ASHBURN, Va. -- The Toyota-USA Hockey High School National Championships have been two tournaments in one each of the last two seasons.
Although each consisted of 20 teams in five pools playing the same format, the Pure and Combined Divisions — for teams drawn from one or multiple high schools, respectively — headed down distinctly different paths.
The Pure Division was one tense game after another with seemingly little separating the teams, making it hard to spot a clear favorite through the first four days of the five-day event. The Combined Division saw several dominant efforts, leading to anticipated later battles once the strongest teams got to elimination rounds.
Between pool play and elimination brackets, each division needed 37 games to determine a champion.
The Pure Division had nine overtime games to just four by the Combined Division, which only had two among its 30 pool games.
The Pure Division had a total of 13 one-goal games, compared to 9 in the Combined Division. There were 20 games — more than half — decided by two goals or less in the Pure Division and only 12 in the Combined Division with the gap larger, 15-7, in pool play.
No team managed to go unbeaten in the Pure Division, with only the Brookings Rangers going 3-0 in pool play before losing in the semifinals.
Four of the five Combined Division pools were won by teams going 3-0 to sweep: J.W. Mitchell (Florida), Boulder/Monarch (Colorado), Frisco (Texas) and the Omaha (Nebraska) Lancers.
Downingtown East (Pennsylvania) became the first Atlantic District representative to participate in high school nationals and went 2-1, beating eventual Pure Division finalist Edina (Minnesota) in pool play.
The format gives more standings points to regulation wins than overtime wins, and getting both its wins in overtime cost Downingtown East a chance to advance.
Maryland teams were represented for the first time with the tournament held in nearby northern Virginia.
Winston Churchill made the biggest impression, advancing to the Pure Division semifinals.
Tom Garavaglia, community hockey manager for the Tampa Bay Lightning, was among those in attendance for all five days of the tournament.
Garavaglia’s presence continued the National Hockey League team’s support of high school and youth hockey.
The Lightning has offered significant support of Tampa-area high school hockey for most of the last decade. This season, the NHL team took over full ownership and operation of the league, which switched its name from the Lightning Conference to Lightning High School Hockey League.
Lightning alumni and management lend their support to the league as volunteers with Garavaglia serving as vice president.
One of the Combined Division national semifinals matched teams from the LHSHL against each other with eventual champion J.W. Mitchell getting past Manatee, 6-5.
“We have two of the top four teams, which is pretty incredible,” Garavaglia said.
Garavaglia said efforts to grow the game continue.
The Lightning plans to hand out 100,000 street hockey sticks in a five-year period, starting this season. So far, 22,000 sticks have been distributed at 95 schools, according to Garavaglia.
The higher-scoring games of the Combined Division meant that all the tournament’s statistical leaders came from that division.
Lucas Sowder of national champion J.W. Mitchell led with 22 goals and 32 points. Teammate Nathan Smith led with 16 assists and goalie Jacob Serpe was the only one with six wins.
Blake Bride had 13 goals for Combined runner-up Boulder/Monarch.
The Pure Division leaders included Tyler Schaeffer with 15 points for the Edwardsville (Missouri) Tigers. Teammate Tyler Hinterser had nine goals to share the division goal lead from Cade Groton from the Stone Bridge (Virginia) Bulldogs.
Ryan Leibold, also from Stone Bridge, led with 10 assists.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.