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Team Wisconsin 15-year-olds Find Redemption With Nationals Berth

By Greg Bates, 03/28/17, 9:45AM MDT


Many players missed out on national championships last year as 14U squad

There’s a big bull’s-eye on the Team Wisconsin Youth Tier I 15-year-old team.

The squad has earned a reputation as one of the best teams in the country at its age level, but the Badger State players aren’t letting it affect them in the postseason.

“Anytime you’re up there, you’re going to get the opposing team’s best effort,” said Dan Francis, Team Wisconsin coach. “Everyone wants to knock off the No. 1 team. I tell the boys, ‘We have to be ready for that and we just have to elevate our game even more.’ It’s nice to be No. 1, but ultimately, you want to be No. 1 after the last game of the season. Every day we go out there and try to prove we are the No. 1 team by what we put on the ice and that’s working hard and doing a lot of the little things right.”

Team Wisconsin proved in the state competition and the USA Hockey Central District Tournament that it deserves to be among the best. The squad dominated the three games at districts, outscoring opponents 22-2 in winning the tournament held at the Blue Line Family Ice Center in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, on March 17-19.

Last year in the district tournament, Team Wisconsin 14U — which was comprised of a number of players on this year’s 15-year-old team — didn’t receive an at-large and missed out on Nationals.

“I think they had a little something they wanted to prove,” Francis said. “This year, we essentially took matters into our own hands and won the district so that way, we wouldn’t have to worry about getting an at-large bid.”

Team Wisconsin’s reward is a spot in the USA Hockey Youth Tier I 15-year-old National Championships in Scottsdale, Arizona on April 6-10.

“We were moving the puck really well,” Francis said. “For us, we have a split season, so it takes a little bit of time for us to get back together and get that chemistry back that we had in the fall season. During our state tournament, which was the prior weekend, you could definitely tell we hadn’t played together in four months. But I think it was part of the excitement and the group being back together and just working out some of those kinks and really everything clicked for us [at districts]. We were moving pucks really well, and when we had opportunities, we were making sure we put it in the back of the net.”

To prepare for the district tournament, Francis had his guys practice on Thursday and Friday mornings to work on specific elements of their game. That worked well.

Team Wisconsin beat Chicago Mission, 10-2, in the district opener before downing the St. Louis Junior Blues 5-0. With a trip to Nationals already secured, Team Wisconsin topped Omaha 7-0.

Francis thought his offense stood out more prominently than his defense during the tournament.

“Primarily because we were able to not have to defend very much, because our offense was going so well and we were recovering pucks like we should,” Francis said. “Generally, when your offense is clicking, you have to play less defense.”

But don’t overlook the defense that pitched two shutouts, led by the stellar goaltending of Max Gutjahr. He had plenty of help in front of him from his defensemen.

“We have a really good back end with six defensemen that are really pretty good,” Francis said. “Up front, that’s our advantage, we have a lot of guys that are similar. I think we play more of a team game than as individuals.”

Team Wisconsin’s potent offense has been led by its first line of Sam Stange, Cole Danielson and Drake Baldwin, who have combined for more than 70 goals this season.

“Usually when they’re out there, they’re pretty dominant together,” Francis said. “They possess a lot of pucks and get a lot of opportunities.”

Even with a two-week break before Nationals, Francis is hoping his team carries the momentum from its strong play at districts.

“The fact that we progressed a lot [at districts] and over the state tournament, I definitely feel that we’re coming in feeling better about ourselves,” Francis said. “But we're still understanding that there’s a lot of work to be done and we’ve got to be focused every day.”

Following up their dominant performance at districts, Team Wisconsin wants to show on the national stage that they are the best squad at the 15-year-old age level.

“We want to go there with one thing in mind; we want to play on Monday morning and hopefully come out with a national championship,” Francis said. “That’s the mindset that we’re focused on and that’s what we want to accomplish. We want to go there and make sure it’s all about taking care of business, because those are memories that really last a lifetime — playing together with a national-championship team. There’s high expectations, but we understand there’s a lot of work ahead of us. We’ve got to continue to be better every day and that’s what I say every day, ‘Every day should be better than the last.’ Just kind of preparing the right way and doing things the right way I think will give us a good chance.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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2017 USA Hockey National Championship Sites

Division Location Host Dates
Youth Tier I (14U) Scottsdale, Arizona Arizona Amateur Hockey April 6-10, 2017
Youth Tier I (15-year-olds only) Scottsdale, Arizona Arizona Amateur Hockey April 6-10, 2017
Youth Tier I (16U, 18U) Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Pittsburgh Penguins Elite April 6-10, 2017
Girls Tier I Rochester/Macomb, Michigan HoneyBaked Hockey Club April 6-10, 2017
Women's A, B, C Rochester/Macomb, Michigan HoneyBaked Hockey Club April 6-9, 2017
High School Cleveland, Ohio Cleveland Suburban Hockey March 22-26, 2017
Girls Tier II Troy, Michigan Troy Youth Hockey Association April 6-10, 2017
Youth Tier II (14U) Coral Springs, Florida Florida Panthers Ice Den April 6-10, 2017
Youth Tier II (16U) Frisco, Texas Texas Amateur Hockey April 6-10, 2017
Youth Tier II (18U) Lansing, Michigan Lansing Hockey Club April 6-10, 2017
Sled San Jose, California Sharks Ice April 6-9, 2017
Adult Rec Men's Wesley Chapel, Florida Florida Hospital Center Ice April 20-23, 2017
Adult Rec Women's Ellenton, Florida Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex April 27-30, 2017