When USA Hockey put its 2015 Tier II 18U National Championships in Troy, Michigan, George Daniel saw an opportunity.
The head coach of the Tri City Icehawks joined scout Bob Ybarra in making regular visits to the national championships.
“We basically set up shop,” Daniel said.
And, they set up the Icehawks for a breakthrough season.
“We really put an emphasis on finding younger, more skilled players who maybe wanted to play more hockey than high school in the number of games, but maybe weren’t ready to play Tier II,” said Daniel, who also credited team ownership for the strategic approach. “The fact that nationals were at Troy was a big help for us.”
The Icehawks found what they were looking for in creating a roster that is nearly an equal split between Michigan and out-of-state players and has just six holdovers from a year ago.
Tri City, along with most of the defunct Minnesota Junior Hockey League, moved to become the bulk of the United States Premier Hockey League’s new Midwest Division.
Playing much of the same schedule, the Icehawks have risen from the pack to become the Eastern Conference leaders with a 24-1-1 start.
They have done so with a decidedly young roster.
Young teams tend to need some veteran leadership, and the Icehawks have found that in goalie Cody Foster.
Foster, from Saugus, California, was selected as the top goalie in the Northern Pacific Hockey League last season for his play with the second-place Bellingham Blazers. He ranks fourth among USPHL Midwest goalies in both goals against average (1.48) and save percentage (.933).
Forward Addison Edwards, defenseman and team captain Logan Gatza and Foster are the team’s three 20-year-olds.
“We have good leadership,” Daniel said. “We only have the three ’95-birthyear guys, but the guys we have are older guys who have been pretty instrumental in calming things down when they needed to be calmed down.”
Edwards, from Phoenix, Arizona, is third on the team with 28 points in 25 games. He is one of the returnees from last year’s team.
Gatz, a defenseman from Frankenmuth, Michigan, has three goals and 12 assists.
The Icehawks have built a deep and balanced scoring attack featuring seven players with at least 25 points and a dozen with at least 14.
C.J. Bradburn leads the way with 35 points, ranking second in goals with 16 and assists with 19. He has a team-high five game-winners.
Austin Caryl is second with 30 points.
Defenseman Dakota Bohn leads the team with 21 assists, including 10 on the power play.
John Matson, one of two Alaskan players the Icehawks found at nationals, leads in goals (21) and power-play goals (10).
The most impressive team numbers, however, may be coming on the defensive end.
Back-up goalie Alan Brouillette has two shutouts in five starts and has numbers similar to Foster with a 1.49 GAA and .916 save percentage.
Before Sunday’s 8-5 win over the Motor City Hawks extended Tri City’s winning streak to 13 games, the Icehawks had held eight straight opponents and 11 of the previous 12 to zero or one goal.
“I’ve always been a guy that stressed defense,” Daniel said. “You’ve got to start in your own zone. It’s really a team-first mentality and a defense-first mentality.
“We can score goals, but our biggest priority is to keep them out of our net; to block shots, to stay out of the penalty box … We’ve been really successful with that. And, when we’ve needed a goalie, Cody, or in some cases Alan, have been there for us.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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