HACKENSACK, N.J. -- For Sasha Hartje, it had been a long, 10-year trek that had its share of peaks and valleys along with some possible detours. It was also a final script that probably couldn’t have been written any better.
In her final game with the program, Hartje celebrated her 15th birthday early Sunday afternoon with a Tier II 14-and-Under AAA championship as her Michigan-based USA Eagles downed the Miami Toros 3-1 at the Toyota-USA Hockey Tier II Youth National Championships.
She also marked her final year with her father, Tod, by her side, as Hartje will be playing in the girls’ division next year.
“I couldn’t have asked for anything better than this,” she said. “To win a championship in my last year and on my birthday is amazing. This is the best present I could have asked for. But we all knew this was going to be our year.”
Her father also didn’t have many doubts that his team would be playing in New Jersey during the first weekend in April.
“There have been so many different storylines with this team, and it is nice to have them be rewarded in this way,” the coach said. “We had seven players who started in the program 10 years ago.
“They have just gone along and raised their game. We lost in the semifinals in the past few years, but they decided to come back for one more run. This is just one of those special groups. They will move on to other teams, but they will never spend the length of time they had on this team in the future.
“We wanted to get out fast and we did today.”
The Eagles got goals from Michael McInerney and Jake Novack 67 seconds apart in the game’s first five minutes as they jumped out to a 2-0 lead and dominated play in the early going.
Miami’s Seth Cohen brought his team back to 2-1 at 12:35 of the second period as the game’s momentum apparently began to shift. But Mitchell Shults scored an insurance goal just under seven minutes into the final period that cushioned the Eagles’ lead and brought a national championship back home to Michigan.
“We wanted to get pout to a fast start like we did in the other games,” Sasha Hartje said. “Once they scored, we got a little tight. But we knew we had to keep playing our game, and we managed to shut them down.”
Both Sasha and her father agreed the team’s mettle was tested when they lost in the quarterfinal elimination round game of the International Sliver Sticks Tournament earlier this season.
“We got to a point where we were either going right or left in our season,” the coach said. “Right was going to take us back on the path to New Jersey, and left would have us fiddle our season away. We decided to go right, and we got it.”
Sasha appreciated Tod’s guidance as a father and coach behind the bench.
“It’s been amazing,” Sasha said. “People would ask me how I could be with my father as a coach. But I like it better having him as a coach. He can work me every since day. He is not just a father but a great coach as well.
“It has been a phenomenal experience having Sasha with me,” Tod added. “It’s sad to see it end, but you couldn’t have asked for a better ending.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
INDIAN TRAIL, N.C. -- With three players grappling in the corner, Kyle Kawamura of the Thunder 99s deftly moved into flank position. As the rolling puck tumbled free, the Pee Wee center emerged as the possessor, circling and fundamentally sliding a pass through an opening in the penalty-killing unit and to the point. Turning on a dime, Kawamura drove and crashed the net.
Sure, it might have been one of the few scoring chances Kawamura did not convert this season, but examine the opportunity. Then analyze the fundamentals Kawamura worked on last offseason.
Better vision? Check.
Tighter turns? Check.
Is it any wonder that team manager Ed Kawamura on Sunday spoke so proudly after his son led the U-12 Thunder to their first trip to the USA Hockey Tier I National Championships at Williamsville, N.Y., beginning March 28?
“This is his passion,” the elder Kawamura said.
In the final of the 2012 USA Hockey Southeastern District Tournament Championship Sunday, Kawamura scored three goals at Extreme Ice & Fitness Center, increasing his season total to 107.
“He’s a team leader,” forward Garrett Tiberi said. “He definitely can take his game as far as he wants to … as long as he keep working hard.”
Last summer, coaches advised Kawamura to concentrate on improving his vision for short passes and skating with tighter turns.
Evidenced by his movements during the third-period power play on Sunday, Kawamura appears willing to dedicate the time and effort to improve.
After competing in the upcoming National Championships and entering the offseason, Kawamura already has a menu of skills to develop. The multi-sport standout is slated to highlight work on face-off proficiency and smoother skating strides.
“He’s the best player on the team and also a good teammate,” Thunder 99s Jay Feiwell said.
Lining up for a 7:45 a.m. opening face-off — on the morning after Daylight Savings Time — the Thunder proved to be early risers, serving up a three-goal first period. Kawamura scored twice, both unassisted.
The success the U-12 Thunder shared in the Charlotte suburb was, in part, developed through team chemistry, Kawamura said. Gaining early season momentum, the players overcame an October snowstorm in upstate New York to capture the Buffalo Super Series title, outscoring the competition, 38-6. In December, they placed first at the Dallas Super Series, outscoring the competition 32-5. In January, they won the Boston Super Series and defended their title at the Music City Winter Classic.
Kawamura scored key goals throughout the season.
Kawamura was born and lived his entire life in Franklin, Tenn. He wants that distinction to be known.
A resident of nearby Brentwood, Tenn., Montreal Canadiens center Blake Geoffrion, is recognized as the first “resident” of Middle Tennessee to play in the NHL. A former Nashville Predators draft pick, Geoffrion was born in Plantation, Fla., but was raised in the Nashville suburb and has been a mentor to many young players, including Kawamura.
The “resident” distinction is a point Kawamura hopes to make in the future.
His father laughs: “He wants to be the first player born in Middle Tennessee to make it to the NHL.”
While it’s difficult to predict the futures of Pee Wee hockey players, some of Kyle Kawamura’s teammates believe they are playing with an up-and-coming prospect.
“I think he can go all the way,” Feiwell said.
The dedication appears to be present. Three years ago, Kawamura was a power-hitting first baseman. “He was the best baseball player in the area,” the elder Kawamura said.
But the younger Kawamura decided to “hang up the glove” to concentrate on hockey during the offseason.
Watch out, Bantam. Kawamura has the entire summer to improve.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.