With a 1-0 triumph in the deciding contest of the best-of-three Rocky Mountain district championship series, the Tier I 16-and-Under She Wolves made a statement that Arizona hockey is a force to be reckoned with.
Following the hard-fought victory over the Mountain State Girls Hockey League (MSGHL) Rock Stars from Colorado, clinched when Jessica Carter scored on a third period power play in the third game on March 3, the She Wolves of Scottsdale, Ariz. advance to the USA Hockey National Championships April 3-7 in San Jose, Calif.
“We are extremely proud of them,” She Wolves coach Dave Lyons said. “It’s the first time for all of these girls, none of these girls have been to nationals before. Some of these girls have been trying for a lot more years than others.
“We’ve got a couple of girls playing their first or second years of travel hockey, and there are a couple who have played for about nine years, so it’s just really exciting. It was a great weekend for everybody, and we’re looking forward to getting up to San Jose for nationals.”
As many teams from non-traditional hockey areas have undoubtedly felt over the years, the She Wolves hope they can open some eyes at nationals and show that there is high quality hockey in Arizona.
“Yeah, people continually say, ‘There’s hockey in Arizona?’” Lyons acknowledged. “You’d be surprised just how many people’s lives revolve around hockey in this state — mostly boys, there’s not a lot of girls playing.
“I’m going to be talking to [my players] about expectations at nationals and the level of play that we’re going to see. One of the disadvantages that we have here is that we have maybe 30-40 girls that play hockey here in our age bracket, and most of them are high school JV players. At nationals, we have two games against teams out of Massachusetts and I was looking at this, they have 800 girls who play hockey in Massachusetts, so we’re going to run into some really stiff competition. But the message is, ‘Enjoy the experience and do your best.’”
Certainly, the team is battled-tested. The Rock Stars gave the She Wolves a good fight, as it was anybody’s tournament, especially after the Rock Stars won the first game 2-1.
“The first game was exciting for the most part. We took a 1-0 lead into the break between the second and third periods, and we came out and they got a couple of goals on us in the third and we couldn’t battle back,” Lyons explained. “We fought past that and got the girls’ mindset back, knowing that we could win and came back in the second game. It was 0-0 after two and they just came out with an offensive explosion and put in four.”
After tying the series with a 4-1 win, She Wolves goaltender Jordan Nash Boulden made 29 saves for the final game shutout as they completed the series comeback for the district title.
“In the third game, they came out really strong, we were able to withstand it,” Lyons said. “Our goalie played phenomenal pretty much the whole weekend. It was 0-0 again after the second period, and we came out and got an opportunity on a 5-on-3. We re-arranged some lines and were able to put some really strong players out, snuck one in and held the lead for the last 10 minutes and actually won the district.”
While the tournament was originally slated to take place in Dallas like the other two Rocky Mountain Tier I girls’ age groups, a mutual agreement led to it being held in the Denver suburb of Littleton instead, since there were no Texas teams taking part in the 16U tournament.
After playing two previous tournaments in Denver earlier in the season, Lyons pointed out that he put the She Wolves through some extra dry-land training sessions to help them compete better at the higher altitude in Colorado, and that additional work paid off.
“We’ve been working fairly hard, extra hard, over the past couple of months, doing a lot more off-ice training, knowing we had to go up to Denver dealing with the elevation again,” Lyons said. “We saw that as a particular advantage to the home team because they’re used to those conditions, but we did a lot more off-ice training and got their endurance up higher.
“I think it really showed. We kept turning it up and as the second and third periods wore on — not so much in the first game, but in the second and third games, we started to show a little more dominance because of that.”
With some difficult competition expected at the nationals, Lyons has instituted a similar workout regimen to prepare.
“We’ve added some more ice time, a couple more scrimmages to get the girls ready to play at a good pace,” Lyons noted. “And we’re just preparing them mentally for battling hard and just having a good time.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.