The Thunder Hockey Club — a regional team from Atlanta, Nashville and Huntsville, Alabama — will represent the Southeastern District in the Toyota-USA Hockey Tier I 14U Youth National Championships after winning the district title on March 13 in Charleston, South Carolina.
For the Thunder, that means a 14-hour journey to Anchorage, Alaska.
“Economically, it’s probably not the best trip, but they’re excited kids when they don’t have to see the bills,” Thunder 14U coach Keith Rowe joked. “But they get to go to Alaska, too.”
This is the fourth year in a row the Thunder will compete at nationals in the 14U level.
“It’s been a good streak from our ’98s, and two of the teams advanced to the quarterfinals,” Rowe said. “They did well once they got there.”
In the 12 seasons the club has been around, a team has advanced to the national quarterfinals six times and the semifinals once.
The 14U group this year will make its first appearance on the national stage.
“I think for them, it’s a hard working core that’s been together and they got rewarded for four years of hard work,” Rowe said. “Peewee minors is where our program starts.”
The Thunder took care of business handily in the district tournament. The team downed the Washington Little Capitals 3-2 in the opener, and beat the Carolina Jr. Hurricanes 2-0 and Team Maryland 2-0 to close out round-robin play. In the championship, the Thunder got a goal from Brendan Ogle with an assist to Ethan DeMumbrum at the 2:46 mark of the opening period, and that held up. Goalie Logan Stein stopped all 14 shots he faced in a 1-0 victory.
“The last 10 periods, we didn’t give up a goal,” Rowe said. “That’s how our team is, very good defensively. We’re not a high-powered offensive team.”
Stein registered two of the shutouts and Synjen Amende, who split time all season with Stein, also earned a shutout.
The Thunder (36-21-5) have played well this season. With a grueling schedule, they lost some close games to top-notch competition.
In early November, the Thunder traveled to Faribault, Minnesota, to play top-ranked Shattuck-St. Mary’s School. The Sabres (46-5-3) had beaten the Thunder 5-0 just a month earlier and took them down three more times, 6-2, 7-2 and 5-1.
“After that weekend we took a step up with the pace we were used to,” Rowe said. “Those games will help us in [the national] tournament big time.”
At the end of January and early February, the Thunder played in a local tournament where they were able to take on three 16U teams, finishing 1-1-1. Another major test for the Thunder was Tier I Elite League contests in Minnesota where it went 2-2-1. The Thunder allowed just six goals in the five games, but scored just five times.
“That really helped us play better,” Rowe said.
The Thunder, who have outscored opponents 163-120 this season, are a defensive-minded club with a solid group of six blue liners. Ike Zeier and Dylan Moulton pace the defensive unit. Offensively, forwards Ogle and Noah Henry are a pair of the team’s top goal scorers.
The Thunder enter nationals riding a seven-game winning streak. Rowe would like to see his team get out of pool play and into the quarterfinals where, as he puts it, “anything can happen.”
The team has a difficult first-round opponent, Chicago Mission, on Thursday, March 31.
“I expect them to be nervous naturally, but after they get one or two shifts in I don’t expect them to play any differently,” Rowe said. “They shouldn’t be surprised by the talent level, they know that it’s high. We played enough good teams to be prepared for the teams we’re going to play.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.