PLANO, Texas -- There was a sense of déjà vu in Monday’s Class AA championship game at the Toyota-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 16U National Championships.
For the second time in three years, the opponents were the Affton (Mo.) Americans and the Tampa Scorpions.
The results were almost identical. The Scorpions won 3-1, after taking a 2-1 decision in 2013.
It was Affton’s fourth trip to the AA championship game, all in the past seven years. But while other teams in Affton’s successful program have brought back national titles, the 16U AA team has a collection of four runner-up trophies.
The Scorpions have a uniquely Florida background.
“Originally, it was roller hockey,” Scorpions coach Ralph Sowder said. “I owned a roller hockey facility, and we converted to ice nine or 10 years ago. Now we have rink rats. They love the sport.”
One of those rink rats is Scorpions captain Parker York, who had a goal and an assist in the championship game. He didn’t play hockey when his family lived in Cincinnati, but he fell in love with the sport after the Yorks moved to Florida.
“I started when I was 8,” York said. “My dad took me to see a professional team called the Seals. We sat on the glass, and I was so into it. After the game, there was a public skate. My dad got a cheerleader to help me. So a cheerleader taught me how to skate.”
Since then, he has evolved into the captain of the only team that made it through the Tier II tournament without a loss, despite having just 14 skaters.
Sowder said the team’s success comes from preparation and from workouts on a small sheet of ice under the guidance of former Tampa Bay Lightning player Vinny Prospal.
“Vinny deserves the credit,” Sowder said. “He works all the practices with them.”
Prospal didn’t make the trip to the Dr. Pepper Star Center-Plano because he was with the Scorpions’ Tier II 14U team at their national championships in Salt Lake City.
Scorpions president Doug Winslow also runs the Xtra Ice facility near the Tampa airport, where players skate on a surface two-thirds as large as a regulation rink.
“With the smaller size, I very much believe they get more touches with the puck than on a big sheet,” he said.
“It wasn’t as though we were smart enough [to have] the same idea as the guy in Brazil who had teams practice on smaller soccer field. It was more because of what we could do with our organization.”
The Scorpions put their practice to good use against the Americans. Lucas Sowder, the coach’s son, scored in the first period, and York scored what proved to be the game winner for Tampa in the second.
“I saw no one open up the ice, but that opened up a lane for me,” York said. “I saw that the goalie moved, so I put it where he wasn’t.”
The 2-0 lead held until 6:09 of the third period, when Dominic Abell scored for Affton.
The game remained tight, even though the Scorpions finished with a 32-17 advantage in shots.
Tampa took advantage of a break to score with just 1:52 to play. From his own end, Lucas Sowder lifted the puck over defenders to the opposite blue line. The Scorpions’ Joe Trapp won a race to the puck and shot into the lower left corner to beat Affton goalie Drew Shapiro.
Josh Cuni made 16 saves for Tampa, which allowed six goals in six games.
“We skate hard, forechecking and backchecking,” Ralph Sowder said. “It’s all about the energy and getting the maximum out of each shift. We really read and anticipate. That’s our game: read and speed.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.