Defending champions and Colorado powers Regis Jesuit and Cherry Creek are among 40 teams set to compete for USA Hockey High School National Championship over the next five days in suburban Washington, D.C.
Regis Jesuit (Aurora), which won the Colorado state title this season, will seek to win its third national title in five years and again will play in the Pure division. Jesuit made the title game three times in the last four years and beat Santa Margarita (Calif.) 3-1 in last year’s final.
Jesuit returns all but six players from last year’s championship team.
“We have a lot of experience with the number of kids coming back,” coach Dan Woodley said. “I think the fact that some of our kids have been before and some have had two runs at it might give us a little bit of a advantage. But we don’t travel to any of other tournaments during the year so this our travel for the year and that could put a unique spin on thing as well.”
Jesuit’s lone loss this season came to Monarch, the team the Raiders (22-1) would go on to beat 6-1 in the state final. Monarch scored 14 seconds into the game before Jesuit tallied six unanswered goals. Monarch, playing in its fourth consecutive state title game, had knocked out Jesuit in the state semifinals in the previous three years. Jesuit scored on a penalty shot with 30 seconds left in the first period for a 2-1 lead and then scored early in the second period.
“It was such a shock to our guys,” Woodley said of the early goal. “We immediately worked hard to let everybody know that if you’re going to be behind a team early is the time for it. We told them we wanted to get after it shift after shift. … After that (early goal in the second period), we felt the momentum shift.”
Cherry Creek (Greenwood Village), in its fourth year since the hockey program was revived after a 25-year hiatus, will compete in the Combined division for teams made up of players from two or more schools. Cherry Creek beat Dubuque (Iowa) 3-1 in last year’s title game.
Cherry Creek enters with a 16-5 mark after falling in the state quarterfinals to Mountain Vista 4-3 despite holding a 3-2 lead. Cherry Creek had beaten Mountain Vista 3-2 in the regular-season finale a week earlier.
“I thought it was a great testament to the growth and development of Colorado high school hockey to have two national champions,” Woodley said. “Just the idea that our teams can compete in a national tournament but then to have them both excel and win the final game was a tremendous accomplishment. It speaks highly for Colorado high school hockey and how far it’s come.”
This the second year that the nationals have been divided into two divisions. USA Hockey has awarded national championships to top youth teams since 1940 and added a high school championship in 2010.
Teams can qualify for the event by winning their league, state title or a qualifying tournament,
Each team will play one game Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with quarterfinal and semifinal Sunday with games in either Ashburn, Va., or Reston, Va. The championship games are Monday morning in Ashburn.
Seven teams from the Greater Washington, D.C., area will have some degree of the home-ice advantage.
“It is always an honor to be at a national level,” said Stone Bridge (Va.) team manager Peggy Balla. “Our team has been to the championships once before in, 2011. All of our players are absolutely excited to be back again this year.”
As for the defending champions, Regis Jesuit opens in the first game of the day Thursday against Bethel Park, Pa., at 10 a.m. ET in Pool B of the Pure division. Wayzata (Minn.) and JSerra (San Juan Capistrano, Calif.) also are in that pool.
Cherry Creek opens against McKinney (Texas) on Thursday in Pool B of the Combined division. Dayton Stealth (Ohio) and J.W. Mitchell (Fla.) are also in the pool.
Pool A: Blackhawks
Downington East (Pa.), Edina (Minn.), Orange Lutheran (Calif.), Pittsburgh Central Catholic (Pa.)
Pool B: Ducks
Regis Jesuit (Colo.), Wayzata (Minn.), J Serra (Calif.), Bethel Park (Pa.)
Pool C: Blues
Oak Park-River Forest (Ill.), Winston Churchill (Potomac, Md.), North Broward (Fla.), John Paul II (Plano, Texas)
Pool D: Rangers
Stone Bridge (Va.), Edwardsville (Ill.), Stoneman Douglas (Fla.), Marriotts Ridge (Md.)
Pool E: Sabres
McLean (Va.), Viewmont (Utah), Brookings Rangers (S.D.), Desert Vista (Ariz.)
Pool A: Avalanche
Smithtown/Hauppauge (N.Y.), Northwest Maryland, Boulder/Monarch (Colo.), Newark Generals (Ohio)
Pool B: Panthers
Cherry Creek (Colo.), J.W. Mitchell (Fla.), Dayton Stealth (Ohio), McKinney (Texas)
Pool C: Capitals
Frisco (Texas), Annapolis/Old Mill (Md.), Manatee (Fla.), Loudon County/Heritage Hockey (Va.)
Pool D: Penguins
Rock Ridge/Riverside (Va.), Sandra Day O’Connor (Phoenix), Davis County (Utah), Omaha Jr. Lancers (Neb.)
Pool E: Sharks
Casper (Wyo.), BE/PG United (S.C.), Northwest Arkansas (Ark.), Bozeman (Mont.)