It was an incredible weekend of NARCh Hockey at newly renovated Irvine Inline. As always, Eddie and his staff were super friendly and helpful to all, making the Irvine Facility the best destination in So Cal for our monster regional qualifier.
Alkali had a killer new booth that was often crowded. Tour, Revision, Rink Rat, and Labeda were also present with their booths and all of them put in long hours to give this event some added energy and excitement. The parking at the facility is not optimal, but it forced many to camp out at the rink or lose their parking spot, which helped provide some great crowds throughout the weekend.
It seems that EVERYONE has the NARCh FINALS in their plans and seemed to be the buzz of many conversations. With 107 teams we had a great mix of people that are a huge part of the history of NARCh, as well as players and parents who were experiencing their first taste of NARCh. I recapped squirt, peewee, and juniors in a write up on Sunday, but here is how the rest of the divisions played out.
PRO DIVISION – Even though there were only 4 teams, these were extremely competitive games with many of the most talented players in the sport. The Las Vegas Tour Rebels defeated both Larceny and Labeda in the prelims, and defeated Labeda again in the semis to prove the first time was no fluke. They lost to the Axiom 3-1 in the prelims but would get another shot of them in the championship.
The Axiom didn’t get to the title game easy though. They tied Larceny in their first matchup 2-2 and would face them again in the semi-final. This would also end in regulation in a tie and stay tied through a 5-minute overtime, forcing us to go to a shootout to determine a winner. It was a pretty loose bench for Larceny, as I was standing by it taking pictures and could hear the banter from Dave Cairns their coach. I can’t repeat it all, but he had me cracking up.
Michael Urbano came up big for Larceny but Troy Redmann would match him save for save for the Axiom. In the end it was John Siemer’s lone goal that would send Axiom into the championship to face the awaiting Rebels.
This would be a well-balanced pretty strategic game played by both squads. Both had deep benches, so neither was going to wear the other out. Shots were almost identical and penalties were identical with 3 per side. The difference would come down to what it often does in an evenly matched game, bounces and who finishes. John Siemer, Jon Jon as he’s known around the rink, would have a goal and assist to be the only multiple-point scorer in the game and Axiom would take the title by the same score they did in their prior meeting with the Rebels, 3-1.
As a side note it was great to catch up with Lee Sweatt from the Axiom who recently gave up his pro ice hockey career to move onto the next stage of his life with his wife in Santa Cruz. Lee is a good guy and long time roller player that is now making a living as a financial advisor for other pro hockey players to make sure they have a nest egg for their life after hockey.
CUB DIVISION – The 6u games never get old. For this one we had 5 teams with tons of new players and parents. 4 of the 5 teams medal in this division for the simple reason that we want as many kids as possible to leave with a great experience, even if they got blasted a few games. The score doesn’t really matter. It’s the smiles at the end of the tourney that counts. There were some competitive games though and this is going to be an awesome division at the FINALS.
In the end it came down to AKS and the San Diego Rockets, who’ve had a great little friendly rivalry over the last year or two with the little guys. These two teams are a coin toss matchup. Momentum is everything with the little ones though and the Rockets came out flying and were up 5-0 at half. AKS came to life the second half and played great defense, but they still fell slightly short by a final of 5-3.
ATOM DIVISION – 6 teams competed and we are familiar with these teams. One is very strong, two others strong, and three that are on the young or less experienced side. For this reason we split the division into the top 3 and bottom 3 after prelims. The less experienced teams had to play the tougher teams early to end up in the lower Silver Division, but it all played out as anticipated.
The Silver Championship came down to AKS and San Diego Rockets, a continuation of this new friendly rivalry between two evenly matched organizations. Every time AKS would score the Rockets would answer, and the theme of the weekend continued, we would need overtime to find a winner. About half way through overtime Raymond Tsukada got a break and found himself alone with the Rockets goalie. He buried his opportunity and AKS would take the silver championship, 5-4.
Atom Gold also has a few teams that are very evenly matched, Puckhogs and Delta River Rats. The River Rats fell to the Puckhogs at Winternationals and were looking to avenge the loss, but the Puckhogs would prevail again in another close game, 6-4. The Puckhogs would advance to the championship game against the Revision Vanquish.
The Puckhogs are very good, but the Vanquish is great. Not sure if anyone is going to be able to touch them at the NARCh FINALS, but we are still early in the qualifying season, and I’m sure I’m not fully aware of all the talented 8u teams that exist this year. As is often the case when this kid is on the floor, it was the Ean Somoza Show, as he had 6 goals in this one alone. He’s been shut down a few times in the past, but this Vanquish Squad is strong even without him. Luke Faas also had 3 goals and an assist and Marko Giourof had a goal and two helpers. The Puckhogs are a good team and did get 12 shots on Diego Torres, 10 of which he stopped. Danny Minnehan found the net twice though, but the Puckhogs fell short 12-2.
