Tears started to form in the eyes some of the Armstrong Arrows girls hockey players as they lined up to receive their silver medals after placing second in the Mid-American district Tier II 19-and-Under tournament Sunday in Culver, Ind.
They weren’t tears of disappointment for just missing their ultimate goal of advancing to the Toyota-USA Hockey Tier II Girls National Championships; they were tears of joy for doing so well.
The hockey association that regulates Armstrong has been around for 46 years, but this marked the first year it had a girls’ team that could play for a berth in nationals.
“They were so proud that they were the next generation to bring back the Arrows,” district section representative Yevet Anderson said. “You know, I wanted to stand there and cry with them. During the handshakes, one of them said, ‘You know what? Thanks. We’ll be back.’
“I’m like, ‘Wow.’ That’s pretty cool.”
The Arrows hail from Kittanning, Penn., which is just north of Pittsburgh, and went 1-1 in the district tournament. Armstrong beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 6-0 and then fell 3-1 to the Steel City Select in the title game. The Arrows had downed Steel City 2-0 just six weeks earlier, so coach Homer Foster was hoping for a repeat performance from his girls.
“We had hoped we would qualify for nationals, but unfortunately we came up a little bit short,” Foster said. “Even though we fell a little bit short of the mark we had set for ourselves at the beginning of the season, we’re still very, very proud of the girls and what they accomplished this season.”
The Arrows are made of players who only average about 16 years of age. It’s a young group that hopes to build off a runner-up finish in the district tournament.
“We’re hoping that we can draw on this attention to the program to repeat for next year as well,” Foster said. “We’d like to start something that’s going to be a continually growing program and actually get a 14U team here as well.”
Goalie Shines Between The Pipes
The Ohio Flames stayed close during two of their Tier I 19U tournament games in large part because of Kentucky-raised goaltender Carrera Noelscher.
Noelscher had 20 saves in a 3-2 overtime loss to Gilmore Academy and 28 stops in a 6-0 defeat to the eventual district championships, the Pittsburgh Aviators.
“We ran into a buzz saw there, but the score was absolutely no reflection on Carrera,” Flames coach Darin Gillis said about the game against the Aviators. “She stood on her head and did everything she could to keep us in the game, so I was very proud of her.”
Noelscher is in her first year with the Flames after playing for a couple seasons in the St. Louis Blues organization. After the Blues’ 19U team folded, Noelscher was in search of a new team. While coaching in an early-season tournament in Canada, Gillis had some people approach him and tell him about Noelscher.
“They said, ‘Hey, there’s a goalie in your district, she’s a good goalie, looking for a place to play,’” Gillis recalled. “I felt bad with the situation she was in because you never want anyone stranded if they want to play.”
Gillis got in touch with Noelscher, and the rest is history.
Noelscher, who is a senior, has tremendous upside as a goalie and is getting a lot of interest from college hockey programs.
“The sky’s the limit for her. She’s like an unpolished diamond,” Gillis said. “She’s got so much doggone potential. She’s got good size and she’s just an exceptional athlete.”
Steel City Steals the Show
The Mid-American District is comprised of teams from Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, western Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and it was the Pittsburgh-area teams that stole the show at districts. All six teams the district will send to nationals are from the Steel City.
The Pittsburgh Penguins Elite won the Tier I 14U and 16U divisions and the Pittsburgh Aviators took home the Tier I 19U title. In Tier II, the Pittsburgh Predators were tops in 14U and the Steel City Select won 19U. The Steel City Select 16U team will play in nationals despite not having any teams to compete against in districts.
“There’s a lot of interest in hockey [around Pittsburgh] and more kids are playing at younger ages,” Pittsburgh Aviators 19U coach Greg Carter said. “Hopefully all the teams from Pittsburgh will take it to nationals and try to continue that success.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.