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Colton Merchen's Lifts Team South Dakota to Youth Tier II 16U 1A Title

By Lary Bump, 04/07/24, 12:00PM MDT


Merchen scored nine goals in two games against the Thunder in this tournament.

FARMERS BRANCH, Texas – Team South Dakota (SD) and forward Colton Merchen made the most of two games against the Alabama Thunder (AL) this week.

Merchen concluded his dominance in the 2024 Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 16U 2A National Championship. 

After scoring five goals against the Thunder in a 7-2 win on Thursday, Merchen added four goals in the title game. 

Merchen opened the scoring 2:41 into the game by skating in from the left and sliding the puck past Thunder goalie Collin Jeffries. Merchen added two power-play goals while Alabama tried to kill a double minor late in the second period, and then he scored his fourth goal in the third period.

“I’m just trying to go out every shift and do my best,” the South Dakota captain said. “I was fortunate enough to put four of them in the back of the net. It’s been a first for me. I had one game in the tournament that I scored five [against the Thunder]. I think any one of our guys could have pounded all five of those in. I thought it was a really good effort by our whole team. This team’s special. We work well together.”

Cameron Ritter scored two goals in the second period, and assisted on South Dakota’s final goal, by Riley Linstad. Jaxon Danielson scored his first goal of the tournament in the win as well.

Goalie Easton Mescher stopped 24 shots for his second shutout of the tournament. South Dakota dominated throughout, finishing its five-game sweep with a scoring advantage of 34-4.

“The key to our success,” Merchen said, “is all of our drive. From day one, we’ve always been below the goal line, forecheck, win puck battles, force them to make mistakes and capitalize on their mistakes.”

Merchen finished the tournament with 10 goals and 14 points, which was tied for the most in the 1A division. 

Coach Aaron DeBates put the team together last May with players from throughout South Dakota. It qualified for the nationals back in the fall. 

“Then they all go back to play within their association,” DeBates said. “We re-joined the middle of March.”

Merchen, who lives in Rapid City, South Dakota, said the team stays connected even when they aren’t playing together. 

“We do a lot of stuff together,” he said. “Playing cards, playing volleyball, just hanging out trying to get the best bonds we can.”

Those bonds could be stretched if the 16-year-old Merchen can get a position with a junior team.

“I just want to see where it takes me,” he said. “I’m ready for the journey.”

DeBates was impressed by his team’s consistency throughout the tournament. 

“I thought we came into this tournament with the right frame of mind,” he said. “The team executed on our team plan.”

Some of South Dakota’s players had won a national title two years ago at the 14U level, but this was the first title for DeBates. He pointed out a few keys to the team’s run to the championship. 

“We followed these five phrases: We trust in each other, teamwork, we’re focused, we’re ready and the last one today, we finished,” he said. 

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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