A common chorus at tournaments of all levels, in all sports around the country is simple: we were just happy to play.
The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc in the sports world in 2020, and will continue into 2021, even as the virus begins to lose its grip on the world.
Youth travel hockey was one of many sports to sustain, culminating in the state championships for five local Irish Youth Hockey League teams earlier this month.
The IYHLs Irish Rovers 14U AA, 14U A, 12U AA, 12U A teams as well as the IYHLs 8U B Team all won state titles in their respective divisions from March 5-7 at locations in Fort Wayne and Westfield, Ind.
From the start of a uniquely challenging year, the IYHL was determined to safely complete a season in the midst of a pandemic.
The whole goal was to get these kids to play hockey, said IYHL chairman Nick Dames. Find a way, come up with a system, come up with a protocol to get these kids on the ice, keep playing and having fun.
Brian Troester, coach of the Rovers 12U AA team and former league chairman, said some teams in the league played more games this year than in normal years.
We usually play a maximum of 40 to 45 games, Troester said. My team, believe it or not, played 54 games this year. Most of those games were in South Bend against teams from Michigan and Illinois. Due to the conditions in their states, they came down to play us in the Ice Box.
The Ice Box Skating Rink in South Bend hosts most of the IYHL’s competitions and activities from September to March.
Troester’s 12U AA team headed 4-0-1 to win the state title on March 7 at Fort Wayne. The 12U AA team consisted of top scorers Patrick Amico, Connor Kranenberg and Nolan Cline. Jackson Troester, Evan Balint and goalkeeper Noah Schultz led the team’s defense.
The 12U AA teams are running for a title, including a 4-4 draw with PSM Force 2008 (Fort Wayne), a 2-1 win over Indy Junior Fuel Gold, a 6-1 win over Columbus (Ind.) Flames A, a 3-1 win over Indy Fuel and a 3-0 win in the championship game against the same PSM Force team they’d had a draw with a few days earlier.
My team played very well, said Troester. We were in Cleveland the week before we played a high-level game from Ohio and Michigan and I think that really helped us compete in the state tournament. I think we’ve played our best hockey in the last few weeks of the season and that’s what you want.
Next year, we want to go back to promoting the family atmosphere that is usually there in the Ice Box and in Notre Dames Compton Ice Arena, Dames said. For those who are younger and still not sure you can play hockey in this pandemic ) era, it can be done and we’ve done it all year round.
State Tournament Championships: 16U Capital: PSM (Fort Wayne) Force 6, Junior Fuel Gold 5.14U Cardinal: Irish Rovers AA 3, PSM Force 2006 0.14U Brickyard: Irish Rovers A 3, Bloomington Blades 2.14U Hoosier: Columbus Flames 2 , PSM Force Select 1.12U Cardinal: Irish Rovers AA 3, PSM Force 2008 0.12U Brickyard: Irish Rovers A 3, PSM Force 2009 1.12U Hoosier: PSM Force Select 4, Indy Junior Fuel Red 2.10U Capital: PSM Force 2010 4, Indy Junior Fuel AAA 2.10U Cardinal: Indy Junior Fuel Gold 4, PSM Force 2011 2.10U Brickyard: Evansville Thunder 7, Irish Rovers A 2.10U Hoosier: Indy Junior Fuel All-Stars Carmel 3, Columbus Flames Smith 2.8U Cardinal: Indy Junior Fuel All-Stars Fishers 7, PSM Force Select Blue 2.8U Brickyard: Irish Select B 3, PSM Force Select Gray 2
Irish Rovers 14U AA: Staff: Chris Laware (head coach), Nick Dames (coach), Ryan Yewchuk (coach), Ryan Jessen (manager). Selection: Owen Balint, Mason Braun, Brooks Clark, Joel Cocquyt, Cameron Dames, Brody Damrill, Colten Donze, Henry Gillin, Dylan Haines, Sullivan Hauser, Preston Jessen, Gavyn Klopenstine, Sebastian Kogl, Drew Laware, Benjamin Nevala, Jack Yewchuk, Saul Zabukovic
Irish Rovers 14U A: Staff: Derik Little (coach), Shawn Lewis (coach), Deann Degulski (manager), Vince Workman (manager). Selection: Grant Little, Tate Guyton, Evan Yates, Colton Edman, Caden Smith, Tyler Albano, Jacob Barber, Owen Demoss, Mitchell Fimbel, Bennett Hartford, Ian Head, Trevor Hull, Jacob Hums, Brayden Lewis, Cole Strick, Maximus Workman, Marko Zielinski
Irish Rovers 12U AA: Staff: Brian Troester (head coach), Bryan Cline (assistant), Bryan Harrell (assistant), Jason Hix (assistant), Jon Schultz (goalkeeper coach). Bernadette Amico (manager). Selection: Michael Cook III, Cooper Roos, Connor Kranenburg, Mason Zimmerman, Grady Harrell, Jacob Hix, Jordan Stocky, Noah Schultz, Patrick Amico, Benjamin Clark, Evan Balint, Beckham Rhame, Jackson Troester, Jackson Briones, Mason Maurer, Nolan Cline
Irish Rovers 12U A: Staff: Sly Daigle (head coach), Matt Draper (assistant), Mary Rumble (manager). Selection: Amzy Roose, Haakon Rumble, Zachary Collins, Carter Joo, Jaxton Geisel, Evan Marler, James Drew Draper, Finley Jones, Samuel Frick, Nolan Kucera, Vincent Chlupacek, Thomas Hornback, Olo Sormin, Eli Shumaker, Jaxon Daigle, Oliver Hix , Cole Dame
Irish Select 8U B: Staff: Bret Forsyth (Head Coach), Jon Jozwiak (Assistant Coach), Jay Rizzi (Assistant Coach), Dave Birchmeier (Assistant Coach) Selection: Jacob Bogunia, Camden Forsyth, Luca Pagano, Colton Birchmeier, Nicholas Peterson, Donato Rizzi, Hudson Coppins, Abram Berta, John Alcock III, Tate Jozwiak, Wilson Ye