In their final tournament tune up before the USA Hockey Tier-1 National Championships, the 16U team took to the ice at the Premier Ice Prospects Hoosier Fest in Fort Wayne, IN (April 2-4). Playing against top ranked teams, Team Colorado made a strong statement that they will be ready to compete for youth hockey's ultimate prize. After leaving Indiana, head coach Joe Delich responded confidently when asked about their upcoming readiness heading to nationals: “Our girls reinforced for themselves that they can skate with the best.”
Facing off against 18th ranked Detroit Belle Tire, TC lost a hard fought game-one heartbreaker 1-0. After a scoreless back and forth battle for almost three complete periods, Belle Tire found the back of the net with just under five minutes left in the contest. In what Coach Delich described as “just a little breakdown,” Belle Tire turned a 2-1 opportunity into a gorgeous highlight reel goal. With a pulled goaltender and extra attacker on the ice late in the game, TC came close to tying it up, but simply ran out of time. Goaltender Payton Sutherland was spectacular in net, stopping 41 shots in the contest.
Team Colorado make a strong statement in game two against Team Illinois, notching a 6-3 victory. Six different players scored for TC (Piper Adams, Morgan Carter, Merrill Delich, Emily Gerrie, Alexis Poppleton, and Isabella Paswaters), and goaltender Ryley Disner stopped 24 shots. After a fairly even first period, TC broke free midway through the second stanza, and didn’t look back. Up 3-2 entering the final period, they rattled off three straight goals before Team Illinois scored the final tally in the waning seconds. The win marked TC's second over TI this season.
Staring down the 13th ranked Gilmour Gladiators in game three, TC continued to impress with a tremendous defensive performance. Although heavily outshot in the contest, the team kept most of the Gilmour chances to the outside, and headed into the third period down 1-0. Touting a legitimate Division-1 college commit, the Gladiators got great use out of their star player. She scored on two incredible high-end shots, including the dagger midway through the final stanza. Sutherland made an impressive 51 saves in the 2-0 loss.
In the final pool-play game, TC squared off against the confident Chicago Young Americans. After giving up 23 shots in the first period playing a classic rope-a-dope, TC managed to keep the puck out of their net, and headed into the first period break with a chance to regroup. A different team came to play in the second period, and TC lit the lamp first when Poppleton buried her shot off a feed from Macy Gehrke and Gerrie. CYA would tie the contest later in the second period, and both teams would trade scoreless chances throughout the third, sending the game to overtime, culminating with a shootout win in CYA's favor. Disner was solid again in net, making 35 saves in regulation play.
The next morning, Team Colorado was back at it in a semi-final rematch game against Chicago. Earning the respect of the 21st ranked Young Americans the prior night, TC didn’t wait this time to get going, delivering offensive punches early. With several penalties taking the wind out of the TC sails, CYA answered on the scoreboard with goals in the first and second period. Midway through the third, TC’s Annika Pulaski found the back of the net, cutting the CYA lead to 2-1. Coach Delich pulled the netminder for an extra attacker with 2:19 left, and although TC had some solid quality chances, the equalizer eluded them. Goaltending was once again impressive, as Sutherland finished with 44 saves.
Coach Delich was very pleased with the weekend, believing it was a tremendous opportunity to gain some confidence and gauge the level of compete that it's going to take to win some games at the national championship tournament in a few weeks. “The competition was great, and our girls competed hard. I think we surprised some teams that may have been taking us for granted. We made everybody we played sweat. Nothing came easy; in the games we did not win, every team we played came away a little battle scarred.”
Most importantly for Team Colorado, they proved that their defense and goaltending is holding up against top teams in the country late in the season. In five Hoosier Fest games, TC allowed only nine goals (1.8 per game average). Over the course of the season, Coach Delich has built a team with an identity who can compete and be in every game. When asked about how the weekend in Indiana prepared their team for nationals in West Chester, he simply said, “That’s how we are going to have to play in Pennsylvania. We will have to be stingy defensively and opportunistic on the offensive end.” His 16U team will practice for the next three weeks before departing for the USA Hockey event (April 28-May 2), where Cinderella hopes to go dancing.