MITE DIVISION – This was an impressive 14-team field. The Reebok Jr Ducks Orange grabbed the #1 seed in platinum by going undefeated and only allowing 3 goals against. They would defeat the Puckhogs in the platinum semi-final and await the winner of Notion vs Mission/Bauer Rage. These teams would meet twice. In the first game of the tourney for each they faced each other and the Notion won 4-3. The rematch in the semi-final would have the opposite outcome, and the Rage won 5-3 to face the Ducks for the title.
The final score was not a true indication of the game. The Ducks did have an edge and control throughout, but the Rage has some talent and challenged Ducks Goalie Kurt Yano with 15 shots. He turned away 14 of those 15 shots in impressive fashion. It would be 4-1 late and the Rage had to roll the dice with a pulled goalie, costing them two more empty net goals against, making the final score 6-1. Austin De Los Reyes was the only multi-goal scorer for this balanced Ducks squad. There should be some very solid 10u teams at the FINALS in San Jose, so I’m looking forward to seeing more of this Ducks Team against some of the best in the country.
Anarchy Gold only lost one game, and that was to the Ducks, but by going 2-1 it landed them in the middle division, Gold. They easily defeated the Las Vegas Rebels Red to make it to the championship. The Rebels went 1-2 and would have fit well in Silver, but due to 3 few goals against landed in gold instead and were overmatched.
The other gold semi-final was an awesome game between AKS 2001 and Vanquish 03, the same team that walked through the atom division. The Vanquish pulled off what I would consider an upset in overtime, 5-4.
Unfortunately this championship was one of our least competitive. Anarchy Gold might have been playing in the platinum final if they hadn’t faced the Ducks in the prelims, and the Vanquish were worn out from playing two divisions. Man-child Sander Willard had a hand in 8 of the 9 goals in the championship and the final was an unfortunate 9-1 score. Sander also won the top scorer in the division.
Mite Silver would match up the 2 teams that traveled down from Northern California and face each other all the time, NCR Elite and Delta River Rats. Go figure. NCR Elite defeated the San Diego Rockets in the silver semi-final, and the Delta River Rats defeated the High Rollers to get there. #14 Coalson Wolford of NCR had a monster game in the semi-final against the Rockets and is the main reason they made it to the championships, but the River Rats have a little more balanced attack with scoring from mostly Jack Wedoski, Bailey Rios, and Erick Benard in the championship. The River Rats took the title 9-3. These teams will face off again this weekend at the Nor Cal Cup Championship.
BANTAM DIVISION – another 18-team field would provide plenty of great action in this division. Labeda XDH would grab the #1 platinum seed, going 3-0 and only allowing 1 goal against and winning a shootout against NCR Elite Brown, who had an identical record. The #4 seed was the West Covina High Rollers. Unfortunately their goalie decided not to show for the game, so XDH would advance to the championship without even playing in the semi-final. The game between NCR Elite and Vanquish was fantastic though, clean, fast, and fun to watch. Elite would prevail 4-3 and advance to face a well-rested XDH. This was also a great game between the best from Nor Cal facing the best from So Cal. It was tied at 1-1 but with :34 seconds before half #27 Nolan Garcia scored and put the Elite up heading into half. Both defenses and goalies wouldn’t give an inch in the second half, and no goals would be scored until an empty-netter was added with 7 seconds left. Elite would take gold back to Silver Creek, final score 3-1. I’m sure XDH is hoping for a rematch at the NARCh FINALS, as I believe they’ve basically won everything all year, except for this one, which probably meant the most to them.
At the bantam level there’s not the disparity between teams that we see at the younger ages and the line between platinum and gold is often a blur. There’s probably two handfuls of teams just from this event that are all capable of beating each other, which is what makes it so awesome.
Alkali had only one loss to Revision Vanquish 96, mentioned above, but it was enough to send them to the gold division rather than platinum. They would defeat Outcasts 96 and Mission Bauer Raiders Gold shut out the Nor Cal Extreme 3-0 in their semi-final to set up the final.
In the championship #59 Shane McMahan popped in two quick goals for Alkali and they never looked back. Shots on goal were pretty much even, but Alkali had more quality chances. It didn’t help that one of the best Raiders players lost his composure and get kicked out of the game before half. Final score, 7-2.
