Recap from Arizona!

by Daryn Goodwin

After a frustrating and mentally taxing 9 months, we were very excited to be back in action this weekend at Barney’s Family Sports Complex in Queen Creek, Arizona.  Relaunching the Pacific Cup Tournament Series in the middle of a pandemic that has no end in sight was not easy, and at moments very questionable.  With the help of motivated coaches, parents, players, and great facility cooperation, the tournament would not only happen, but prove to be a tremendous success.

It was not a huge tournament like most events that we’re used to hosting.  It only takes about 20 teams to fill a weekend at a single rink facility.  Teams from Oregon, Northern California, Southern California, and Arizona provided a great mix of teams that were for the most part, unfamiliar with each other.  It’s safe to say that the teams from outside of Arizona have never played in a roller hockey tournament in Arizona. 

Suspenseful games and incredible finishes were the norm, not the exception.  Last second goals, sprawling saves to secure a victory and kids leaving everything on the rink for their teammates and coaches.  We also found out that parents can still cheer loud and be heard clearly through their masks.  It was a tremendously rewarding weekend since we’ve been trying so hard to have tournaments with no luck. 

Here’s a brief recap for each division.

8u – The Arizona Jr Wildcats and Knighthawks would face off against each other in our youngest division offered.  I got the sense that both teams had a combination of ice players with not a ton of roller hockey experience, but super excited to play.  They played two very competitive games, but in the end the result would be the same.  In the first game the Jr Wildcats would jump out to a commanding 4-1 lead, only to have the Knighthawks storm back with 5 straight goals to secure a 6-4 win.

The second game had a similar rhythm, with the Jr Wildcats again jumping out to an early 4-1 lead, only to see it disappear.  The second half was all Knighthawks as they’d take the championship by a final of 8-5.  Shots on net were very equal in both games and the action was to and fro throughout. 

The reaction of the players and parents throughout these two games was beyond entertaining.  Incredible celebrations after every goal, and there were a lot of goals!   Parents going absolutely nuts, but in a good way.  At one point an over excited dad/coach started lifting players over the boards onto the surface for shift changes, because it proved to be way faster than using the door.   I think it’s safe to say we have some new solid young players and parents hooked on the sport and can’t wait for these teams to have more teams to compete against in the very near future.

10u – 4 teams would make up this division and it would be pretty clear that the OC Blades and Silent Knights are a little more experienced than the Konixx Mutiny and AZ Junior Wildcats.  The Blades and Knights would tie their preliminary matchup 2-2, setting up an exciting rematch for the gold championship game.  The Konixx Mutiny and AZ Junior Wildcats would also tie their last preliminary game against each other 6-6, so the silver championship game looked promising to be competitive as well.

The AZ Junior Wildcats would jump out to an early 2-0 lead in the silver championship against the Konixx Mutiny.  The Mutiny would overcome the early deficit and I thought this would be another epic battle between these two equally matched teams.  With less than 10 minutes to play in the game, the Wildcats held a 4-3 lead.  Call it luck, or skill, or both, the Wildcats seem to get the bounces as this game wore on.   The Mutiny would hit a couple of crossbars that would go bar out, instead of bar in.  The Wildcats were relentless with their efforts all over the rink.  Late in the game there was a goal saving backcheck that I remember clearly due to the effort.  The Wildcats may have just wanted it more.  Ultimately, they’d win this championship title by a final of 7-4.   Gavin Molina had 2 goals and 2 assists in the championship for the AZ Junior Wildcats.

In the gold championship, the Silent Knights were not so silent, and proved to be a little too deep for the OC Blades.  Devin Werbach saved 12 of the 14 shots he faced in net for the Knights, and Kaylee Lehmkuhl and Jaxon Tran lead the charge with 2 goals each, as the Knights defeated the Blades by a final score of 6-2 to take home the gold title.  The OC Blades are a great team and I’m sure would like another crack at the Silent Knights in the very near future.  Kaleb Adams from the OC Blades would take home the high scorer honors with 7 pts, while Devin from the Knights would put up an impressive 93% save percentage as the top goalie in the division. 

12u – This would be our largest division with 6 teams competing.  It was pretty evident from the start that the Knighthawks were in a league of their own.  I’ve seen many of these kids spend the last 4-5 years playing together at NARCh, and with each year that passes and event I they play, they just get stronger and jell together.  The Oregon Rollin Reign were clearly the 2nd best of the 6 teams.  Team X, AZ Junior Wildcats, OC Blades 09, and OC Blades R08 would prove to be evenly matched, as they had some epic battles between them throughout the weekend. 

Take the AZ Junior Wildcats for example.  They would lose their first game to the OC Blades R08 4-1, but then tie OC Blades 09, 7-7, and tie Team X, 8-8.  This would land them in the silver semi-final were they just fell short on their rematch against the Blades R08 by a final of 5-4. 

