McKINNEY, Texas -- No distance is too great for champions to traverse, and the Alaska Icebreakers 14-and-Under Tier II girls’ team proved that at the USA Hockey National Championships in the Dallas suburbs this past week.
The Icebreakers, who defeated the Buffalo Regals 2-1 in the final on Sunday, had to endure quite the trek just to get to the tournament from their home in Fairbanks.
“Because of the way we have to travel, we left Fairbanks at 1 in the morning on Sunday and we arrived in Dallas about 2-3 in the afternoon,” said Icebreakers coach Luther Brice. “We just start trying to get our legs back, get acclimated. It’s a three-hour time change as well, so it’s a long day, about 12-13 hours of flight time and layovers. It’s just the logistics of being in Alaska, we’re fairly used to it now. That red-eye seems to be the best way to get out of there.”
It seemed like their plan to recover from the travel worked well, as the club shut out the Andover Warriors 3-0 in its opening match on Wednesday.
And of course, travel is nothing new to the Icebreakers, who have to journey vast distances just to play a competitive game against other girls’ teams.
“One of the biggest challenges we have, we really don’t have any other girls’ teams to play,” Brice pointed out. “We have to travel 350 miles to Anchorage to play the next-closest girls’ team, so we play a lot of youth [boys’] hockey teams from the Fairbanks area, just to help prepare us. I think we had 13 girls’ games before we came down here, so we just don’t get out a whole lot.”
Still, they managed to win the Pacific District tournament, defeating the Alaska All-Stars 2-0 in the final, in order to earn their way to nationals.
“We played in some boys’ tournaments in Anchorage to prepare; it’s great that they’ll let a girls’ team play in it, so that helps,” Brice said. “Then we traveled out to British Columbia, to the Vancouver area, Surrey, BC, and played in the Super Heart Tournament. There were some AAA clubs out of Canada that really pushed us and showed the girls that there are girls out there that really know how to play the game.”
Buffalo Regals overcame multiple obstacles to reach final
The Bufflao Regals never expected to be in the national tournament in the first place, considering how many hurdles they had to overcome just to qualify.
“It’s been a long process. We were on the cusp of being eliminated before we even made our state tournament,” coach Tom Ruggeiro said. “We got into the state tournament as the No. 2 seed; we had to play a sudden-death shootout in the state semifinal to win. It was the most incredible game we’ve played. We had to beat a team in the finals we didn’t beat all year, and we beat them. And we started play here, we took [the Icebreakers] to a nine-player shootout in the round-robin.”
Following that game on Thursday, the Regals won their next two games by a combined score of 14-2 before advancing to the title game with a 3-2 win over the Michigan Icebreakers in the semifinal. After all the girls had received their medals and were taking team pictures, Ruggeiro encouraged his team to join in with the gold medal-winning Alaska Icebreakers for one big combined picture.
“The girls played good today,” Ruggeiro said. “We’re the two best teams in the country at this level, we’re thrilled to be here, we played to win the game, we felt we played well enough to win the game, they happened to score one more goal.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.