Team South Dakota Makes Statement
Team South Dakota does not see any of the competition at the Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 16U Nationals during the season.
Conversely, none of the other contenders in Division 1A have a chance to get a look at Team South Dakota, which does not show up in national rankings because it only plays a fall schedule limited to taking on high school teams in the Dakotas and Minnesota.
The only thing to go on prior to Thursday’s openers is Team South Dakota’s illustrious recent history in the event.
Now, there’s a bit more.
Team South Dakota opened the championships Thursday with a 12-2 rout of 2016 national champion Team Wyoming in one of the four Division 1A games that were played at Floyd Hall Arena in nearby Little Falls.
The Division 1A teams joined Divisions 2A and 3A at the Ice Vault Friday and will remain there for the rest of the tournament, which runs through Friday. Team South Dakota continued its strong start over at the Ice Vault with a 10-1 romp over the Oklahoma City Oil Kings.
Team South Dakota was the most successful Tier II 16U team over the past five years. It won 1A titles in 2012, 2014 and 2015 and reached the semifinals last year. When Team South Dakota was moved up to 2A in 2016, it went 1-2 in pool play, including a loss to the champion Maine Moose in the tournament’s last stop at the Ice Vault.
“I would say we have the same high-end talent,” said Zach Jurgens, an assistant coach on two of the state championship teams. “We have good team chemistry and this team is deeper than the teams we’ve had over the years.
“Our top-two lines are very talented, very high speed and our third and fourth lines are deep. This is the first year that we’ve had five actual defensemen. In past years, we’ve had to switch forwards in and have them end up playing defense.”
Team South Dakota, formed out of summer tryouts, went 0-6 in two Minnesota Elite Prep Tournaments, but dominated high school teams from around the state. During the winter season, the players from Team South Dakota play on their high school teams.
“The assistant coach and I, the parents and all the kids on the team have the expectation that we’re leaving here as a successful team,” Jurgens said.
Nate Mohr, a sophomore who helped Sioux Falls win its league and reach the state high school championship game, had a hat trick during a seven-goal first period in the opener.
Braden Malwitz, who had two assists, and Spencer Weldin, who had one, each completed their hat tricks while Team South Dakota was opening an 8-0 lead with 6:30 left in the second period of the win over Oklahoma City.
The Delaware Ducks beat the same two teams, also hitting double figures in goals in both games, allowing both Delaware and Team South Dakota to clinch berths in the Division 1A semifinals before they meet in Saturday’s 5 p.m. finale to their American pool schedule.
Although not as dominant, the Park City Ice Miners and Charleston Junior Stingrays have also started 2-0 to clinch the two semifinal berths from the national pool before they meet Saturday.
The Neponset Valley (Massachusetts) River Rats, who arrived without a single player with any nationals experience, played in the tournament’s first game at 8 a.m. Thursday morning and scored twice in the first 8:47.
Playing together in a game for the first time since November, the River Rats went on to a 4-1 win over Littleton (Colorado) Minor behind two goals by Dominic Froio and 33 saves by Ryan Forget.
“For me, when it’s 2-0, I’m still playing the same way,” Forget said. “I’m a little more relaxed, but I’m still on top of my game.”
Froio, who plays prep school hockey in Rhode Island during the winter, led the River Rats in scoring during their fall regular season.
When two more games joined in on other rinks at the Ice Vault, the first three games featured strong goaltending.
“We alternated goalies every game,” Neponset Valley head coach Drew Michaels said. “Between Ryan and Alex Cardonick, I think it’s one of the better one-two punches in the country. Ryan played great. That’s how he’s played all year. When we’ve needed him to steal a game, he’d steal a game.
“In a tournament like this, if your goalies get hot, you have a good chance of winning.”
Casey Hooper kept the New Jersey Bandits off the scoreboard for the last two periods and finished with 22 saves to lead the Massena/St. Lawrence (New York) Thunder to a 3-1 win.
Benjamin Speyer made 44 saves for the Ashburn (Virginia) Xtreme, keeping them ahead into the third period before they eventually fell to the Armstrong (Pennsylvania) Arrows, 3-2, in overtime.
Others continued the strong work in goal later.
Kyle Westfall had 33 saves Thursday when the New Hampshire Avalanche defeated the McKinney North Stars, 2-1, in overtime.
Brenden Gassaway from the Maine Moose and Kenneth Turelli from the Highland Park Falcons each stopped 26 of 27 shots in opening day wins.
The first day ran longer than planned when two morning games were moved to the end of the schedule to accommodate travel problems for the Tampa Scorpions and Anaheim Junior Ducks, each of which wound up losing in the last two Ice Vault games of the day.
After their win in the first game of Thursday morning, the Neponset Valley River Rats completed their day as fans at a National Hockey League game after the team’s parents obtained tickets for the New Jersey Devils-Toronto Maple Leafs game.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc