NARCh Regional Season Kickoff!
By Nick Boyarsky
If you find yourself a bit happier than you have been since, oh I don’t know maybe late July of last year, it’s probably because your internal roller hockey clock realized the 2018 NARCh qualifier season has started. This past weekend we overtook the Silver Creek Sportsplex in San Jose, California with 50 teams who couldn’t wait to officially get their path to the 2018 NARCh FINALS started. This packed, three rink, two day event definitely had the “roller season is here” vibe and excitement!
It should be said though, most of the teams at this event haven’t taken much of a break since last summer’s NARCh West Finals was held in this same building. For the few that didn’t make the trip to Mississauga in July, their season maybe had a three month “off season” before they were back at it having tryouts and getting teams ready to do it all over again.
For the Bay Area teams, it started with Nor Cal Cup back over Thanksgiving Weekend and moved right into the NARCh WINTERNATIONALS in Huntington Beach 6 weeks later. Before we knew it, we were back in their building with the first of 11 regional events leading up to West Coast Finals in Irvine, CA and a very exciting Anniversary FINALS in Alpharetta, Georgia.
This is my third year of working this regional location for NARCh and If I had to pick a favorite roller hockey facility, it would without a doubt be Silver Creek Sportsplex. I made a comment in Friday night’s NARCh Podcast about the facility being so clean you could eat off the floor, which is an exaggeration but not by much. This building is 10+ years old and still looks almost identical to how it did the day the doors opened. Anyone that’s spent a lot of time in any roller hockey facility knows what an accomplishment this is.
There was some talk last summer about the ownership of the Plex was "putting turf down over one of the 3 floors due to some tapering down of roller use, and potential growth on the turf side of their building. This was a worry to all who play there and visit this facility (which I do 3-4 times a year for various roller events). I’m happy to report, from what we heard this weekend, it sounds like roller is back on the upswing and the 3 floors are back to cranking out more roller hockey!
As I said this is my third year doing this event and a few constants have remained the same each time.
One being there’s a LOT of roller hockey in Northern California. This was a PACKED tournament. Daryn and I stepped in the building at a about 5:45 AM Saturday morning and I didn’t walk back out that door until a little after 1AM. This leads me to the second constant, which is we always do this packed event on daylight savings weekend. So not only are we going for 19 or so hours Saturday, but we lose an hour over night before we start back up again Sunday. It makes for a LONG weekend even though technically it’s a shorter one.
Another thing I’ve noticed year in and out is the quality of play at each level (Silver, Gold, Platinum) is raising considerably in the Bay Area. Case in point, Jose Mondragon, Yoshi Chi, and Rick Madrigal from the Revolution program have been hard at it from 8U to men’, building quality teams for a while now, but over the past couple seasons, they’re starting to give their Southern California counterparts a run for their money at the older age groups especially. The Revo 01’s and 99’s in particular have proven to be in the top of what the West has to offer and in any larger regional event like the one coming up in Irvine, will most likely be making championship game appearances.
But it’s not just Revo that’s raising the bar. Travis Suishi and Matt Swanson who coach the NCR Elite program, Dave Inouye with the Silicon Valley Quakes, and Sy Patel along with Jim West who are running the Mayhem (Formerly Jr. Sharks) have all been bringing their clubs to the next level. All of these coaches and programs are not only pushing their players, but in turn their competition which is really starting to show.
I’d like to mention just a few of the players that have been standing out not just this past weekend but over the last few season:
Matt Swanson, who grew up playing for (and now coaching with) the NCR Elite has always been a solid offensive threat but has truly started to shine at regional and national events. Matt’s speed, smarts, and unpredictability make him hard to defend, which leads to Matt putting up points consistent points in every game.
Another name that you’ll be hearing a lot more of I’m sure over the next 3-4 years is Jaden Guzman from the Revolution. Jaden is an ’01 (so second year U16) but he is consistently one of, if not the best player on the floor (sorry Christian) with Revo in both Midgets and Juniors. Jaden is one of those rare players with a complete game. He’s as effective with the puck as a he is without. He’s plays on both sides of the floor with the same smarts and intensity which makes him a double threat. Talking to Daryn it seems this is a bit of a bloodlines story. As a very small kid, Jaden got introduced to the sport by Jon King, his uncle , who was a standout player growing up playing NARCh as well. Jon disappeared for a few years as LIFE took over, but has resurfaced in So Cal with his son playing 6u for the OC Marvel. Now his son Connor can look up to Jaden the way Jaden looked up to Jon. NARCh full circle.
Moving on to the younger ages, in 14U you’ve got one of my favorite NorCal kids, Dominic Hofferber, or “Boogie” as he better known. Boogie is a tank, there’s no other way to describe him. Think grown man size and frame with speed, and hands, then think about that playing against 13 to 15 year olds… that’s Boogie.
In 12U, Mission Mayhem’s Aiyden Martinez is the one to watch. I’m pretty sure I’ve already called him out in a previous blog from this rink, but Aiyden is not only an unstoppable force in his own age group, but one of the top players in 14s. He’s a complete package. Great hands, nice scoring touch, moves the puck well, and strong in the corners. Aiyden's dad Logan was also a great standout NorCal player back in the day. Did we mention it was the 25th Anniversary of NARCh.
