ASHBURN, Va. — With a roster populated by kids from throughout the state of Florida, from Fort Myers to Jacksonville, Florida Alliance 14U won its first ever Southeastern District Tier I District Tournament title on March 18 at the Ashburn Ice House in Ashburn, Virginia.
The Alliance (27-13-0) went 2-1 in round-robin play preceding the title match, a 7-4 decision over Team Maryland that was closer than the score indicated.
Aaron Schwartz scored four goals for Florida while Thierry Jackson Graber doled out a pair of assists, then tallied the championship-punctuating goal into an empty net. Goaltender Jacob Fowler registered 18 saves.
“The emotion’s pretty high,” said Fowler. “Everyone’s feeling really good right now, getting ready for nationals.”
Making it to the district championship — let alone winning it — came as something of a surprise to Alliance 14U’s veteran head coach Ryan Brindley.
“As a first-year 14U team, it’s kind of surprising to get to this point,” said Brindley. “But what this group has done over the last five years is unprecedented.”
Both Brindley and Fowler alluded to the Alliance as a younger team than their competition.
“It’s not something that happens every day, for a team that’s younger than everybody to come in and win the tournament,” Fowler said. “Hockey’s really grown a lot in Florida and people are playing it more.”
Brindley noted that while his squad’s competition has been 14U major, Alliance 14U is a 14U minor team comprised exclusively of players born in 2004.
As it turned out, that didn’t matter.
“This is another big win for them. It’s pretty cool because they were a little nervous, a little uneasy about playing bigger, stronger kids,” the head coach said. “But they stuck with it and I’m very proud of them. They played awesome.”
Facing Team Maryland, a squad they’d defeated 5-2 at the Haymarket IcePlex two days before, Alliance 14U notched the game-opening goal when Jake Richard walked in, deked goalie Austin Zavoda down, and rolled the puck home for an unassisted marker.
The teams traded the next four goals as Blake Andreoni and Schwartz scored for Florida, and Kyle Radimer and Ethan Ouyang helped Maryland keep pace.
Team Maryland knotted the affair with two quick goals midway through the third period, but Schwartz found the the twine again to put Florida Alliance on top for good.
Schwartz added a highlight-reel goal on a penalty shot late in the third, juking left to open up the net to the right and sliding it in with his forehand.
The defense in front of Fowler allowed just six shots on goal for the entire third period.
“Jacob’s been playing really well since Christmastime,” said Brindley of his netminder. “He’s been a leader on the team since he was six years old. But they play so well as a group. It was just a team effort.”
It was 16 happy players who excitedly accepted their medals as Southeastern District Tier I 14U champions. The district crown signifies the growth of the youth programs of the Statewide Amateur Hockey of Florida.
“There are a lot of northern transplants down in Florida,” said Brindley, a Canada native. “But Florida has unbelievable athletes and unbelievable hockey players. It’s about keeping them in Florida.”
Florida Alliance 14U now readies for the Chipotle-USA Hockey Tier I 14U Nationals, set for April 5-9 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“This is a special group of kids,” Brindley said. “The characteristics that you learn from the game of hockey carry on in life. Like I just said in the locker room, ‘You guys are winners, you find ways to win, and you’re going to be like that the rest of your lives.’ This is another example of the character of these kids.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc