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Upcoming AHSHA playoffs ‘anyone’s championship to win’

 

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Hard to believe, but the 2020 AHSHA playoffs are right around the corner.

Games will begin the weekend of Jan. 25-26, with semifinals for Division 1 and Division 2 and quarterfinals for Division 3 and JV on Feb. 1, with championship weekend scheduled for Feb. 8-9.

All games will be played at Ice Den Scottsdale.

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The Division 1 and Division 2 state champions will be crowned on Feb. 8, while the Division 3 and JV championship games will be held on Feb. 9.

“It’s playoff hockey season,” said AHSHA hockey director Tait Green. “How can you not get excited when everyone is playing for a trophy?

“I think our league continues to grow and our playoffs become a direct result of that. There is a lot more parity, which makes for better games and in turn, more fan interest.”

AHSHA president Ray Reed is in his first season in his current role and feels all four championships are up for grabs.

“The last quarter of the season is always an exciting part of the year,” Reed said. “The games are far more intense as teams try to position themselves for a favorable playoff position in the first round.

“This year is very competitive with it being anyone’s championship to win for the top 50 percent in all four divisions. Although there are a few standout teams, I see no team running away with a championship this season.”

When it comes to the actual games themselves, AHSHA board member Kenny McGinley said last year’s results should serve as a wake-up call this season.

“Playoffs are, without a doubt, the highlight of our year,” McGinley said. “Our championships have become the focal point of the Arizona amateur hockey world when they take place. It is awesome to allow our teams and players the opportunity to showcase high school hockey in front of a larger audience.

“Last year, SDO upset Notre Dame in the semi-finals to prevent the frequent Pinnacle-Notre Dame championship matchup at the D1 level. This year, there seems to be some more parity across the board, with Pinnacle and Notre Dame remaining the odds-on favorites. However, as all sports have shown, teams are always extra motivated to knock of whoever is on top.”

Reed noted that the 2019 finals at D1 and D2 had sold-out crowds at the Ice Den with more than 100 others turned away at the door due to the rink being filled to capacity.

“Over the past few years, we have been seeing a huge increase in the student fan base and are expecting a record turnout for this year’s playoffs as well,” said Reed.

“Every year, our playoffs have continued to grow in all aspects – hype, attendance, exposure,” said McGinley. “The last couple years, we have sold out in a matter of minutes. The amateur hockey community wants to be there, and the student bodies are involved. I don’t see this year being any different.”

As an added incentive, whichever teams wins the D1 title heads to the USA Hockey National Tournament. This team has shown in the past that it can compete with some of the top teams in the country.

“By having our D1 state champion be competitive at nationals, this is huge for the league,” Green said. “It shows everyone that we are getting better as an association. The next step is for one of these teams to bring home a national title.”

“With each passing year, our top AHSHA D1 teams have become standouts and a force to be reckoned with at the national level,” Reed added. “With the huge growth in Arizona high school hockey, there has been an even more significant increase in the incoming talent. As we move closer to becoming Arizona’s premier hockey league, AHSHA believes that in the foreseeable future an Arizona high school D1 hockey team will bring home a national championship.”

Going forward, McGinley sees a bright future for AHSHA.

“Our recent focus has turned to growing our organization from within,” he said. “With Tait as our hockey director, along with reinvesting within our organization, we are committed to improving our level of play across the board. We are on the right track.”

— Matt Mackinder

(Jan. 21, 2020)