GATES MILLS, Ohio – Participation in a USA Hockey event provides opportunity for players to compete at a high level and spend quality time with teammates. And in the case of Braxton King, it also provided the chance for a family reunion and for family members separated by great distances to see one of their own skate for the first time.
Such was the case when King, a defenseman for the Murray Spartans of Salt Lake City, Utah, traveled to Northeast Ohio to play in the 2017 USA Hockey High School National Championships.
King’s maternal grandmother, Susan Gaul, made the trek with other family members from the greater Toledo area to see her soon-to-be 16-year-old grandson skate for the first time.
“It was thrilling,” Gaul said. “I had never seen hockey before.”
While King’s paternal grandmother, Carol King, had an opportunity to watch her grandson play earlier this season in Utah, she had additional rooting interest in the team as her son, Doug King, is an assistant coach for the Spartans.
“I was just flabbergasted; [Braxton] has grown like a weed,” said Carol when describing her experience earlier in the season.
“When we knew Nationals were coming to Cleveland, we knew everyone would be able to come from Michigan and Ohio. When we won state, we knew we were going home,” said Braxton’s mother, Martha King.
In total, 14 of Braxton’s Midwest-based relatives were in the arena to see their family member skate at USA Hockey Nationals.
With 32 teams in the two-division tournament, it took 62 total games over five days to determine the champions. Throughout the tournament, a number of players stood out as top performers.
Top honors for most goals scored in the Pure Division belonged to Tyler Schaeffer of the Edwardsville (Illinois) Tigers with 10, while Nathan Smith of J.W. Mitchell, Florida, led the Combined Division with eight.
Stanley Lucas of the Edwardsville Tigers had 7 assists to lead the Pure Division and Lukas Lenhardt of Frisco (Texas) led the Combined Division with 8.
Lucas was the total points leader in the tournament with 16 and Smith was the total points leader in the Combined Division with 13.
Goaltenders Jason Grande of Bayard Rustin (Pennsylvania) and Fred Trey Taylor III of Santa Margarita (California) each earned four wins in the Pure Division while Tristian Hokenson of Brookings, South Dakota, had a tournament-leading .952 save percentage. Conner Taherian of Orange Lutheran (California) offered a pair of shutout victories to lead the Pure Division.
In the Combined Division, Frisco’s James Gillilan had five wins. Gillilan, Carson Brown of Penn, Indiana, and John Young of Rushmore (South Dakota) each posted a shutout with Gillilan earning his in the championship game.
Greg Shantery, the host chairman for the tournament, offered an accounting of participation in the event, stating there were 32 teams, 850 players, 120 coaches and approximately 12-15 scouts in attendance.
Among those coaches were several with NHL playing and/or coaching experience including George Gwozdecky (Highland Ranch Eagles; Colorado), Peter Worrell and Ray Sheppard (North Broward; Florida) and Craig Johnson (Santa Margarita Eagles)
“I do this for the kids. It gives them a chance to do something they may never do again,” Shantery said.
“We’re showing the hockey world that Cleveland is on the map. It’s been a big year for Cleveland,” said Shantery, noting the success of the Cleveland Monsters, Cavaliers and Indians, as well as the city’s turn as host of the 2016 Republican National Convention.
“Having our youth programs [Cleveland Suburban Hockey League] come out and see these high school athletes participating is something for them to look up to; being one of those teams to participate someday,” added Jordan Clementz, one of the public address announcers.
Gracious in his reception of inquiring fans was Temmu Selanne, recently named to the list of 100 greatest NHL players. Selanne’s son, Leevi, competed in USA Hockey Nationals as a member of the Santa Margarita Eagles.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.