IHAAZ competition boosting talented players to WCRHL roller hockey game
Over the years, playing roller hockey for IHAAZ has proven to be a steppingstone for players to move on to college roller hockey in the NCRHA, specifically in the WCRHL.
Those that have made the jump say that IHAAZ competition has prepared them for the rigors of the college game.
This season, Riley D’Antonio (Prescott Storm, Yetis) is skating for the University of Arizona, Logan Estes (Yuma Blaze) for Grand Canyon University, Austin Pacewic (Yuma Blaze) for Northern Arizona University, and Ethan Pieroni (Tucson Jr. Wildcats) at Arizona State University.
All four players cannot hype the impact IHAAZ had on rounding out their game to be college-ready.
“IHAAZ has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember,” Pacewic said. “I started with the Yuma Blaze at a very young age, which helped me grow and develop my skills. Playing IHAAZ always gave me something to look forward to. It gave me the want and drive to be a better player, during practice and during games. I was given the sportsmanship and skill to go on to play at the highest level and into collegiate roller hockey.
“When I first started, IHAAZ was relatively small, and there were only a few teams. To see what it has turned into now is mind-blowing. There are teams that come from other states to play and teams all across the state now. This organization has grown tremendously, and I cannot wait to see where it goes.”
Pieroni echoed Pacewic’s statements.
“I played IHAAZ hockey for the Tucson Jr. Wildcats throughout high school and it prepared me to play college hockey in a variety of ways,” said Pieroni. “It started as a fun, extracurricular activity, but after I learned that ASU had a roller team, my goal for my last two years of high school was to get good enough to make that ASU team. I would say that I used IHAAZ as a space to engage in high-level competition and measure myself against others so that I would know what work I needed to do on myself to match the level of those I was trying to compete with. I went to practice weekly and attended all tournaments, and by doing that consistently along with work on my own, IHAAZ prepared me for my bid at playing at ASU.
“In my last season, the IHAAZ 18U division had grown so much that two different subdivisions had to be made. More teams meant better competition, which meant a better league overall.”
For D’Antonio, IHAAZ was just what he needed to fine-tune his skills.
“Playing in IHAAZ with the Prescott Storm and Yetis prepared me for collegiate roller by giving me the opportunity to play tough competition and get a taste of what competitive roller was all about,” he said. “There are many more teams in the higher divisions now, which makes competition more fun.”
Estes (pictured top) played for his hometown Blaze from age six to 18.
“Playing in IHAAZ during my childhood set the foundation for me to play hockey in college,” said Estes.
“Those fundamental years during my childhood instilled in me a passion for the game and a desire to continue playing beyond high school. Being able to play in a competitive roller hockey league in Arizona for all those years allowed me to develop skills necessary to have what it takes to be a Division I athlete at Grand Canyon University.
“My family has been a part of IHAAZ since 2002. Over the last 20 years, my family has been at every tournament between my older brother Zach, myself, or younger brother Austin. Between the three of us, we have probably played in over 100 tournaments here in Arizona. The tournaments the league has put on have provided me and my brothers with a way to play the game we love. The league is currently making strides to become a more dominant sport in the state.”
Moving into the later part of the college roller hockey season, all four players have attainable goals within reach.
“This year at GCU, first and foremost, I want to take home a college national championship,” said Estes. “Our team at GCU is putting in the work to make sure we are ready. Our team managers and coaches are providing applicable opportunities to better ourselves, on and off the rink. Our team practices three days a week, lifts two days a week, watches film one day a week, and plays in a men’s league one day week. GCU is working hard to be the best in the nation, and we plan on making our mark on the national championship tournament in April.”
“Through my whole hockey career, I have gone through all of the ups and downs, and I have won at high levels and also lost at low levels,” added Pacewic. “My first hockey coach with the Yuma Blaze, Coach Johnson, always told us to ‘just have fun.’ That’s what it’s all about. My expectations for this year with NAU are to bond with my teammates and play our favorite sport while having the most fun possible.”
D’Antonio said he is “excited to play with my teammates and improve my game, and I’m grateful for the opportunity.”
For Pieroni, he sees the Sun Devils going on a deep run this spring with the AA division team.
“My expectations are that we win our regional tournament and standings and then go do the very best that we can at nationals,” he said.
For more information, visit www.IHAAZ.com.
— Matt Mackinder
(February 22, 2023)