Minutes after his overtime goal won the USA Hockey High School National Championship title for Santa Margarita (Calif.) Catholic High School, Max Kilkuts had some kind words for the tournament’s hosts.
“The tournament was well run,” Kilkuts said. “They had everything down pat. It was a pleasure coming here.”
Sure, it would be difficult to imagine Kilkuts having anything negative to say after scoring the biggest goal of his life and wrapping up his high school career in the best way imaginable.
But Kilkuts’ words were echoed throughout the five-day event at the Saveology.com Iceplex.
While Santa Margarita were the winners on the ice, the South Florida host committee and the Saveology.com Iceplex shined as well.
“This is the fourth high school national tournament and in my opinion we keep improving every year on the host, on the players, the teams that come here, parents,” said Bob Mathson, the director of the high school section for USA Hockey. “It’s just been a fantastic event. The Florida folks have done a fantastic job behind the scenes and even up front in putting this together. It’s a tremendous facility. They’ve taken care of everybody extremely well. We have another benchmark for Omaha next year to try and reach and surpass.”
More than 100 staff members and volunteers ensured a smooth-running event, from the time it started on Wednesday to the end following the championship game Sunday at 10 a.m.
A total of 20 teams took part in the event, which featured 30 games in pool play and seven more in the championship round. Games were played both on the JetBlue Panthers Rink, where the Florida Panthers practice, and the South Florida Sinus and Allergy Center (SFSAC) Stadium Rink.
It was the second national championship hosted by the Panthers’ official practice facility. The first was the 2002 Under-14 National Championships.
“The hosting of a national championship is a special honor and privilege that only a few facilities can undertake,” said Jeff Campol, Panthers vice president and general manager of the Saveology.com Iceplex. “We are proud to be the first facility in the state of Florida to have hosted a national championship in April of 2002 and now hosting our second national championship we were excited and up to the task.
“The coordination with the national governing body, USA Hockey, and our local host organization, the Florida Scholastic Hockey League (FSHL), was critical to the overall success of the event. With the support of City of Coral Springs, Broward County, the Florida Sports Foundation and the Florida Panthers organization, we were able to put a strong team together and it showed in the overall success of the event on and off the ice.”
South Florida earned the right to host the 2013 USA Hockey High School Championship after putting in a bid.
The event was in its fourth year and previously had been held in Chicago twice and in Salt Lake City in 2012. Putting the event in South Florida clearly pleased several of the participating teams, particularly those from the North.
Based on all indications, a return engagement likely would be very well received.
“It’s really up to the Florida folks on that,” Mathson said. “They have to put the application in for it. Given what they’ve done here, I would have no problem coming back here again. Of course, I love the warm weather in the middle of March.”
Make no mistake, though, it wasn’t just the weather that made the event such a memorable one for all the teams involved. The folks who run the Saveology.com
Iceplex and the facility itself also deserve kudos.
Just check out what head coach Mario Chiacchia of John Jay High School in New York had to say.
“It’s 30 degrees and snowing at home,” Chiacchia said Friday morning at the end of pool play. “I enjoyed it. We’re having a great time. The kids are at the pool. We’ve been eliminated now; they’ll have a couple of days at the beach.
“This complex, too, is outstanding.”
Head coach Doug Dietz, whose Waterloo (Iowa) team lost in the final after winning the title in 2012, also was impressed with how the tournament was run. But it’s not like he ever had any doubts.
“You put a professional team in an area, whether it’s Florida or Arizona, California, any warm-weather states, the program around them is very solid,” Dietz said. “We had no reservations about what they were going to do. We knew it’d be first-class.”