the border – until now.

Their initial game pitted them against the Sting out of Sarnia. There is a saying in sports that you either win or you learn. Let’s just say the Knights learned this game. Sarnia controlled the game from start to finish and Purple fell 5-1 with a late third-period goal by Austin Nguyen to spoil the shutout.

The Knights put it together in Game 2 and breezed to an 11-0 win. They played as a team, garnering seven different goal scorers and hat tricks from Nguyen and Kye Friend and Logan Gibbs also earned a 14-save shutout. Brody Kafora came away with the game-winning goal.

Game 3 had Purple face off against the Riverside Rangers out of Ontario. The Rangers came out strong, leading 5-3 after two periods. Penalty trouble in the third prevented the Knights from gaining any momentum and they fell 9-4.

Just like great teams do, AHU rebounded quickly against the Indy Racers, winning Game 4 by a score of 4-0 in a penalty-filled affair, placing third in round-robin play. The flawless shutdown defense of Ben Elarth and Maddux Hoover proved too much for the Racers offense. Gibbs was stellar once again, turning aside all 18 shots he faced.

In the semifinals, AHU’s opponent was once again the Riverside Rangers. A chance at redemption was all the Knights wanted.

An early first-period power play saw the Rangers quickly go up 1-0. With a minute to go in the first, Conner Brown set up Friend with a picture-perfect pass to tie the game up at 1-all. The Rangers came out fast, netting two goals in 90 seconds to take the lead 3-1 heading into the third.

Unbelievable goaltending from Gibbs held off the Rangers onslaught in the third and a big goal late in the period by Brown, assisted by Jake Gabrick, brought the Knights to within one. That is where it would stay – there would be no comeback. Purple left it all on the ice, but came up just short.

Nguyen, Brown and Friend led the team with eight points each and Gibbs posted two shutouts throughout the weekend.

These nearly 2,000-mile journeys are a small price to pay when it comes to the growth of youth hockey players. The physical and mental challenges these players go up against with new and increased competition only add to their development as players and teammates.

The upcoming Thanksgiving holiday weekend will see 16U AA Silver playing at the International Silver Stick qualifying tournament in Las Vegas, while 11 AHU teams – and 41 teams total – will battle it out at the 16th Annual AHU Thanksgiving Shootout in Phoenix.

— Bryan O’Sullivan

(Nov. 21, 2017)