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Alaska Girls Thrive Across Pacific District

By Jim Caple, 03/06/20, 11:15AM MST


All five Pacific champions came from the Last Frontier.

MOUNTLAKE TERRACE, Wash. – For many players, competing for district or national championships marks the pinnacle of their hockey careers, and in turn officials at those events pride themselves in providing the best opportunity possible for the players, as well.

This year’s Pacific District tournaments took place in Washington, with the girls events having wrapped up over the weekend in the Seattle suburbs.

Steve Laing, the USA Hockey Pacific District director, understands what these championships mean to these young players. All the while, Laing and other organizers also understand that while this weekend might mark the highlight of many players’ careers, a select few might indeed be using this event as their proving ground in preparing to take the next step.

“Everyone talks about playing hockey and someday winning the Stanley Cup,” Laing said. “Well, this is the process that could potentially lead to that someday. We know that less than one percent of our kids will make it to the NHL. But there are kids that do make it.

As Laing discussed, the process to qualify for the national tournament an accomplishment itself.

“First, you’ve got to win your state. From the state tournament you come to the national circuit. And that starts with this district tournament. … From here they will go on to the national tournament. And that’s when you have the culmination of all the years of training to compete for a national title.”

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HC Fairbanks Claims Tier II 14U Title

The HC Fairbanks squad from Alaska survived some close games to win the Pacific Tier II 14U tournament. The team was down two goals in the third period of its first game but came back to win 4-3. The team also came from behind to win the second game 2-1, and then won in overtime Saturday night.

To close it out, Fairbanks finally avoided trailing in a game and defeated the Washington Wild 2-1 to claim the tournament title.

“This was the first game we led all the way through,” said coach Brice Luther, who has been coaching 25 years.

Brice says that forwards Pacey Lannet and Cassidy Morrison plus defenseman Lilly Davies were among the team leaders.

“I didn’t really think that we would get here, but I’m happy that we did and happy that we pushed through it,” Lannet said.

The Fairbanks team will play for the Chipotle-USA Hockey Girls Tier II 14U National Championship April 2-6 in West Chester, Penn.

“You get down there and you kind of have to see your path and get out of the pool play to a crossover game,” Brice said. “And then at this level with all the talent around there, it’s any given day at that point once you get to the elimination games.”

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Alaska All Stars Get Revenge On Lady Ducks To Win Tier I 14U Title

The Tier I 14U Alaska All Stars lost Saturday to the Anaheim Lady Ducks when forward Reese Niemela scored the winning goal with just 3.4 seconds left in the game. But they did not lose in Sunday’s final, this time beating the Lady Ducks 2-0 in the closing game of the tournament.

“It was great,” Claire Koivunen said. “The feeling of losing yesterday and coming back and winning today was unreal.”

The All Stars are a talented team that coach Todd Bethard said boasts a lot of depth. When he did not mention a best player on the team Saturday, instead saying that they were all good, a parent replied: “Maybe that’s what makes you a good team.”

The Alaska team played very well, including goalie Madisyn Stetson, who earned a shutout Sunday.

“They peppered her in the third period with five or six quality scoring chances, and she was ready,” Bethard said.

The Tier I 14U All Stars also were the third team from Alaska to win Sunday, after the 19U All Stars and 14U Fairbanks squad also won Tier II titles.

“Alaska is cleaning up,” Bethard said. “We have a good group of coaches up there and a stronger group of girls.”

The team will now play in the Chipotle-USA Hockey Girls Tier I 14U National Championship that is being held in Blaine, Minn. Koivunen feels good about their chances.

“We’re going to work hard that’s for sure,” she said. “And not let in another goal with three seconds left.”

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All About Alaska at Tier II 16U

The 16U teams played just a little north of Mountlake Terrace in the town of Lynnwood, where two other Alaska teams secured berths to the national championships.

The Anchorage North Stars beat the Lady Admirals in the final game of the Tier II 16U tournament Sunday, while Alaska’s Valley Thunder beat the Anaheim Lady Ducks 5-1 and 5-2 to win their tournament.

Darci Matson is the Valley Thunder’s leader in goals with 34 over the season, followed by Bailey Brunnhoelzl at 23. Morgan Varner is the leader in net with a .914 save percentage.

Pacific District Girls Tournament Champions

Girls Tier I

14U: Alaska All Stars

16U: Valley Thunder

Girls Tier II

14U: HC Fairbanks

16U: Anchorage North Stars

19U: Alaska All Stars

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

Chipotle is the title sponsor of the 2020 Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championships.

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