Last year, the Team South Dakota Tier II 16U youth squad took the Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championships by storm.
Team South Dakota went 5-0 and outscored its opponents 44-6 en route to winning the Tier II 16U 1A national title in Wayne, New Jersey.
Just three players from that team returned this year and they will be catalysts if Team South Dakota hopes to capture back-to-back championships.
“It’s going to be a rebuilding year but we have the talent to try and defend our title,” Team South Dakota coach Zach Jurgens said.
The three returning players have been key thus far this season.
“Obviously, they’re going to be huge contributors,” Jurgens said. “One’s a goalie that went for us last year, Abe Partridge. He was our number one last year. He was a first-year 16, so he’s coming back. He’ll be kind of our backbone. Then our top defenseman is going to be a second year, Mason Evans, and then Max Kjelden was a contributor last year will obviously play top-line minutes. Those three guys, all the kids are going to have to feed off the energy since they’ve been there, done that.”
There are 10 players from last year’s Team South Dakota Tier II 14U squad that advanced to nationals who bumped up to 16U this season. So, experience at the national level is on their side.
This year, Jurgens has had to go with a different approach with his young team, which has 13 first-year 16U players. It’s more of a team effort and it all starts with the goalie and works out to the defense.
The guys play a fall season, so getting back on the ice together in mid-March was the first since early November of last year.
Team South Dakota didn’t have the best fall campaign, going 11-13. Jurgens believes his team could sneak into nationals with its sub-.500 record and play the underdog role since it lost a number of talented players. But not many coaches and teams around the country know much about Team South Dakota since Jurgens keeps information about his team pretty tight to the vest.
“If people knew that, then I would think that we’re an underdog,” Jurgens said. “But like I said, you can’t really see anything published about us, website, roster wise, record wise. But once we get there, people will see that we had a big roster turnover. We will see when we get down there.”
In the nine years the program has been around, Jurgens noted Team South Dakota has won four national titles and placed third twice. According to Jurgens, the success of the program comes from attracting a strong number of players from nine associations around the state.
The team will have only seven practices together before the players head down to nationals in Plano, Texas. Jurgens isn’t harping on his guys about repeating as national champions; there are more important things for his players to focus on.
“It’s not emphasizing we have to defend the title,” Jurgens said. “It would be nice, obviously, but it’s about developing the kids and making sure they’re having a good time and being successful at what we’re trying to do down there.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.