Team Arizona makes big-time splash at America’s Showcase
Well, maybe the fifth time is the charm for Team Arizona.
Playing in the America’s Showcase in suburban Pittsburgh last month for the fifth straight year, Team Arizona, made up of some of the state’s top high school junior and senior players, won its pool and earned a berth in the quarterfinals, bowing out 3-1 to eventual semifinalist Team Pittsburgh.
Jeremy Goltz has been behind the bench as Team Arizona’s head coach all five years and called this year’s group the best yet.
“It was 1-1 going into the third against Pittsburgh and we gave them everything they could handle and more, so I’d say this was the most successful tournament that we’ve ever had for Arizona,” said Goltz. “I’m pretty happy with the outcome and the way we went about it.”
Tryouts for the team were held in early in January with nearly 60 players looking to make the cut. Goltz said 50-60 players has been the steady turnout the past couple years. Once the team is set, a schedule of 4-5 practice games with high school and 18U teams and 7-8 practices is created. An alumni game is also part of the pre-tournament slate.
“For that tournament, that’s actually a lot of preparation,” said Goltz. “We just want to get everyone wired in before we go.”
The 2016 edition of Team Arizona was comprised of forwards Owen Baraban, Brett Charron, David Crawford, Robert Curley, Wyatt Dodson, Austin Mills, Donovan Myers, Paxton Parker, Jared Romirez, Joshua Roof, Matthew Songstad, Cole Tiedemann, Hunter Whitney and Riley Wise; defensemen Cody Axtell, Michael Emson, Justin Hayward, Brendan Nall, Jacob Nickerson and Kendrick Rosengarten; and goalies Jonah Gower and Cameron Judge.
Joining Goltz on the bench was Tait Green, Barry Harcus and Eric Ferber.
Dodson led the team in goals (4) and points (7), while Roof was tops with four assists and Gower and Judge each earned two wins at the event. Team Arizona beat the Missouri White team 3-2 in a shootout to open the tournament on April 14 before downing San Diego 4-1 on April 15. Two more wins came on April 16 as Team Arizona beat Utah 16-1 and Florida 4-3 in overtime. That gave Team Arizona the top spot in Pool C and the squad advanced to play Pittsburgh in the quarterfinals on April 17.
“Because of the team success, our players were watched and talked to by several more scouts than past years and because of that, most of these players now have multiple junior or college hockey opportunities after high school,” said Green. “By getting to the quarterfinals, I think our kids gained some Arizona pride. AHSHA has not been very successful at a national level and our kids realized that when they work together and give maximum effort, they can play with any of the best high school players in the country. I expect our players that come back next year will be motivated to do it again.
“At the same time, I hope that other top players in AHSHA see that the America’s Showcase team is a legitimate way to play at the highest level of high school hockey. And if they are on the team and put in the work, they will have a real good chance of being recruited to play more hockey after graduation.”
The on-ice success aside, Goltz said the experience of traveling as a team is what most will remember years from now.
“It’s cool and I think if anything, that is the best experience,” said Goltz. “You have kids that one day are competing against one another and then they’re on the same bus and they’re hanging out. Without question, that camaraderie, and I’ve seen it for years, these kids all become great friends just because of the America’s Showcase experience. That’s one of the biggest things that comes out of this weekend.”
— Matt Mackinder