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Rolling on: Jr. Wildcats, Knighthawks vital cogs in IHAAZ

 

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Erik Dahl recalls the humble beginnings of the AZ Jr. Wildcats, which is now on track to host its first Inline Hockey Association of Arizona (IHAAZ)  festival in 2018.

It’s been a long time coming, said Dahl, the president of the Jr. Wildcats.

“Our program started as the Tucson Indoor Sports Center house league,” said Dahl. “My wife and I got the non-profit part set up and created the AZ Jr. Wildcats to continue on what coach David Sticker had started to put together in an attempt to get the travel part going.”

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Like the Jr. Wildcats, the Knighthawks are also on track to host a festival in two years.

Both programs have been accepted as probationary IHAAZ executive board members this season. Once they have cleared the probationary period, they can host their own festivals.

“This is our second year and we have more interest this year than last,” said Brent Proud, the president of the Knighthawks. “A big testament to that is that we have been working with the awesome staff at the Peoria Sportsplex to grow the game in the Valley. They have a Saturday morning rec league that is getting players involved in roller (hockey) and the Knighthawks are helping them grow it.”

The Knighthawks will have five teams competing in the league in 2017, including a 12U girls team. There will also be 8U, 10U, 12U and 14U boys teams.

Tatum Proud, a seven-year IHAAZ veteran, is excited about the year ahead.

“I think the game is growing and it is so awesome to have a team of all girls that have the same interests as me,” Proud said. “I know all of the girls on our team love the game of roller hockey and we are excited.”

For the Jr. Wildcats, this will mark their third travel season. The program will feature 8U, 10U, 12U once again. A 14U team has been added as well.

“We had a lot of success last season, with two of our three teams winning the state championship and our 10U team taking second,” Dahl said. “I expect most of our teams to be very competitive.”

Dahl said much of the credit for the Jr. Wildcats’ success belongs to Sticker and fellow coach Jeremy Hiltabidel. Two more coaches will be added this year, including a goalie from the University of Arizona inline team.

Dahl noted the families have also helped spark the program’s growth.

“The parents in our club have been very supportive and have spread the word and grow the club,” Dahl said. “We have truly grown from a large group of individuals to a close-knit group of friends.”

Family also matters to the Knighthawks. Sean Woodhouse, the 14U coach, noted that the efforts of coaches and former players played a big role in the rise of the Knighthawks.

“The early success of the Knighthawks is due to a group of former players and coaches coming together with one common goal, which is to grow the game of hockey locally and to provide a safe, fun and academic approach to the game,” Woodhouse said. “In the end, hockey is the greatest game in the world.”

Both Proud and Dahl are thrilled with how far their respective programs have come and believe the futures of both will only get brighter, particularly with the opportunity to host a festival down the road.

“We’re very proud of what we’ve built,” Dahl said. “We are very fortunate to have the Tucson Indoor Sports Center here to practice and play in year-round, and the owner of the rink is incredibly supportive of our program.”

Proud had similar thoughts.

“Having a festival down the road would be huge,” Proud said. “It will give the Knighthawks an opportunity to showcase what IHAAZ really is by promoting it and our home rink.”

Photo/Knighthawks 14U players Zakery Proud (left) and Conor Leonard are part of the growing number of players in the Inline Hockey Association of Arizona.

— Brian Lester