Summer inline hockey season rolls to success on numerous levels
Every hockey player wants to win a championship – whether on ice or inline skates – and there were plenty of opportunities to win one (or more) this summer as roller hockey began to return to a more stable post-COVID landscape.
The TORHS OC Classic, held June 4-6 at The Rinks-Corona Inline, featured champions in 16 divisions from 6U through adult, including a pro division.
The NARCh Finals, which took place July 9-18 in Irvine, dished up 33 division championships across 17 age and gender groups.
The State Wars 17 United States Roller Hockey Championships, which faced off July 20 and wrapped up Aug. 2 in St. Peters, Mo., boasted a hefty entry list of more than 300 teams battling for 30 division titles.
For those with international ambitions, the World Skate inline hockey championships will take place Sept. 8-19 in Roccaraso, Italy, with United States senior men and women’s rosters chock full of Californians.
La Verne’s Laura Veharanta, who has won five gold medals with Team USA, will be representing her country for the ninth time at the upcoming world championship event. She will be looking to complete a golden summer after winning division titles at both the NARCh Finals and State Wars 17 tournaments, North America’s major summer inline hockey events.
“It was so nice to get back to a regular roller season this summer,” said Veharanta, who finished as the division high scorer at both the NARCh Finals and State Wars tournaments. “I’m really looking forward to defending our world championship in Italy.”
Veharanta won the gold medal in the Women’s Platinum Division at the NARCh Finals as a member of the Rink Rat Republic team that pulled off a 3-2 win over the Pama Labeda Golden Knights in the finals after collecting 12 points as the division high scorer in round-robin play.
She helped Rink Rat Liberty to the gold medal at State Wars by leading the team in scoring with 10 points in a perfect 4-0 round-robin finish in the Women’s AAA Division. Liberty edged Pama, 2-1, in the gold medal game.
“The Liberty team was a mix of new USA players and it was great practice for us,” Veharanta said. “A sponsor stepped up to help increase the cash prize for the Women’s division making it $5,000, which was super awesome to see. All of the girls were very appreciative of the support and it made the win that much more memorable.”
The LaVerne native said she prepared for the two North American championship tournaments by competing in the Sparta Cup June 25-27 in Barcelona, site of the 2019 World Roller Games.
The Sparta Cup has gained a reputation as the top inline hockey tournament in Europe.
“That was a great tune up for the North American summer tournaments,” Veharanta said. “The European games are longer and definitely made me feel more conditioned once I got home.”
Best in the west
The NARCh Finals returned to the playing court after a year off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Players of all age groups were eager to showcase their skills on the floor amid a sizable entry list of 194 teams.
California teams captured the lion’s share of gold medals, as they are accustomed, though teams from throughout the Pacific region also excelled.
“We missed the Canadians and internationals teams, otherwise it would have been 220 to 240 teams,” NARCh president Daryn Goodwin said. “It was one of the best NARCh Finals and most memorable tournaments. After missing last year, everyone was super excited to get back to the NARCh Finals under normal circumstances.”
Both the Corona Bulldogs and Tour OC Blades programs helped provide the highlights for teams hailing from the Golden State.
The two long-standing programs combined to skate off the floor with seven gold medals (four by the Bulldogs, three by the Blades) and five silver medals (three by the Bulldogs, two by the Blades).
(The two programs combined to win five gold and seven silver medals at the preceding OC Classic.)
Bulldogs teams won championships in 6U, 8U Gold, 10U Gold and 14U Club at the NARCh Finals. Runner-up teams included those in 12U Gold, 12U Club and 16U Silver.
“We had 13 teams take part at NARCh,” Bulldogs age-group coach Ben Barrett said. “The teams did great and we did have some individual winners. We also took nine teams to State Wars, and had eight of the nine medal and took home a lot of individual skills competitions as well.”
Isaiah Ignacio earned double honors in the OC Classic for the Bulldogs as the top scorer in the 6U division and top dishman in the 8U Tier 1 division while Benton Sherrill was the top goaltender award-winner in both the 6U and 8U divisions.
Several Bulldogs earned notoriety at the NARCh Finals as well. Charlie Marcie (6U) captured a division high scorer award and Barrett Thacker (6U), Jayden Kehrier (10U Gold) and David Ricci (12U Gold) all recorded division top goaltender awards.
The Blades were among the original powerhouse programs during the early boon years of inline hockey in Southern California and a generation, or even two later, the resurrected Blades still show they have star power.
