The Junior Avs won the AA Division crown at 2022 Quebec Peewee International Tournament. All photos courtesy of the Colorado Avalanche
The Littleton 12U AA Junior Avs hockey team started the season getting everyone acclimated to the team’s goals, standards and expectations for the season by spending a week in the mountains together.
One of the team-building activities was a three-hour hike up a mountain. They went through ebbs and flows of the hike, where sometimes there was a lot of great energy, then in another moment they’re in the trees unable to see the top of the mountain, said coach Matt Adams.
“That team-building exercise ended up being, I would say, a metaphor for our season,” Adams said.
From the Silver Stick tournament into the Quebec Pee-Wee International Tournament qualifier, the Junior Avs played really good hockey at times, though it wasn’t a struggle-free season either. Like when the Junior Avs lost their first exhibition game in that Quebec Pee-Wee International tournament in May.
“That was a reality check to again say, ‘OK, we’re not just up here for paintballing,’” Adams said. “We’re not just up here for the activities on the side. We’re up here to win a string of hockey games that ultimately leads to a championship.’”
“To see the kids not give up, persevere, just find a way, it was super satisfying.”
— Matt Adams,
Junior Avs head coach
The Junior Avs responded and advanced to the championship game against Charlevoix Rorquals. Even throughout this game, there were ebbs and flows like they found on their initial hike months earlier. The Junior Avs took a 2-0 lead by early in the second period before surrendering four-straight goals to its opponent to stare down a 4-2 deficit early in the third period.
The vibes on the bench were still very positive, Adams said, with Mason Hurt being one of the most vocal leaders.
“ ’This is not going to be the way that we end this season,’ ” Adams said of the team’s mindset. “And that was from the players, truthfully. It wasn’t from the coaching staff.”
Even trailing on the scoreboard, center Colton Lien said he and his teammates still knew they were going to win the game. The confidence grew when they scored their third goal of the game.
“I never had doubt in our team,” Lien said.
They turned their focus toward crashing the net and looking for those greasy goals that they’d found all season.
“We always talked about greasy goals,” Lien said. “I think we really had to bear down at the end of the game [in Quebec]. That’s why we scored those goals at the end.”
The team celebrates a goal in the Quebec Peewee International Tournament.
Blake Kawasaki started the comeback when he scored his second goal of the game, and Lien followed with a pair of goals to take the lead. The score was knotted 5-5 before Hurt scored the eventual game-winner.
Kawasaki added another for the hat trick and a 7-5 Junior Avs victory. The championship was theirs.
“To see the kids not give up, persevere, just find a way, it was super satisfying,” Adams said.
It was a fitting end to a very successful season for the Junior Avs, who finished with a 75-10-3 overall record while also winning six championships.
While they relied on the depth of rolling three lines, particularly in the Quebec championship, one line in particular was the foundation of the team.
An exuberant Junior Avs team comes together after the final horn sounded in the championship game.
Three returning players for the Junior Avs put up some outstanding numbers. The line of Owen Hayes, Lien and Trey Packard were appropriately dubbed “Trio” by their teammates.
Hayes led the team in points, with 186 of them in 88 games. He scored 100 goals.
Owen Hayes after scoring his 100th goal. Photo courtesy of Matt Adams
“I don’t know many pee-wees that are able to amass 100 goals over the course of a season,” Adams said. “But Owen is, he’s a special player.”
Hayes is a “hockey nerd” devoted to the game from practice to all the hours spent in his backyard shooting pucks, Adams said. That work is evident throughout the year in his play and development, the coach added.
Winger Packard scored 163 points, always seeming to “find the puck on his stick in good spots” to set up his linemates, Adams said. Packard is a smart player with a very calm demeanor when he hits the ice. When the team needed him to come through in key spots during championship games, Packard always fulfilled the need, according to Adams.
Lien centers the line and tallied 164 points, a “pretty remarkable” tally, Adams said. Lien’s size help him create time and space on the ice.
“He’s a playmaker,” Adams said. “He sees the ice very, very well. You think of some of the NHL playmakers, and he certainly has that sense of the ice.”
In goal, the Junior Avs relied on the tandem of Andrew Skanron and Sydney Kelm, who got the nod in net for the Quebec title game.
On the blue line, Lien credited Kellen Porter for carrying the defense throughout the Quebec tournament. When it was over, the celebration was on as the Junior Avs lifted a trophy resembling the Stanley Cup.
The Junior Avs won six of eight championships during the season, a mark Adams calls a success for a team that, back in the mountains, set the goal of winning all its tournaments.
Adams called this team a “once-in-a-lifetime” group.
"I think this team was pretty special and probably one of my favorite teams I’ve been on," said center Colton Lien
“I just wish I could play another season with this team,” Lien said. “We always had motivation to win. We were always ready to win. I think this team was pretty special and probably one of my favorite teams I’ve been on.”
Winning in Quebec was all a full-circle moment for Adams, who grew up playing pee-wee AA hockey in Colorado, often coached by his dad and current Junior Avs assistant coach, Rick Adams. Matt competed for the Quebec qualifier every year as a player, but his teams always fell short.
“So to miss out on that opportunity as a kid and then come back and be on the other side of the bench with my dad who was coaching me at one point… it was certainly cool,” Matt said.
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