Summer, fall inline tournament schedules interrupted by COVID-19 pandemic
Inline hockey and ice hockey complement each other in many ways, especially in the sense of cross-sport training, but the two styles of hockey diverge in other areas.
Whereas ice hockey has a multi-layered structure, with player drafts prefacing advancement through various competition levels in a defined pyramid, inline hockey is basically tournament-based. Teams are formed in age groups and compete against each other in tournaments, often culminating in national championship events.
The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has obviously interrupted inline hockey’s traditional tournament timeline. In fact, it’s played havoc with the schedule, ranging from local to international levels.
Rinks shut down in mid-March with the declaration by the World Health Organization (WHO) of the pandemic. This stopped local league competition.
Players retreated to cul-de-sacs for skating and shooting practice to continue playing the game they love.
When prudent stay-at-home orders by local and state governments designed to promote public health safety appeared to slow down the infection rate, many municipalities began to rescind restrictions and many rinks began phased re-openings.
Instead of contact play, some rink programs offered camp-style settings focusing on social distancing and camaraderie.
But the uncertainty of the spread of the virus caused many to err on the side of caution. Some tournaments were canceled outright while others were postponed.
The North American Roller Hockey Championship Series (NARCh) had originally scheduled its West Coast championship tournament July 10-19 in Corona. But tournament director Daryn Goodwin postponed the event due to local health safety measures.
Goodwin said it was with “tremendous disappointment” that the NARCh Finals were postponed.
“We put in a great amount of energy and effort to make this tournament happen,” Goodwin wrote on the tournament’s website (www.narch.com). “We know players, coaches and parents were very excited about the event and just want to play.
“Nobody can predict the future and when we announced on June 4 that we felt confident about the tournament, our nation was in a different place in terms of COVID-19. States had re-opened and cases were decreasing.”
A month later, however, the situation had changed to make it impossible to host the tournament.
“We did everything in our power to make this tournament happen and we’re honestly devastated,” Goodwin underscored. “It’s been a tough 2020 so far for everyone. The roller hockey community has been hit extremely hard. We are hopeful that we are in a better spot in the upcoming weeks and we can still host the event.
“We are very passionate about the sport and hope that (teams) will join us when we are able to get back to doing what we love. NARCh has been around for 27 years and we will be back stronger than ever as soon as we can.”
The World Skate inline hockey championships, scheduled for September in Colombia, were postponed to 2021 as yet another high profile casualty of the pandemic.
But there were some bright sports in the darkness.
The Amateur Athletic Union’s Junior Olympic Games for inline hockey took place in partial form, at least, June 27 to July 2 in Corona. Ten divisions were scheduled and five were completed before an order by California Gov. Gavin Newsom restricted all indoor activities.
The State Wars 16 United States Roller Hockey Championships did take place in their entirety July 31 to Aug. 10 in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. The event drew 215 teams from throughout the country while observing strict health and safety protocols.
But activities in the Golden State remained on hold.
State of the Union
The amazing turnout in Indiana for State Wars 16 was a testament to the competitive spirit of the inline hockey player, whatever gender and whatever age level.
The event, which sorts teams by birth-year, featured 20 divisions, ranging from 6U through adult, including men’s, women’s, masters and pro, which were further broken down into 34 subdivisions.
“If you would have told me back in March that we would not only be hosting State Wars but having 215 teams from all across the United States participating, I would have thought you were crazy,” State Wars Hockey president Tim McManus said. “I am so proud of how hard our entire staff working to bring not only a fun and exciting tournament to all once again, but in creating a very safe environment for all.
“I know that the teams and players really needed this event this year and I am so happy to provide this unforgettable experience in a wild year.”
“Obviously, 2020 has been a crazy year for all, so we were happy to see some normalcy and provide our customers with an amazing and safe experience,” explained Greg Thompson, who serves as national director for State Wars Hockey. “It was incredible to see so many teams from all across the country make the trip to Indiana. I can’t wait for 2021.”
California teams, of course, left their mark in the Midwest.
Gold medalists included the Bulldogs Blue (8U-AAA), California Skittles (2002 AA), Rivals (Juggernaut AAA), Rink Rat Mambas (Junior AAA) and Pama Labeda Golden Knights (Women’s AAA).
Silver medalists included the Bulldogs Blue (2010 AA) and Rink Rat Republic (Women’s AAA).
The Bulldogs Blue defeated the New York Titans, 5-2, to capture the 8U-AAA championship.
Jacob Clark (left) earned the division’ Most Valuable Player award while teammate Jaxon Gillis earned the Warrior High Scorer award. The Bulldogs Blue made it a clean sweep of top individual awards when Devin Werbach received the division’s Most Valuable Goaltender award.
Other division MVPs included Jeremiah Dolmo of Skittles (2002-AA), Cooper Haar of Rivals (Juggernaut AAA), Will Shepherd of the Mambas (Junior AAA) and Frankie Sanchez of the Golden Knights (Women’s AAA).
Farm Tough’s Garrett Bear earned honors as MVG in the 2010 Division. Other top goaltender honors went to Sanchez of the Golden Knights (Women’s AAA) and Nevin Iwatsuru of the Golden Knights (Senior Men’s AA).
Warrior High Scorer awards also were captured by Kyle Mayhew of the Mambas (Junior Division), Laura Veharanta of the Republic (Women’s Division) and Glen Mears of the Golden Knights (Masters 45 & Older Division).
