SOUTH BEND, Ind. — For any 1A team coming into the 2019 Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 14U National Championship, the Atlanta Fire Elite may just be the team to beat. They’ve won the 1A title for the past two seasons and have made multiple appearances over the years at nationals.
The first team to take the ice against the Fire are one of the tournament’s bigger underdogs: the Fremont (Nebraska) Flyers, who are making their first appearance at nationals in program history.
While the Flyers only had four losses all season long, this game proved to be a a tough test. Atlanta was aggressive with the puck, even on the penalty kill, and while the first period was scoreless, Flyers goalie Jaden Salado could only hold back Atlanta’s shooters for so long. The Fire scored three times in quick succession in the second period and the Flyers quite find a way to break through. The final score was 5-0 in favor of Atlanta.
Flyers head coach James Heinen won’t let his team get discouraged, however.
“In the third period we played a little bit better, so we want to build on that and continue on and just play our game,” Heinen said. “I think we got a little shell-shocked for a bit. I think we'll be better off coming back tomorrow.”
Heinen has high hopes for his team. While they’re playing with a short bench, bringing only 12 skaters with them to South Bend, they look to everyone to help provide leadership on and off the ice. Heinen noted forwards Parker McInroy and Spencer Avard as players who are quiet in the room or on the bench but who lead by example on the ice. Forward Hudsin DenHartog is often the loudest in the room, Heinen said.
“He leads the cheer; he’s getting the guys going.”
Heinen’s message to his team for the rest of the tournament? Keep it simple and stick to your position. Many of the boys were trying to do too much, he said, resulting in players being out of position.
“When we got in trouble, we were trying to do somebody else's job,” Heinen said. “I need my players to do their jobs and then we'll be fine.”
The Flyers have already overcome some obstacles in order to make it to South Bend. Their hometown of Fremont, Nebraska, experienced historic flooding in March, thanks to a weather system that brought snow and heavy rains. Rapidly melting snow overwhelmed waterways, putting much of the region underwater. Fremont itself was essentially surrounded by water. The team was lucky, though, as assistant coach Tim McInroy reported that the worst the Flyers experienced was a period of about a week where many of the boys couldn’t really communicate or go to practices because of the water.
In a tough time for the community, however, the Flyers are a young team that Fremont can rally around. Support from parents and the Fremont community have been keys to the team’s success.
“Our organization as a whole is moving in the right direction,” Heinen said. “They're very forward-thinking. ... This is a culmination of everything that they've brought together to do that.”
So it’s back to work for the Flyers, who must quickly turn the page on Thursday’s performance. Heinen described the team’s identity as a group of hard workers, and they’ll have several chances this weekend to show off their determination.
No matter what happens, Heinen believes that the team has a strong foundation for the future, and that all starts with the group of young men on the ice, who have formed lasting friendships off of it.
“We’re a group of boys that are friends,” said Heinen. “They play together. They like each other.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.