Skyler Hoar, a Huntington Beach native, now serves as program director of the OC Blades, which returned to active status under a new ownership group last year. His ice hockey resume is fairly solid with 21 goals and 55 points in 42 games played with the Bay City Bombers of the Western States Hockey League (WSHL) in 2006-07 and 40 goals and 72 points in 62 career games with Long Beach State (ACHA Division II) from 2010-13.
His roller hockey resume is even more extensive with an appearance with Team USA at the 2012 IIHF In-Line Hockey World Championships in Germany and 51 games in the State Wars United States Roller Hockey Championships pro division, registering 12 goals and 33 points primarily with California Mission Bauer Elite and the Tour Mudcats.
Hoar also served as head coach of the Brazilian national inline hockey team and competed as well in the American Inline Hockey League (AIHL).
His experience at the professional and international levels has helped inject a renewed vitality in the Blades program.
The Blades collected championships at the 2021 NARCh Finals in 12U Platinum, 13U Girls and 12U Club and posted runner-up finishes in 6U and 14U Silver.
Logan Herpin (12U Club) and Joanne Park (13U Girls) both claimed division high scorer awards while Adison Waddington doubled as the top goaltender award-winner in both the 12 Club and 13U Girls divisions. Waddington shared the award with Grayson Bell in 12U Club while Cyrus Kottmeier (12U Platinum) and Chris Martinez (14U Platinum) also took home top goaltender awards for the Blades.
Waddington posted a .907 save percentage in the 13U Girls Division while Martinez recorded a .895 save percentage to net his award.
“It was definitely a wild ride this season with the closure of HB rink (Huntington Beach Inline) and re-starting a club,” Hoar said.
There was plenty of shiny hardware to spread around at this year’s NARCh Finals.
Pure Octane Hockey scored a pair of championships (10U Silver, 12U Silver) while the Angry Ducks skated away with one gold medal (14U Platinum) and two silver medals (12U Platinum, 16U Platinum).
The Arizona-based Konixx Outcasts won division titles in 14U Gold and 16U Gold and posted a runner-up place-finish in 14U Club.
The Tour Roadrunners left the rink with five finalists – one gold (16U Platinum) and four silver (18U Platinum, 21U Platinum, 24U/Division I, Men Silver).
Other youth division champions included Raider Jets (8U Silver), Labeda Jets (10U Platinum), Oregon Rollin Reign (10U Club), Konixx Knighthawks (12U Gold), Inferno (14U Silver), Bend Bullets (16U Silver), Irezumi Samurais (18U Platinum), Raiders Young Guns (18U Gold) and Hi-Chew Sweet & Sour (19U Girls).
Adult division champions included the Bodangles (21U Platinum), the Bananas (21U Gold), Rink Rat Republic (Women Platinum), Tour Aztecs (Women Gold), Unify Black Ice (Division I), Cypress (Men Platinum), Sin City Rebels Orange (Men Gold), New Boot Goofers (Men Silver), Pama Labeda Golden Knights (Men Bronze), Kamagraf Say Less (30-Older) and California Beach Boys (40-Older).
The Golden Knights defeated Unify Black Ice, 3-2, to win the coveted NARCh Pro Division title while also recording second-place finishes in the Women’s Platinum and 40-Older divisions.
Top individual award-winners included those for division high scorer (points per game) and top goaltender (best save percentage).
Val Vega of the Tour Aztecs (Women’s Gold Division) paced all top goaltender award-winners with a .946 save percentage.
Following close behind in the statistical ledger were Kevin Dwyer of Konixx (.934 save percentage) in NARCh Pro, Ashton Goble of the Tour Roadrunners 04 (.929) in 16U Platinum, J.P. Susco of the Pama Labeda Golden Knights (.923) in the 40-Older Division and Frankie Sanchez of the Golden Knights (.917) in the Women’s Platinum Division.
Pure Octane’s Devin Werbach brought home two top goaltender awards with identical .895 save percentages in the 10U Silver and 12U Silver divisions while Lucas Massie netted a pair of top goaltender awards by recording a .909 save percentage in the 21U Gold Division for the Bodangles and an .888 save percentage in 18U Platinum for the Smurfs.
Jack Leibowitz of the Angry Ducks (8U Gold) racked up 28 points (11 goals, 17 assists) to lead all division high scorers at the tournament with 5.6 points per game.
