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USA Hockey Girls National Championships a success at area rinks

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars
The Dallas Stars may have spent the past week-plus on a road trip, but there was still plenty of competitive hockey being played in the Metroplex.

With the USA Hockey Girls Tier II National Championship tournament taking place at some of the local Dr Pepper StarCenter rinks, in four different age groups, it was a busy weekend that culminated in four national title games on Sunday.

As hosts of the tournament, the local Alliance Bulldogs organization fielded teams in each of the four age groups (12-and-under, U14, U16 and U19), and their U19 squad fulfilled its mission by winning its second straight national championship.

By all accounts, it was a very successful event.

“Everything’s gone great,” said Sandy Fielder, the tournament chairman. “I’ve talked to coaches, I’ve talked to parents, players, everyone seems happy with the location, with the facilities. No complaints at this point. Anything that we did have a problem with was small and was able to be solved quickly.”

“I hope they hold it again, I hope we have a chance to come back here again,” added Tom Ruggeiro, head coach of the U14 Buffalo Regals, who advanced to the championship game. “It was first-class from the time that we arrived, all the way through the end of the tournament. They were gracious, everything ran smoothly. They did a fantastic job, I can’t say enough about them.”

The tournament utilized three different Dr Pepper StarCenters, with the newest one in McKinney hosting the four championship games. The Dr Pepper Arena in Frisco hosted some games, with the Dallas Stars’ practice rink (which would have been idle anyway, with the Stars out of town) also getting some use, as well as the Farmers Branch Dr Pepper StarCenter.

Fielder, who worked closely with USA Hockey’s Donna Kaufman to coordinate the event, identified scheduling the ice time for so many games as one of the biggest logistical hurdles to be solved during the week.

“We were originally supposed to have ice over at the Plano StarCenter, but then it closed,” she said. “The Stars obviously own all the rinks, so we had to work with them on the ice scheduling, and if any teams wanted practice ice and stuff like that when they came in. Without their help, obviously, we wouldn’t have been able to pull this off. We used the Frisco rink, but we still kept some of the ice slots open in case any of the injured players needed to come and skate. We just kind of scheduled around it.”

“This has been excellent,” added Karl Schoech, head coach of the San Jose Jr. Sharks’ U16 squad that lost in the final. “Donna Kaufman, I’ve known Donna for probably 8-10 years, she does a phenomenal job, and the Alliance people - it’s difficult to run a tournament in three different facilities, that is very difficult. Everything went very smoothly. The officiating is as good as officiating can be and I respect that, they did a good job. It’s a well-run program.”

In fact, Schoech pointed out that with San Jose hosting the Girls Tier II tournaments next year, that there were many elements to how it was run by the Alliance that they would like to copy in 2013.

“We had a representative from the Sharks here to be at all the facilities and stuff like that,” said Schoech, whose team won three overtime games, including the semi-final, to reach the U16 title game. “Plus, we had two teams here as well, we had the U12 and U16, so we had a lot of parents watching and a lot of support.”

On the ice, the local teams enjoyed varying degrees of success, with the U19 squad faring the best, as they rolled through the tournament by winning all six of their games by a combined score of 36-9, including a 5-2 win over the Colorado Tigers Elite Prep team in the final.

“We just always say it’s really tough to get to the top, but it’s probably twice as hard to accomplish it two years in a row,” said Alliance U19 coach Stan Tugolukov. “We got lucky, we worked really hard to make it happen, and I think that was our reward for working really hard through the whole season and I’m real happy for the girls to accomplish that goal. It was real hard games out there, we never gave up. We used all players on our roster in that win, every single player had some input on it, so that’s probably the most exciting thing.”

Having the home ice advantage also seemed to be a benefit for the U19 team, with the South rink at the McKinney Dr Pepper StarCenter jam-packed with a raucous mix of friends and family cheering them on in the title game.

“The place was packed and that makes it a lot of fun,” Tugolukov said. “Obviously, there’s a little pressure because the girls wanted to play their very best in front of their parents and friends and peers from school.”

“Friends come and support, which is the best feeling ever,” added U19 defenseman Carrie Atkinson, who scored four goals and 10 points in the tournament. “They make signs for you and your family can be there for you. It was great.”

That was one issue that served as kind of a double-edged sword for some of the Alliance players. The positive was that they were on home ice, in familiar surroundings, and had the chance to play elite-level hockey in front of their friends and family. But on the other hand, perhaps some of the pride and sense of the monumental accomplishment playing in the nationals represents was missing. They didn’t have to win tournaments to qualify and they didn’t get to enjoy the adventure of traveling to another city and experiencing a new environment.

“I think the players, having it local, I actually had one of them tell me it wasn’t as fun, because they’re not doing the whole hotel/traveling experience, but they’re still excited,” Fielder noted. “They’re still getting nervous before their games. It’s still exciting, it’s a different level of excitement, because now they have friends here, which they’ve never had before, friends and family.”

“A few girls, this is their first opportunity for the experience of a national tournament,” said Alliance U16 coach David Horn, whose squad lost in the quarterfinals, falling in overtime to the Potsdam Ice Storm. “They may not realize it just how special it really is to be able to go to a national tournament. I think the majority of the girls, though, were on the U14 team last year, so we had a good eight or nine of them who played in the tournament last year, so they’re familiar with having to earn the right, win the Rocky Mountain District, to go on to Nationals.”

In other age groups, the Alliance U14 squad went 1-2-0, with their lone victory coming in a 5-4 shootout win over the Greenwich Skating Club Wings, and did not advance to the quarterfinal.

The U12 group lost all three of their games by a combined score of 8-2, although they did extend the Livonia Knights, a team from the Detroit suburb that Mike Modano was born in, to overtime before succumbing.

A rundown of the championship games:
U19 – Alliance Bulldogs 5, Colorado Tigers Elite Prep 2
U16 – Connecticut Polar Bears 4, San Jose Jr. Sharks 3
U14 – Alaska Icebreakers 2, Buffalo Regals 1
U12 – Glenview (Ill.) Stars 3, West Seneca (NY) Wings 0

Congratulations to all the competitors on a great season.

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