The Lady RoughRiders 16U team celebrated the organization's first USA Hockey national championship following a 3-2 OT victory on May 3. Photos courtesy of CAHA
Rocky Mountain Lady RoughRiders 16U coach Chris Lockrem was driving to the Edge Ice Arena in Littleton on May 3. It’s a trek the Colorado youth hockey coach of 20 years had made countless times before, but this particular morning wasn’t ordinary. At his destination was a chance for national championship glory.
Edge Ice Arena was already a place of great memories for the 2020-21 Lady RoughRiders 16U team. They won a Girls Tier II 16U state championship at the rink in February, and one month later, they secured the inaugural Western Girls Hockey League Championship on the same ice. Now, the team was set to play for a USA Hockey national championship at Edge.
“I was driving to the rink, thinking 'This is great. We’ve already won here before.' ” he said.
And the Lady RoughRiders 16U quad soon delivered another memorable moment in the rink, winning the organization's first national championship with a 3-2 overtime victory over the Philadelphia Little Flyers.
16U team captains hold the championship plaque.
Before reaching the summit of youth hockey, the Lady RoughRiders found success at a different Colorado arena: The South Suburban Ice Complex.
It's where the Lady RoughRiders played their first five games in the 1A Division of the 2021 Chipotle-USA Hockey Girls Tier II 16U National Championships. They won two of three games in pool play, outscoring opponents 11-3. Then, they outshot Maryland's Tri-City Eagles 41-11 in a 4-0 victory in the quarterfinals of tournament play on May 2. Hours later in the tournament semifinals, the team avenged a loss in district play earlier this season to rival and fellow Western Girls Hockey League (WGHL) member Idaho Lady Vipers with a 2-0 win.
Already flying high, the scheduled shift to Edge for the title game bolstered confidence even more.
“Honestly, [because of where we were playing] I think the girls were more relaxed coming into the [national championship] final than they were the semifinal,” Lockrem said.
And the RoughRiders played like it.
Just over six minutes into the action against the Philadelphia Little Flyers, Violet Arnold slipped a trailing pass to teammate Kaia Carlson. Carlson then split defenders before rocketing a wrister from the high slot for the game’s opening goal.
The Flyers battled back and took the lead with two goals, including a shorthanded breakaway following a Lady RoughRiders turnover. However, Alexis Jackson knotted the score late in the second period, collecting two of her own rebound misses and making sure her third attempt out front found the net.
In overtime Lady RoughRiders 16U captain Emma Compton didn’t waste a scoring opportunity, delivering the championship-clincher with a snipe over the opposing goaltender’s right shoulder. Two seconds later, a dogpile formed at center ice.
“I don’t even know how to describe it… relief,” Lockrem said of the moment. "I told the girls, we set goals at the beginning of the year and very rarely do you set goals and accomplish every one of them.
He added that winning the WGHL and then nationals felt like a storybook season. "It’s crazy!"
It was an ending likely difficult to see before the tournament. The Lady RoughRiders' regular and postseasons included losses to several teams in the 12-team national championship field, including a defeat to the Anaheim Lady Ducks, their first opponent in pool play, just two weeks prior to the event.
“We played Anaheim in Chicago and lost 2-1 even though we outshot them 26-5, so we were hungry and didn’t want to get beat again. When we drew [Anaheim] first, we were like ‘We’re ready! Let's go!,' ” Lockrem said.
Using the added motivation, Lockrem and his coaches made sure the team peaked at the right time despite a five-week layoff between the league season and national tournament. They focused on individual skill development, moving away from team concepts until just one week before their rematch with the Lady Ducks. It paid off with a resounding 5-1 triumph.
Another unforeseen boon was playing in the Centennial State.
Irvine, California, was the initial site for the national tournament, but state-issued COVID-19 restrictions led to the event being nixed. Colorado organizers made a bid for the tournament and Denver was unveiled as the host in March.
"The thing that helped us most was that it was in Denver," Lockrem said. "Immediately [after the site announcement], we had a meeting and I talked to the girls about all the advantages: sleeping in your own bed, getting fed whenever you want, not having to wait for the team bus, and all of the experience at altitude. We kind of embraced that, taking it one game at a time.”
Not only did it allow for Lockrem’s easy drive to the Edge Ice Arena, but ensured the stands rocked with the family and friends of the Lady RoughRiders 16U team — a group that also received credit for helping the team reach and celebrate the national moment.
"Every player has to do their part and parents had to be bought in. It’s not an easy thing to accomplish, so when we accomplished it, it was a pretty amazing feeling,” Lockrem said. “I am so proud of everybody.”
The championship banner is still to be hung, but it will act as the final chapter to the storybook season and a bookmark to the memories of everyone apart of it.