Tucson event kick-starts ‘really exciting’ IHAAZ festival season
The IHAAZ festival season kicked off over the Dec. 7-9 weekend, with the Jr. Wildcats playing host to the event in Tucson.
A total of 26 teams from around the state participated in the event.
“The Jr. Wildcats are great IHAAZ hosts, and they go out of their way to make everyone feel welcome,” IHAAZ tournament director Nick Boyarsky said. “Although we saw some winners and losers this weekend, the gambit of different facilities and matchups will always play a part in who can hold their leads in a five-festival regular season.”
Jr. Wildcats president Erik Dahl was also pleased with how the tournament played out over the weekend.
“It was a great first tournament of the IHAAZ season,” Dahl said. “It looks like there’s going to be a lot of competition this season with many teams at all age levels either barely winning or barely losing some very close games. It was good to see all of our friends from around the state after the off season and we’re looking forward to the Royals tournament next month in Queen Creek.”
“This season should be really exciting,” said Boyarsky. “We’re seeing growth within the series as a whole with growing ice hockey crossover players and teams, boosting our numbers.”
Below is a look at the highlights from each age division. The newly-launched IHAAZ.com provides updates throughout each festival and within seven days of each festival, individual scoring and goalie stats will be added.
18U: The largest Midget division featured seven teams, including two new teams in the Jr. Wildcats and Prescott Storm. The AZ Royals White and Northern AZ Yetis both went unbeaten. The Royals Blue and Yuma Blaze also competed hard.
14U: The five-team division saw every team play each other, giving everyone an idea of what the season is going to look like. Yuma and the Jr. Wildcats dominated the division. In their head-to-head matchup, Yuma prevailed 3-1 behind great team play and a stingy defense. The two teams are likely to trade punches all the way to the state finals.
12U: Six of the seven teams in the division played in Tucson. Yuma came out of the weekend as the leader thanks to an overtime goal by Cole Gebhart in the opening game of the tourney against the Jr. Wildcats. The division appears to be too tight to pick a favorite as Yuma still has to play the Knighthawks Green. The most exciting game featured the Jr. Wildcats and the Knighthawks Green. The Jr. Wildcats prevailed 10-7 in a matchup featuring standouts Eli Shulman from the Jr. Wildcats and Brandon Gorzynski of the Knighthawks Green.
10U: This is a six-team division led by the Prescott Storm and Knighthawks Blue. The two teams didn’t play each other at the festival and ended up in a tie at the conclusion of the tourney. Both teams racked up six points in their three wins and both teams had a plus-17 goal differential, which is the first tiebreaker after points if there is no head-to-head matchup to go off of in determining a winner. The second tiebreaker is fewest goals allowed. Prescott held the advantage there, having allowed only three goals. The Knighthawks Blue gave up nine goals.
8U: Because of conflicts with weekend Mite ice hockey, there only three teams are in the division at the moment, though there is a chance a fourth will be formed this year. The Jr. Wildcats, who return a large number of their players from last season, dominated the competition and won each of their games by eight goals.
The AZ Royals are hosting the next IHAAZ festival Jan. 11-13 in Queen Creek.
— Brian Lester
(Dec. 21, 2018)