There’s been a lot of buzz lately around the Detroit HoneyBaked girls 14U Tier I team.
Daily messages via text or email go out between players and coaches. A common tagline to close out a message has become #Boston.
The girls are focused on heading to the Chipotle-USA Hockey Girls Tier I 14U Nationals, which will be held this year in the Boston suburb of Marlborough, Massachusetts, on April 5-9.
“The organization and the team is very excited to continue to work and finish our goals that we’ve set this season,” HoneyBaked coach Geoff Bennetts said.
The HoneyBaked 14U squad competed at nationals last year since it hosted, so it got a free ticket into the tournament. This year was more special for the players to punch their own ticket to the big stage.
“It was a goal for the girls from Day 1 to win [the USA Hockey Michigan District Tournament] and earn our right there with an automatic bid to the national tournament, and we were able to accomplish that earlier in March,” Bennetts said.
HoneyBaked played well in the state tournament held at the Taylor Sportsplex in Taylor, Michigan. It downed Belle Tire and Meijer by a combined score of 18-4 to set up a showdown with Little Caesars. Since Little Caesars won its first two games, it would play HoneyBaked in a best two-out-of-three championship series.
The two teams are quite familiar with each other. They faced off four times during the regular season with HoneyBaked scoring three wins.
“The two organizations battle all the time, they’re always close games,” Bennetts said. “They’re always intense. The girls have gotten to know each other over the years. They have some friendships off the ice and they definitely battle hard on the ice, which is what the game’s all about. You can be friends off the ice and hang out and when the puck drops you battle as hard as you can against your opponent.”
In Game 1, HoneyBaked eked out a 3-2 win. The next day on March 4, HoneyBaked pulled off a 4-2 victory to claim the state championship.
Bennetts saw a confident group of skaters during the state tournament.
“I think their ability to manage the game as far as never getting too high, never getting too low,” Bennetts said. “Whether we gave up the first goal, which we did on Sunday morning, and being able to battle back and score to take the lead — staying even-keel and continuing to play the game that we set out to play.”
It was a balanced effort from Bennetts’ team as well. That’s exactly what the girls had all season.
“We’re very fortunate enough to have two solid goaltenders,” Bennetts said. “We have a veteran primarily second-year defensive core as well as good leadership with our forwards. Having that balance and being able to rely on our goalies in big situations when we need them and knowing that we can get some goal scoring at times and put some goals on the board has really been a key to our success this year.”
Bennetts said he has a great group of players to work with, which has made the season run smoothly.
“Having a cohesive group of players that enjoy being around each other every day and parents that get along just adds to the enjoyment of the hockey season,” Bennetts said. “We’re very fortunate we’re able to do that within our team this year.”
HoneyBaked (30-17-4) has had all but three of its players compete at nationals either at the Tier I or II levels. The girls won their first game last year at nationals before dropping the next two and failing to advance to the semifinals.
“I think being able to pull upon some of our experience from last year, both success and failures will help the kids in preparation both mentally and physically,” said Bennetts, who coached the 14Us last season at nationals. “It’s the national tournament for a reason, it’s the best competition in the country, so it will be good.”
Coming up short of winning a national title last year leaves the HoneyBaked players a little hungrier for greater success this time around.
“Having a taste of it last year and seeing the competition and the great atmosphere is something we’re very much looking forward to again this year,” Bennetts said.
HoneyBaked, which had the hardest schedule in the country at its age level, has been tested all season. It has played five of the top nine ranked teams and sported a 7-4-1 record in those games. However, the team has not faced off against the top two teams, MN Green Giants and Assabet Valley.
HoneyBaked will open nationals against Pittsburgh Pens Elite, a team it tied 0-0 in mid-February. It will play the East Coast Wizards in the second day and take on Team Wisconsin, which it split a pair of games with during the regular season.
“I definitely think that our mindset going into this national tournament is definitely that we have a shot,” Bennetts said. “If we continue to play the game like we have, and the girls play with the confidence they’re playing with right now, I believe that we can compete with any team in the country.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.