The Waterloo Warriors made deep runs in the last two Toyota-USA Hockey High School Varsity National Championships.
Two days into this year’s tournament in Omaha, Neb., the Warriors again established themselves among the contenders, along with a strong contingent of rivals from the Midwest High School Hockey League.
Waterloo’s fast start in pool play came as the result of a pair of big finishes, setting up a Friday afternoon showdown with host and league rival Omaha for the Pool F title and a berth in the quarterfinals.
The Warriors made it through pool play on their way to the 2012 championship game in Salt Lake City and the 2013 semifinals in Coral Springs, Fla. In each case, the Warriors brought back at least half the lineup from the previous trip. This year’s squad has just five seniors but is not lacking in experience, including on the national level.
“I have a young team, but we’re mature enough that I’ve tried to get the kids to understand the atmosphere to expect here,” Warriors coach Doug Dietz said. “The competition level is something that we’re really emphasized at practice the last couple of weeks and the kids responded well, especially our young kids.”
The MHSHL proved to be excellent preparation. The league sent five teams to the national tournament, with its top four teams from the league playoffs all starting 2-0. While four of five MHSHL teams made it through Wednesday and Thursday with 2-0 marks, only six teams out of 27 in the rest of the field matched that mark.
Once at nationals, the Warriors outscored their first two opponents 6-0 in the third period to set up a rematch with Omaha, a team it split with in the regular-season before losing to in the MHSHL third-place game.
In Omaha, Waterloo carried a two-goal lead through most of two periods before putting together three unanswered goals in the third period for Wednesday’s 9-4 win over Brentwood, Tenn.
“I thought we moved the puck very well,” Dietz said.
The Warriors showed the ability to handle a rematch when they broke open a close game in Thursday’s 5-0 shutout of Brophy, Ariz. Waterloo won last year’s meeting 4-3 with a quarterfinal berth at stake on the final day of round-robin play.
Lee Jensen, one of the seniors, scored the third-period game-winner against Brophy last year and scored again in their latest meeting. He leads the team with three goals so far.
While Waterloo was beating its first two opponents by a combined margin of 14-4, Omaha beat the same two teams by a total of 15-5. The Lancers won the East Division and finished fourth overall in the 12-team MHSHL, which includes teams from Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska.
Waterloo veterans Cameron Pries and Jacob Sessler, another senior, share the team lead with five points each so far at nationals. Jensen, fellow senior Austin Kugler and Samuel Richter, yet another of the experienced players, have four points each. Goalie Jordan Messerer-Metlin was only called on to make 10 saves in Thursday’s shutout.
The Warriors are a combination of players from many Waterloo-area high schools with the largest contingent coming from Waterloo West, Dietz’s alma mater. However, all of the players came through the Junior Hawks, Waterloo’s youth hockey association.
Omaha made it through the first two days as the tournament’s top scoring team with the help of three of its top six individual scorers. Branden Maas led with nine points on four goals and five assists. Adam O’Dell was tied for second with eight points and Mark Vlassakis had a tournament-high six assists while ranking tied for fourth with seven points.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.