By John Raffel –
The top two teams in the first-ever 14-and-under hockey division at the Meijer State Games of Michigan didn’t want to stop playing.
Teams District 6 and District 2 played to a triple-overtime dramatic 10-player shootout before District 6 was able to win the inaugural 14-U championship in Grand Rapids, a tournament that stretched from June 23-26.
“The 10th player for District 6, which was the home team since they had the better record coming in, scored,” said 14U tournament director Brian Bellgraph. “What a game. It was an absolutely amazing experience. We were worried as a first-time event.”
The District 6 team, from west Michigan, played the downriver Detroit District 2 team in a four-on-four overtime session, and a three-on-three overtime session, before having the game decided in the shootout.
In the high school division, two teams from metro-Detroit met in the final, with Metro West prevailing over Metro South 4-2. Scott Cuthrell scored the game-winning goal with 11 seconds left for Metro West.
High school director Ron Baum, former head hockey coach of East Kentwood, was thrilled with the competitive level of play in both the high school and youth divisions.
“The first six games of pool play, four of them went into overtime,” Baum said of the high school games. “The high school (title) game wasn’t settled until 11 seconds were left in the game.
“The U14 game not settled until the shootout…It was a great game. Personally, I thought it was the best bantam game I’ve ever witnessed. There were a few games that were a little lopsided, but not many.”
Bellgraph said that even though the new youth division featured a wide array of final scores, he thought the tournament was a success for the first-time event.
“Some of the scores were not really indicative of the game,” Bellgraph said. “The first night, District 6 played District 8 and pounded them. And yet, District 8 came back and played a nice tournament. They probably had the least experience among all the team – they had the most house kids.”
Teams for both divisions were selected at tryouts in May at different locations across the state.
“We had a couple of kids north of Houghton (in the Upper Peninsula),” Bellgraph said. “We had kids from all over the Detroit metro area, all over the Grand Rapids area, we had them from everywhere.”
Baum said that the tournament leaders for the high school division made sure everything fit within the rules of the Michigan High School Athletic Association.
“We had to abide by the Michigan High School Athletic Association rules,” Baum said. “Our tryouts, our practices couldn’t start until June 11 when your players were all out of their school. Our intention was to meet guidelines set forth by MHSAA. The tryouts we tried to do within a month of the MHSAA playoffs (in March) to take advantage of the conditioning. Once the tryouts were done, they couldn’t practice until after June 11.
“We had a great response. I had 26 colleges and junior coaches call me and ask for tickets so they could come and watch players. That number is considerably up from the year before. They were in and out all weekend. We had three different venues we played out of. Our high school guys, it was free this year which was really great. We had three corporate sponsors step up at $2,000 each. We had $6,000 to pay for things like jerseys, socks and pictures, pucks, programs and all that stuff. The referees’ time and volunteers’ time were all donated.”
The hockey portion of the Meijer State Games continues to grow; Bellgraph said that the tournament organizers hope to add a 12-and-under division next year.
“We had over 5,000 athletes in 25 sports this year,” Baum said. “We were up 13 sports in one year. We’ll go into the peewee division (for hockey) next year and add another eight teams.”
Bryant Goudelock, who served as announcer and scorekeeper for the eight of the games, said he was impressed by the talent on the ice at Kentwood Ice Arena.
“I announce games quite regularly and have been around the game for several years, and they asked me to volunteer,” said Goudelock, who worked his first Meijer State Games. “The hockey has been phenomenal. It’s been high skills, high speed, and highly competitive games. It’s well coached. Everyone has done a real nice job.”
Baum said that the tournament organizers are always looking for new coaches and volunteers.
“We wanted to continue to try getting different coaches filtered into this,” Baum said. “We don’t want it to be the same guys because it’s as fun of an experience for coaches as it is for the guys. We wanted to share the fun, the opportunity. We’re always looking for coaches as is the youth division.”