Californians to have the world at their feet at FIRS finals in Italy
California will have significant representation during this month’s International Federation of Roller Hockey (FIRS) inline hockey world championship tournament in Roana and Asiago, Italy.
The United States will have teams competing in all four divisions — junior women, junior men, senior women and senior men. This year’s tournament is expected to set a participation record with 1,500 athletes from around the world. Players from the Golden State comprise a sizable percentage of the various U.S. teams’ rosters.
This year’s U.S. junior men’s roster includes eight Californians (out of 10 roster spots) and will once again be coached by Campbell’s Dave Inouye, longtime director of the Silicon Valley Quakes youth inline program.
Six Californians have been selected to compete on Team USA’s junior women’s squad. Five Californians brace the U.S. senior women’s team, while the U.S. senior men’s team features four Golden State natives on its roster.
The junior men’s and senior women’s divisions face off the tournament with games June 12-17 in Asiago while the senior men’s and junior women’s tournaments are scheduled June 20-25 in Asiago and Roana.
This year’s FIRS senior women’s tournament includes 17 teams divided into four groups. The United States, France, New Zealand and Australia comprise Group B.
Group A includes Sweden, Switzerland, Chinese Taipei, Canada and the Czech Republic. Group C includes Great Britain, Spain, India and Namibia. Group D includes Iran, Italy, Finland and Latvia.
Team USA will meet France in its group opener on June 12, followed by games against New Zealand on June 13 and Australia on June 14. The playoffs follow on June 15 and conclude with medal-round games on June 17.
La Verne’s Laura Veharanta is among the quintet of Californians named to the U.S. senior women’s roster. She called it an honor to represent her country at the upcoming world championship tournament.
“This will be my sixth world championships with Team USA,” she explained. “I’m very confident in the team that has been selected to represent the United States this year. It’s a very competitive, hard-working group and I know that every single person is hungry for the gold medal. We fell short last year, so I’m looking forward to the opportunity to get some redemption and go gold with this year’s team.”
Californians also on the roster include Lyndi Bell (Long Beach), Brooke Bryant (Linden), Celeste Loyatho (San Juan Capistrano) and Elisa Pogu (Corona).
Veharanta led Team USA in tournament scoring last year with 12 goals and 16 points.
The Czech Republic recorded a narrow 2-1 victory over the U.S. team to win last year’s gold medal. In another close matchup, Spain edged Finland 4-3 to win last year’s bronze medal game.
Arizona will also have significant representation of the senior women’s team with five players named to the roster: Allison Era (Peoria), Emily Etchebarren (Phoenix), Lyndsey Fry (Tempe), Joy Garvey (Phoenix) and goaltender Brooke Blaylock (Anthem).
Garvey (four goals, two assists) and Era (one goal, five assists) both collected six points in last year’s tournament to brace the Americans’ silver medal showing.
In a show of force (and obvious prestige) for the far west region, 10 of the 14 spots on the U.S. senior women’s roster are either from California or Arizona.
This year’s FIRS junior men’s tournament includes 18 teams divided into four groups. The United States, India, Spain and Great Britain will compete in Group D.
Group A includes Slovenia, Namibia, Canada, Colombia and the Czech Republic. Group B includes Sweden, Latvia, Chinese Taipei, Mexico and France. Group C includes Korea, Germany, Switzerland and Italy.
The U.S. junior men’s team will play three pool games, starting June 12 against India and following with games June 13 against Great Britain and June 14 against Spain. Playoff rounds are June 15-17.
The Czech Republic defeated France, 2-0, in last year’s gold medal game while Italy denied Team USA a medal on the strength of a 3-2 victory in the bronze medal game.
Inouye’s troops will be looking to improve from last year’s fourth-place finish in the division.
The team’s Golden State honor roll includes Joe Blackwell (Davis), Joseph Cascarano (San Jose), Joey Chimienti (San Jose), Zachary Claunch (San Jose), Caleb Hermle (Yolo), Brayden Kohler (Corona) and goaltenders Nathen Fein (Los Gatos) and Nicholas Leacox (Woodland).
Claunch, Hermle and Leacox were all members of last year’s team. Hermle (three goals) and Claunch (two goals, one assist) each tallied three points, while Leacox posted a 2.33 goals-against average and a .708 save percentage in six game appearances.
This year’s senior men’s field includes 25 international teams. They include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Chinese Taipei, Colombia, Czech Republic, France, Great Britain, Germany, India, Iran, Italy, Latvia, Macau, Mexico, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United States and Venezuela.
Team USA finished third last year behind the Czech Republic (gold medal) and France (silver medal).
Californians on this year’s U.S. senior men’s roster include Charles Baldwin (Santee), Brian Ganz (Sunnywale), Cody Page (Dana Point) and goaltender Blake Ducker (Orange).
The Americans will be looking to improve on their bronze medal finish in 2015. Baldwin, Ducker and Ganz are all returners off last year’s team.
Ducker, who is currently attending Stonehill College in Easton, Mass., was a member of the silver medalist U.S. junior men’s team in 2013 and the gold medalist Team USA senior men’s squad in 2014. He posted a 1.17 GAA and a .921 save percentage in helping guide Team USA to last year’s bronze medal showing.
Baldwin, the 2014 Asia Cup MVP, tied for the team lead at last year’s FIRS championships with 10 points while leading the American squad with eight goals. Ganz had three assists. Baldwin recorded a hat trick in Team USA’s 7-4 win over Latvia in the bronze medal game while Ganz picked up two assists.
International games have become closely contested in recent years. The Czechs edged France 2-1 to win last year’s gold medal.
“It’s an honor,” explained Baldwin, who will be representing his country for the second consecutive year. “We’re going for gold. We always strive for the highest possible achievement.”
Baldwin knows the Czechs quite well after playing professional ice hockey over the winter in the Czech Republic. The Czechs swept the senior women’s, junior men’s and senior men’s divisions at last year’s FIRS inline world championship event.
“They know how to play hockey, for sure,” he noted.
This year’s FIRS field includes nine teams: Canada, Chinese Taipei, Colombia, Finland, Great Britain, Italy, Mexico, Spain and the United States.
The six Californians selected to compete on Team USA’s junior women’s squad include Mackie Albertson (Huntington Beach), Brooke Bryant (Linden), Daniella Dror (Costa Mesa), Claire Peterson (San Jose), Lillie Pogu (Corona) and goaltender Maya Tasevski (Temecula).
The division resumes play at the international level after not being contested at last year’s FIRS international championship tournament in Rosario, Argentina.
Oldies but goodies
Five Californians were selected to compete in the FIRS Inline Hockey World Championships-Masters Division June 1-5 in Bolanzo, Italy. The elite group included forwards Eddie Limbaga, Glenn Evans, Brian Watanabe and Scotty Labeda, along with defenseman Rob Chornomud.
Arizonan Rich Garvey also was selected to compete for Team USA.
The Czech Republic defeated Italy and the United States to win the gold medal in both the Masters and Veterans Cup divisions.
For tournament updates, visit www.worldinlinehockey.com.
Ducker photo/Revision Vanquish
– Phillip Brents