Mission 18U sees chance at nationals’ redemption vanish
Just days before most of the country went into quarantine to address the coronavirus pandemic, the 18U AA team from Mission AZ was riding high.
The squad had just captured its second straight Arizona Amateur Hockey Association (AAHA) state championship and was gearing up for a return engagement at the USA Hockey National Championships. This trip would be extra meaningful, as Mission advanced to last year’s national title game before falling short of its ultimate goal.
Mission beat the AHU Silver Knights 4-1 in the opening game of the best-of-three championship series on March 7 at Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe, then skated to a 5-4 overtime victory the next day to seal the title. Just three days later, their dreams of avenging their national championship game defeat were squashed when national tournaments were officially cancelled.
“I feel so badly for these kids who worked so hard to get back to that national championship game this year and avenge the loss,” Mission AZ coach-in-chief Jeremy Goltz said. “But we had a terrific season that we should be proud of. We played nine teams ranked in the top 40 nationally and beat five of them, with two ties. We also beat the No. 1 team in the country, the Highland Park (Ill.) Falcons, on their home ice. We beat eight of the 11 teams in the Central States Developmental Hockey League, and we finished the season ranked No. 40.
“This was a very special group of kids, parents and coaches, and I want their success to be remembered in the middle of all this chaos.”
Mission’s 18U AA roster includes forwards Dean Angelo, Scott Bird, Luke Fain, Matt Gary, Jack Huegler, David Jaichner, Benson Middendorf, Skyler Sanchez, Nick Weber, Jorden Werner and Mitchell Wolfert; defensemen John Bomberg, Spencer Craig, Connor Lough, Reese Middendorf and Gavin Moriarty, Luc Spinasanta; and goalies Matthew Diamond and Chase Golden.
Spinasanta said the key to the team’s success this year was always finding a way to play up to the toughest of competition.
“This season was one of the most successful seasons and my favorite season playing for Mission,” he said. “Ultimately, with nationals being cancelled, our team did not get a chance to showcase our talent on a national stage. I feel we would have had a great chance at a run to the national championship.”
Golden said he’ll cherish the memory of beating the top team in the country.
”I’ll never forget the moment that clock hit zero, watching my teammates all try to jump the boards at once to come tackle me,” he recalled. “Games like that are what fuel my passion for this sport. Being in the locker room after a game like that is the most surreal moment. It just feels like you can do anything.”
Of course, Spinasanta, Golden and all the other players who have played their last game in a Mission sweater will leave with that uniform having left a lasting impression.
“One thing I’ll truly remember about my Mission experience is the national run from last year,” Spinasanta said. “I truly can’t thank Coach Goltz enough for the group he assembled for the past two years.”
Added Golden, “After my 10 long years at Mission, I’ve learned so much. I’ve made countless memories and plenty of lifelong friends. The thing that has always stuck with me through the years is seeing the respect for the jersey and the man who made it.”
While the team ultimately was robbed of its second chance at a national title, they can look back knowing they left everything on the ice.
“I said last year to them before the season started that they will be ready for everything that comes at them except the nerves of a championship game,” Goltz recalled. “This year, they had a more successful regular season and now would have had that experience of playing in the big game they didn’t have last year.
“This was our year. We prepared every day like national champions, and I believe in my heart it was our time.”
— Greg Ball
(June 17, 2020)