Mayhew racked up 11 points on three goals and eight assists in round-robin play to capture his award.
Veharanta is a highly decorated international-caliber player for Team USA while Mears played professional ice hockey over a 10-year stretch, including seven seasons in Bakersfield for the Fog and Condors of the West Coast Hockey League (WCHL).
Veharanta led her division in scoring with eight points (five goals, three assists) while Mears collected 10 points (eight goals, two assists) along with two game-winning goals.
“It was really nice to play in State Wars this past summer with my team,” Veharanta said. “While we were looking forward to all of the local tournaments the past six months or so, but the restrictions in California have limited our ability to play in competitive tournaments. I’m really impressed with how the State Wars team was able to host a tournament while making it all feel safe during these crazy times.
“Without having played NARCh or attending the world championships this summer, State Wars was really all our team had to look forward to playing in. Right now, we’re hoping that the NARCh Winternationals and Winter Wars are able to take place early next year. I was really looking forward to NARCh this past summer. There were over 12 teams signed up for the Women’s Division – way up from the four to six teams there normally are. It’s great to see more and more teams showing up and new faces competing on the women’s side.”
Skill competition winners included Alkali Fastest Skater winners Kenny Silhan of Rink Rat Mamba (2005 Division), Nathan Ortiz of Konixx NorCal (2004 Division) and Dolmo of Skittles (2002 Division).
Cal Kiefiuk, who had one goal and two assists in the final, earned MVP honors for Black Ice while Tyler Spezia of the Alkali Revel Lions earned Warrior High Scorer honors. California native Troy Redmann of the Mission Labeda Snipers was named Most Valuable Goaltender (MVG) in the division.
The Bulldogs Blue won all five games they played in the 8U-AAA Division, posting three shutout victories. Gillis collected six goals and five assists to top the division with 11 points. He notched a hat trick in the championship game while Clark led all scorers with two goals and two assists.
Dolmo collected one goal and one assist in the 2002 AA Division championship game while Zack Nolte and Clay Bozanich also scored goals and Colton Bertagna and Braden Mayer both picked up assists in the 3-0 win over the St. Louis Blast Orange.
Haar led the Rivals to a 4-1 victory against New Jersey’s ISCA Grizzlies in the Juggernaut AAA final with two goals – one each shorthanded and on a power play – while Cody Vadeboncoeur collected one goal and two assists and Grayson Yada added a goal and assist.
Shepherd scored the overtime winner in a 1-0 victory against the Tour Road Runners in the Junior AAA final.
The Golden Knights scored one goal in each half to capture the Women’s AAA championship game, 2-0, over the Republic. Vickey Huynh scored in the first period while Elisa Pogu scored on the power play in the second period. Sarah Bier and Allison Era picked up assists on the respective goals.
Sanchez, in earning both the MVP and MVG awards in the Women’s Divisions, posted a 0.50 goals-against average, 0.951 save percentage and two shutouts in the playoffs.
Winter Wars West is scheduled Feb. 26-28 in Corona, if the pandemic allows.
The NARCh Finals, generally acknowledged as the world’s largest amateur inline hockey tournament, are still waiting to crown 2020 champions. Goodwin had hoped to conclude the summer with the annual mega event but rinks continued to be unavailable.
As of early November, the wait continues.
“We have been patiently waiting for California to re-open to be able to host the NARCh Finals,” Goodwin noted on the company’s website. “Once the rinks can open and have games according to government guidelines, we will have an event immediately.”
Goodwin expects to host the tournament within two to three weeks upon receiving a re-opening announcement.
He now hopes to hold the event before the end of the calendar year.
“We are hoping this announcement is coming soon and we can have this tournament before the end of 2020,” he said.
In the meantime, NARCh has scheduled events in states that are open for tournament competition.
“We’re going to leave 2020 on a high note with some great NARCh hockey,” Goodwin stressed.
Back on board is a reboot of the wildly popular Pacific Cup from past decades. Additionally, the revised NARCh calendar will also include a major eastern regional tournament as well as a holiday event.
The first Pacific Cup tournament is scheduled Nov. 20-22 at the Las Vegas Hockey Center for 18U, men’s and women’s divisions. The second Pacific Cup tournament is scheduled Dec. 4-6 at The Barn (Barney Family Sports Complex) in Queen Creek, Ariz., for 8U through 16U divisions.
The NARCh East Coast Invitational is scheduled Dec. 11-13 at the Hot Shots Sports Arena in Mt. Pleasant, Pa.
The Christmas Cup is scheduled Dec. 18-20 at the Legends Family Sports in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The 2021 NARCh season faces off with the 2021 NARCh Winternationals, which is scheduled Jan. 15-18 in Irvine.
“The Pacific Cup was originally hugely instrumental in growing the sport in California and the surrounding states for over a decade, and we feel it’s a great time to bring it back,” Goodwin said. “The series will provide more opportunities for teams to play quality opponents in professionally-run events. We believe the series will keep teams more engaged in the sport, get more players and parents excited about the sport, and ultimately help grow the sport.”
Goodwin said events in California cannot be set until facilities can return to game play.
“But we are getting things going in other states and want to make sure this is on the radar of teams located on the West Coast,” he said. “We expect many of these tournaments to fill very quickly, especially the single rink.”
Obviously, stay tuned.
– Phillip Brents
(Nov. 18, 2020)