Mission AZ 18U team ‘going full throttle in fifth gear’
The 2018-19 season was a truly special one for the Mission AZ hockey program, especially for its 18U Red team.
For the first time in the program’s nearly two-decade history, one of their teams advanced to a national championship game. While Mission 18U came up short in its final game, the entire season was a memorable one, and it has served to motivate this year’s squad and others within the program even more.
“We hit the ground pretty hard this season,” said Jeremy Goltz, Mission’s coach-in-chief. “We can’t expect to be at our best every time out on the ice, but when it’s on the line, these guys really respond, and they have shown me something special already this year.”
Goltz said that approximately half of his roster is back from last year, and the players who are now in their second season with the 18U group have truly carried forward momentum from their national championship run last season. The holdovers have taken on mentorship roles to guide their younger teammates and in doing so, they have set an extremely high standard that all the players are living up to in every practice and game.
The team’s 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, Gavin Moriarty and Luc Spinasanta; and goalies Matthew Diamond and Chase Golden.
“The guys who aged out after last year – guys like Nick Coppola, Christopher Fritz and others – can’t be replaced, but what’s special about this team is that they have such high expectations and truly believe that they can beat any team in the country on any given day,” Goltz said.
While Mission’s 18U team is playing about .500 hockey so far this season, their record doesn’t reflect accurately on the strength of the team and what it is achieving. During the Christmas break, Mission was on the road for nine days back east, and beat the nation’s No. 1-ranked team, the Highland Park Falcons, in their own rink.
They have suffered one-goal losses to the No. 10- and No. 12-ranked teams in the country and playing those teams so competitively has been a positive sign in Goltz’s mind. He knows that the squad’s schedule of 70-plus games – many in the tough Central States League – is a grind, but he also knows it’s preparing his players to be at their best against the top competition once the postseason rolls around.
“I always expect to win, but these guys are just consistently good,” Goltz said. “Last year’s team went through a rut mid-season and really had to find themselves, but this team has been playing well every week. I can’t emphasize how rewarding that is.”
Goltz wasn’t shy when asked about his goals for the season. After getting a taste of what’s it was like to play in a national championship game last April, he said they’re “going right at it,” this season and that they’re “going full throttle in fifth gear.”
Aiming high is in the program’s DNA.
“Our expectation is to win it all, and that’s what we’re shooting for,” Goltz said. “One of the toughest challenges will be against a tough Arizona Hockey Union team in state, and we have to ensure that we don’t overlook any teams. While we all want to get back to that national championship game, we also realize we have to take care of the smaller goals along the way before we can focus on the big prize.
“What I’ve told the guys this year is that they need to walk into every practice and game and act like national champions, and they know that means they need to do all the little things right. There’s no reason we can’t get back there.”
— Greg Ball
(Jan. 23, 2020)