The Waterloo (Iowa) Warriors showed, for the second straight year, that they had what it took to win often at the USA Hockey High School Boys’ Varsity Nationals over the weekend in Coral Springs, Fla.
One year after reaching the championship game in its debut appearance, Waterloo advanced to Saturday night’s semifinals before being eliminated with a 8-4 loss to the eventual champions from Santa Margarita, Calif., a team coached by 1994 U.S. Olympian Craig Johnson.
“I’m proud of how we ended up this year,” Waterloo coach Doug Dietz said.
Waterloo brought back about half of last year’s squad after losing five players to graduation and five others who moved on to play hockey on other levels.
Dietz, who is the Midwest Director of Player Development among his activities with USA Hockey, has been coaching the Waterloo high school team for four seasons after spending about 15 years in youth hockey in the city.
The former NCAA Division III national champion at Wisconsin-Stevens Point emphasizes a certain style with his team.
“I try to mold my team as much as possible on puck possession,” Dietz said. “We’re not a dump-and-chase team.”
That style requires all five skaters being involved.
“I think puck movement in the game of hockey is very important,” Dietz said. “I want all five guys involved, moving the puck side-to-side and up-and-down the walls.
“We want pucks down low and pucks back to the point.”
Waterloo put that system together for a 21-7 regular season to finish third of 11 teams in the Midwest High School Hockey League that includes teams from Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska. League rival Des Moines joined Waterloo in winning a pool following round-robin play at high school nationals.
The development of senior Connor Weber, a junior varsity goaltender for most of his career, was a big part of the Waterloo success.
“Our goaltending has been above my expectations this season,” Dietz said.
When they arrived at nationals, the Warriors quickly established that they again would be contenders. Waterloo overwhelmed its first two opponents, shutting out Skyline, Idaho, 14-0 Wednesday and routing Viewmont, Utah, 10-1, Thursday.
Lee Jensen had a hat trick in the opener, scoring goals 21 seconds apart for an 8-0 lead just 7:22 into the second period. Sam Richter had four assists.
Alex Schutte was scoreless midway through the second game before finishing with six points on a hat trick and three assists.
Completing the pool perfect was not as easy. Waterloo led by two goals twice, but found itself tied in the third until Jensen scored the game-winner at 7:33, on a Jacob Sessler assist, for a 4-3 victory over Brophy, Ariz.
“We jumped out, then they kept plugging at us, but nobody panicked,” Dietz said.
When elimination play started Saturday morning with the quarterfinals, the Warriors got off to their first slow start, falling behind by allowing the game’s first three goals to Plano, Texas.
“We battled back, got control and kept rallying,” Dietz said of the 6-3 win that sent Waterloo back to the national semifinals.
Santa Margarita ended the run there despite two goals by Sessler and a goal and an assist from Austin Jackson.
“I’m really very pleased with how our team matured during this tournament,” Dietz said.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.