Somehow a talented Raw Steel team ended up as the #11 seed, landing them in the silver playoffs. They tied the High Rollers, tied Alkali White, and barely lost to Outcasts 96, 2-1. Talk about a tough draw. They would defeat Team Skittles, a very talented peewee team playing up, by a score of 4-2 to advance to the silver championship. The other silver semi was a great game between Notion and French Toast Mafia. Mafia was a little more undisciplined in this one committing 4 stick related penalties while the Notion stayed out of the box. You can argue that it was the difference in this one, and the Notion pulled it out 4-3 to advance to face Raw Steel.
These are two very disciplined teams that rely on solid defense first. This championship would prove that, as the game would go into half tied at zeros. Both teams would score fairly early in the second half and the game would remain tied. Chris Kao would find Joshua Ferrer open for the Raw Steel, and Joshua would score with about 5 minutes to go to put his team up. This goal would hold up and the game would end 2-1, and Raw Steel would take home gold. Both goalies faced 17 shots.
MIDGET DIVISION – Like bantam, this division is one that could certainly have a different outcome if played out a second time, with many teams capable of winning the title. There was only 1 mercy rule and tons of ties and 1-goal games. The Revision Vanquish and NCR Elite would be the only two teams to escape the prelims undefeated, so they grabbed the top two platinum seeds. Raiders Gold lost their first game of the tourney to the Bender Blades 5-4, but would get on roll after that winning their next 2 and would face the undefeated Vanquish. They would continue rolling by defeating the Vanquish 4-2 and face NCR Elite in the championship. NCR defeated the West Covina High Roller Black in their semi to get there.
I’ve been bragging about NCR because I really haven’t seen them get challenged in Northern California. They were also undefeated in Irvine, until this game. If I had to describe the older Raider Teams I would say they’re talented, and intense. Usually the intensity is a positive thing, where they outwork their opponent. My honest opinion is that they outworked the Elite in this one, outshooting them and beating them to most loose pucks. To generalize, I think they wanted it more. Not taking anything away from the Elite, as I’ve seen them a ton and love how they play. When the buzzer sounded the final score was 5-3, Raiders Gold win gold.
Midget gold could not be any tighter. Labeda XDH needed a shootout against Raw Steel to advance in the Gold Quarter Final and stay alive. They would then defeat the Bender Blades to land in the championship against the Dusters. The Dusters needed overtime to defeat Mission/Bauer 94 to make it to the final.
As is often the case, you have to stay out of the box if you want to win. I wouldn’t say it was a super rough game, but when you spend ¼ of the game in the box it’s hard to gain momentum, which is what happened to the Dusters in this one. Having said that, they’re talented enough that they were in the game until the very end, even being short for a good chunk of the game. It was 4-3 Labeda up with less than a minute. The pulled goalie didn’t help though and Labeda added a few more to win the title game 6-3. Five different goal scorers contributed in the final from the balanced XDH squad.
MENS – 6 teams made up the men’s division in this one, with the Hockey House coming the greatest distance, all the way from BC Canada. I was really torn giving them some really tough game times, but I looked over the schedule many times and had no option. Despite their late starts, this was a very competitive division with no mercy rule games. The Red Army grabbed the #1 seed, but won by the modest scores of 6-3, 4-1, and 4-2 in the prelims. They would match up with Pama in the semi-final, and would defeat them 5-1. It’s worth noting that most of Red Army played on junior teams as well, so they’ve got younger legs than most of the mens teams in their later 20s or even 30s. The Merge and NCR would lock horns in the other semi-final. NCR is a great group of guys that I have gotten to know quite well. They coach the youth NCR Teams and usually travel to tourneys with super short benches, this one being no exception. Despite a hat trick from Travis Suyeishi, NCR would fall in this one 5-4 and the Merge would advance to the championship to face the Red Army.
The championship was a solid game but #9 Paul Linder for the Red Army stood out. He scored 3 straight goals for Red Army in the middle of the game and the Merge had a hard time getting the puck past the solid tender for Red Army, Greg Hamm. Side note, I remember Greg a few years back at the FINALS playing injured and standing on his head in a huge game. It reminded me of the Karate Kid, with his arms out and one leg up. Anyway, flashbacks aside Red Army is on a role winning two straight NARCh Events, Winternationals and now this regional qualifier. We’ll see if they can take the Triple Crown come July.
That’s a wrap for this one….finally. Took a little longer to write, but that’s because it was the largest regional qualifying tournament we’ve ever had. If you made it through this whole recap you deserve a NARCh Medal for that alone!