Yuma festival opens new IHAAZ season to positive reviews
The first IHAAZ festival of the season proved to be an event that serves as a reminder of what the league and the tournaments are all about.
The opener was played in Yuma over the Feb. 7-9 weekend and tournament director Nick Boyarsky was pleased with the results.
“A lot of work goes into the planning and implementation of an IHAAZ season,” Boyarsky said. “Getting 30-plus teams registered, securing dates, ordering medals, getting the stats and standings ready, all of it is a grind. Seeing an event like this go off without a hitch, seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces, hearing the parents cheer, watching those nail-biter games, that’s the fun part.”
And there was plenty of excitement as well across all five divisions.
In 8U, the Outlaws, a new program from the East Valley of Phoenix, made a memorable debut, winning the title. The Jr. Wildcats, the reigning division champions, finished second.
“I think it’s great there is someone to give the very strong Jr. Wildcats team a run this season,” Boyarsky said.
At the 10U level, the Peoria Knighthawks rolled to championship. The Outlaws were the runner-up.
Boyarsky said it’s looking like the Knighthawks could be the team to beat this season in the 10U age group.
While 8U and 10U play a tournament format at each of the festivals, the remaining three age groups (12U, 14U and 18U) teams are vying for position in the standings at each festival leading up to the IHAAZ State Finals in May.
The Jr. Wildcats Blue dominated the opening weekend in 12U and are poised to be the leaders. However, they still haven’t faced a very strong Knighthawks 12U team. They went 3-0 and held a 27-14 edge in goals over their three opponents. The Outlaws are 3-1 and have outscored their opponents 30-8.
“The favorite right now is looks to be the undefeated Jr. Wildcats and their go-to player Eli Shulman, who proved this weekend he can take over a game and change the outcome,” Boyarsky said.
Nothing will come easy in the 12U division, according to Boyarsky.
“I think one of the best divisions will be 12U,” he said. “There are a lot of great matchups and talent. All eight teams will have someone to compete with and give them a game.”
The 14U division could be the tightest one as three teams went 3-1 over the weekend and are tied for first. The Royals have the lead technically with the tiebreaker (number of goals scored), but there is a long way to go before champion is decided. The Royals have outscored their opponents 26-11.
“At the Midget level, the Knighthawks, Blaze and Yeti appear to be the teams to beat, but regular-season success doesn’t always translate to winning a state title,” said Boyarsky.
The Knighthawks currently lead the division with a 3-0 record, scoring 16 goals and allowing just three in the first festival. The Blaze is 3-1 and has outscored the opposition 20-7 while the Yetis and Storm are both 2-2.
“As this division has proven time and time again, the regular-season winner is not always the state finals champ,” Boyarsky said. “I think we have three or four teams that could take home the big one at the end of the season.”
As much as the players enjoyed the experience of playing roller hockey, they had just as much fun soaking up the atmosphere that a festival has to offer.
“You might have a few hours between games, but you basically stick around the rink, watch the other games, hang out with your teammates and their families,” Boyarsky said. “The area in the park around the rink was littered with pop-up canopies and families just making a day of the event. The Yuma festival just has its own vibe with the Yuma Blaze-run Tri-Tip BBQ going the whole time. There’s awesome food right there. You don’t even really need to leave.”
— Brian Lester
(Feb. 18, 2020)