AMHERST, N.Y. — Thanks to the proliferation of youth hockey across America, it no longer comes as a surprise when a team from a “non-traditional” hockey state does well at the national level.
Nonetheless, it was still interesting to see a particular first-round matchup in the 2019 Chipotle-USA Hockey Girls Tier II 14U National Championship tournament. The matchup consisted of teams from complete opposite corners of the country, a team from a state where one thinks of frozen tundra and a team from a state where one thinks of beaches.
The Florida Alliance and the Alaska All Stars clashed in the Northtown Center in Amherst, New York. And quite a clash it was, no matter the stereotypes of the respective states.
“I found it to be great,” said Florida coach Shawn Ray. “We played an Alaska team back in January in Pittsburgh. Great competition. Great game. Beat them 1-0 in the championship game. Studying this team, I knew it was going to be another battle. They compete hard.”
The game displayed the best that each team had to offer. All the scoring initially took place within 1:32 in the middle of the first period. Katelyn Zernia gave Alaska the lead with a shot just inside the post. Alexis Fitzsimmons quickly tied it up.
“The girls came out a little nervous,” Ray said, “not making the plays they normally make. I think after the first they started to settle down and get more comfortable.”
In Florida, they have to be creative in getting the proper competition, including playing — and beating — boys’ teams. This prepared them well for a game like Thursday’s.
Taking control of the third period, Florida broke the tie at 13:40. Jordan Ray made a pinpoint pass from behind the net to Bryn Prier, who quickly one-timed it past a helpless goalie. Fitzsimmons added an empty-netter to put the game away, 3-1. Danielle DiPasquale made 15 saves for the win.
Fitzsimmons is one of the key players for the Alliance, along with Ray, Prier, defenseman Tristina Doyle and of course netminder DiPasquale.
“Those girls there are seasoned players,” Ray said. “They've been developing together, playing together for a couple of years. They feed off each other really well. They push each other really well.”
This team competed in last year’s tournament in Marlborough, Massachusetts. They have the experience. Now, they want the top prize.
Ray said, “The goal is to go as far as we can. We want to play great competition. Obviously, getting here and getting to that final four and try to get to that final two and walk out of here national champions.”
Ultimately, the fun of a national tournament are the teams you get to play, sometimes from the extreme points of the U.S. like Florida versus Alaska.
“It's fun to come into an event like this and have a team from Florida play a team from Alaska,” Ray said. “It's kind of unique.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.