One of the other things I liked about this regional was the way the divisions were divided. It seemed to provide a more competitive atmosphere in most divisions. This was evident by the fact that we had way less mercy rule games and a lot of nail bitter finishes in the prelims. Due to the fact that we’ve seen almost all of these teams at Nor Cal Cup and Winter Nationals already, and had a good idea of how they all stacked up, Daryn and Alex decided to get a little creative in the formats to make each division as competitive as possible.
For instance, in 12U (Squirt) there were 10 teams. Of those 10 it was easy to see where the skill level dividing line would be, so that group was split into a 4 team Silver division and a 5 team Gold division right from the start. This worked like a charm and allowed for more even round robin play and two tight and exciting finals. Equally important, it provided a format where the new teams could compete against equally matched teams instead of just getting thumped by the teams with much more experience. Case in point, the Revision Revolution defeated the Verbero Voodoo 5-4 to grab the 3 seed in squirt silver, while the Voodoo ended up 4th. Under the typical format, the #4 seed Voodoo would face the #1 seed Delta River Rats, who they already lost to 8-1. An anticlimactic semi final in my mind. Under THIS format, the Voodoo faced the Revolution again, who they barely lost to 5-4 a few hours prior.
This would provide for one of the best games of the tournament. Fast forward to a few minutes remaining in the game. The Voodoo held a one goal lead late in the game, 3-2. Revolution had a power play and pulled the goalie for 2 extra attackers. The Voodoo had multiple clearing chances to score in the empty net, and the oohh's and aah's of the parents as each clearing pass hit the side of the net or barely missed only added to the drama. Whenever this happens you feel like it's inevitable, the other team is going to come down and score. The Voodoo killed the penalty, but there was still time remaining. With just :18 seconds left and tons of shots and pressure in front of the net, Cooper Huang would eventually score for the Revolution, tying the game. You could feel the energy leave the building from the side of the Voodoo bench and parents. If you know you know, and you've felt it.
With only :18 seconds, there's no way we're not heading to overtime. Or is there a way? Off the draw, #19 Josh Haslett lined up as the right winger for the Voodoo ended up with the puck on his stick. He shook off a player from the draw, gained some speed, and took a shot from what would be the blue line if there was a blue line in roller hockey. It had a lot of velocity on it, but a weird shot for sure, as it curved it's way to the net. Unbelievably, as if it were voodoo, it moved through the air and was a struggle for the goalie, who tried to glove it cross-body as it ricocheted off his shoulder and in the net. The Voodoo won in dramatic fashion, and went nuts. None of this would have happened if there wasn't a #3 VS #4 playoff game.
One thing that people need to realize is that NARCh always tries to make create an environment that will provide for the most competitive games. Talking to Daryn over the years, he honestly beats himself up when a division plays out and in retrospect it would have been more competitive if presented differently. This is a little thing, that's actually a big thing, and it's part of what makes NARCh special.
We would be remiss if we didn't include the Bend Bullets in this recap. 4 teams made the journey down the I5. 10u, 12u, 12u playing up in 14u, 14u, and 16u. Their 10's won the silver medal in 10u. The 12s might not have done as well as expected, coming off a huge Winternationals Championship. This split 12u division provided a very strong gold division, as the Bullets will attest. They lost close games to both the NorCal Jokers and Revolution 05's, which are the two teams that ended up in the championship for that division. Revolution 05's won that game 5-3 BTW, one of our better championships.
What was exciting for the Bullets is that the 12u team playing up and the true 14u team would play each other to see who would advance to the 14u Silver Championship. What a game! It went end up 5-5 at the end of regulation and go to overtime. Neither team would score in OT, although there were plenty of chances, so it would be decided in a shootout, per NARCh regional rules. The older brother would prevail and the Bend Bullets Blue would then face the NorCal Jokers in the Silver Championship. Ironically this game would also go to overtime, then a shootout, and the Bend Bullets Blue could not pull the magic out twice, so they settled for silver in silver.
Hard to believe we're only one event into the season! In less than two weeks the first of 3 So. Cal qualifiers will be at The Rinks Huntington Beach, followed by the largest qualifier event in the country every year in Irvine, CA over April 26-29th. I must have heard Daryn say this 50 times this weekend so I know it’s true, if you’re looking at playing Irvine, REGISTER NOW’; this event WILL be sell out, you do not want to miss this one! Between those two we take a trip back east to Hot Shots in PA, then right after Irvine we’re off to Skate Safe in NY.
All of this leads up to the two NARCh FINALS; West in Irvine, California and East in Alpharetta Georgia. Speaking of the East Coast finals, Daryn’s shared with me some of what he has planned for that event (and then immediately told me I can’t mention it in my blog) but I will just say this… it’s going to be one for the ages so don’t miss out on what I’m sure will be the most memorable NARCh FINALS to date.