In the other silver semifinal, Team X and the OC Blades 09 would exchange leads multiple times in one of our many exciting high scoring games of the weekend.  Up 7-6 with less than a minute to play, the Blades would add an empty netter to seal the deal 8-6.  #89 Cade Savoini for Team X was a standout that was tough to contain, with 11 points through the preliminary games and 4 of the 6 points for Team X in the playoff.  Cade would deservingly take home the high scorer honors for the 12u division.

It felt like old times seeing two OC Blades Teams facing off against each other in a championship game.  I thought it may feel a little anticlimactic for each squad heading into this game, since they’re from the same organization and may even practice together.  Watching the game play out, I didn’t get that same sense, as both teams battled as hard as they did in any prior game.  Maybe harder, since internal bragging rights were on the line. 

Tied 3-3 late, Joanne Park would score what would ultimately be the game winner.  Coach of the 09’s Will Sheppard would pull the goalie and with an extra attacker the younger team would have zone pressure, until the very end as Elijah Ochoa would seal the deal with an empty net goal with only about 10 seconds remaining.  OC Blades R08 would take home gold, and bragging rights.  5-3 final.

14u – The two most equally matched teams in this 4-team division are the Oregon Rollin Reign and Team X, from Prescott, AZ.   In their first matchup Team X would prevail 3-2, despite being heavily outshot.  Team X Goalie Gavin Lupo was a standout that game, saving 21 of the 23 shots he faced.

The two teams would face each other again for the silver championship and this time the Reign would strike early and often to jump out to a commanding 3-0 lead.  This would be one of our more physical games of the tournament with 6 penalties in total, 4 going against Team X.   Bodies were banging, but not necessarily in a cheap way.  Kids just wanted to win and battled hard throughout.  Team X brought it late, but the big early lead was just too much to overcome.  Final score, 4-3, and the two Reign Teams would take gold and silver medals back to Oregon.  It’s worth noting that there were 4 different goal scorers for the Reign, with Benny Davidson scoring the game winner, assisted by Braydon Payne.

The two most talented teams in this event in the 14u division were the Yuma Blaze and OC Blades.  Yuma would beat both the Rollin Reign and Team X, but the OC Blades proved to be too much.  The Blades would go undefeated through the weekend, with their two most competitive games coming against the Blaze.  In their two matchups, The OC Blades defeated the Blaze 3-0, then again 6-2 in the championship game.  Cole Gebhart did walk away with the high scorer honors for the Yuma Blaze with 8 points, but the Blades are a very balanced squad with 5 different goal scorers in the championship game and solid goaltending from Chris Martinez, who walked away with Top Goalie honors.

The 16u division was the most balanced division of any in the tournament, at least until the end.  Konixx AZ would go 2-0-1 through the round-robin, while the Yuma Blaze and OC Blades would end up 1-1-1, and the Konixx Mutiny 0-2-1.  3 out of the 6 round robin games ended in a tie, while the other 3 games were 2 goal games, with empty net goals.   Since the OC Blades beat the Yuma Blaze, they would get the nod due to the head-to-head tie breaker rule to face Konixx AZ in the gold championship.

In the championship game, Konixx AZ standout Liam Wilde would put his team on the board first and we would see about 10 minutes of scoreless play until our next goal, which was rare in this high scoring tournament.  The next goal scored would easily be the highlight of the event.   Kenny Silhan of the Blades would skate behind the net with the puck, and in one motion scoop and throw it over the net with is stick blade to his teammate Vince Keller, who very cleanly batted the puck out of the air into the net past the clearly confused Konixx goaltender.  (the video is up on NARCh Players Instagam if you would like to see it)

Tied 1-1, going into the second half.  Once again Konixx AZ would take the lead, and the OC Blades would answer.  Tied at 2, a Konixx AZ player would take one of the more selfish penalties I witnessed all weekend and Wallace Stirbu from the Blades would capitalize on the powerplay with a wrist shot, walking in on from the point on the power play.  Wallace would add another goal and the OC Blades would take another championship by a final of 4-2. 

The 16u silver championship was our most lopsided championship, unfortunately.  The Yuma Blaze had defeated the Konixx Mutiny 6-4 earlier in an extremely competitive game with even scoring opportunities for each team.  The championship game however was a different story, and the Mutiny had zero answers for the Blaze.  I’ve seen it many times before, as one team comes out extremely flat and the other team rolling, which leads to a very lopsided affair.  Being outshot by a ratio of 3-1, the Konixx Mutiny left the weekend on a bit of a downer, while the Yuma Blaze probably feel that they could have won either division, since they were competitive in every game and dominated this game, winning 8-0.  Austin Estes had a hand in 6 of the 8 Yuma Goals. 

In closing, it was an epic weekend!  I can’t thank everyone enough for putting in the effort to make this weekend a success.  From all the teams that traveled in, to our hard working and professional referees and scorekeepers, to the facility staff.  It was a tremendous team effort in these very trying times.  We can’t wait to do it again and hope your team can be a part of the next tournament.

Last note.  We are still working on videos, so stay tuned to our social media for more highlights.  Also, we hope to make another announcement next week about events in the very near future.

Thank you for your participation and continued support!

Daryn Goodwin