Connor Hayes of Pure Octane proved to be the tournament’s scoring demon with 29 goals and 30 points to lead the 10U Silver Division with a 5.0 points per game average. Aidan Yi of the Angry Ducks 08 averaged 4.5 points per game to make a lot of noise in 14U Platinum.
The skill competition is always one of the highlight events of the NARCh Finals. Awards were presented for top sniper, top goaltender and fastest skater from 8U through adult, including NARCh Pro.
Pure Octane’s Werbach and Hayes stood out from the crowd in particular. Werbach captured top goaltender awards in the 10U Silver/Club and 12U Silver/Club divisions while Hayes won top sniper and fastest skater awards in the 10U Silver/Club Division while also grabbing the top sniper award in the 12U Silver/Club Division.
Kaleb Sanders (Blades) claimed the fastest skater and top sniper awards in the 12U Platinum/Gold Division and also won the fastest skater award in the 14U Silver/Club Division.
Skills winners in the 8U Division included Harrison Cook (fastest skater), Jacob Weaver (top goaltender) and the Bulldogs’ Ignacio (top sniper). Weaver also won the top goaltender award in the 8U Silver division for the Raider Jets
Skills winners in the 10U Platinum/Gold Division included Lukas Abarquez (top sniper), Julie Becerra (top goaltender) and A.J. Gomez (fastest skater) while skill winners in the 14U Platinum/Gold Division included Cooper Huang (top sniper), Tom Kale (top goaltender) and Tyler McGowan (fastest skater).
McGowan (Blades/Renegades) also won the fastest skater award in the 16U Platinum/Gold Division while skill winners in the 18U Platinum/Gold Division included Griffin Kluzek (top sniper), Ethan Valentine (top goaltender) and Jack Wedoski (fastest skater).
Wedoski also won fastest skater awards in the 18U Platinum/Gold and 21U divisions while Aydin Schwetz captured fastest skater and top sniper awards in the Men’s Division.
Skill winners in the 13U Girls Division included Annabella Brisk (top sniper), Riley McCaffrey (top goaltender) and Chloe Sapra (fastest skater).
Ash Printzen captured top sniper and fastest skater awards in the 19U Girls Division while Kate Miller earned the top goaltender award.
NARCh Pro Division skill winners included Paul Bautoussov (fastest skater), Patrick Pugliese (top goaltender) and Garrett Taylor (top sniper).
Top sniper award-winners also included Dayton Horn (14U Silver/Club), Cole Jacobson (16U Platinum/Gold), Hayden Desmond (16U Silver) and Ean Somoza (21U).
Somoza, a former youth standout, scored the game-winner for top-seeded Bodangles in their 2-1 victory over the Tour Roadrunners 99 to cap play in the 21U Platinum Division.
Top goaltender award recipients also included Keanu Gonzales (12U Platinum/Gold), Ian Tyrell (14U Silver/Club), Jack Lyon (16U Platinum/Gold Division), Andrew Lacrosse (16U Silver), Aaron Parsons (21U) and Mike Irving (Men).
Mac Redmon (12U Silver/Club) and Parker Platt (16U Silver) also claimed fastest skater awards. Redmon (Pure Octane) also earned the high scorer award in the 12U Silver division.
It was a well-rounded group.
State of mind
California teams did exceptionally well at the 956-game State Wars 17 tournament. The Bulldogs led the way in impressive fashion with four division championships (2008 A, 2010 AA, 2011 AAA, 6U AAA ), two runner-up finishes (2009 AA, 8U AAA), two bronze medals (2010 AA, 2011 AA) and one fourth-place finish (2006 AAA).
The Pama Labeda Golden Knights captured two division championships (Girls and 45-older) while scoring a runner-up finish in the PAMA Pro Division championship game.
Other division champions with representation from the Golden State included Skittles (Juggernaut AAA) and Liberty (Women AAA) while the Labeda Mayhem (2004 AA), Rink Rat Groove (Junior AAA) and Tour Aztecs (Women AA) all settled for silver medals.
The Konixx Warriors recorded three medals: two silver (2006 AAA, 2005 AAA) and one bronze (2004 AAA). The Temecula-based club had two teams (14 Platinum, 16U Gold) skate to runner-up finishes at the preceding NARCh Finals.
The OC Blades took bronze in the 2008 A division while the Mayhem (2003 AA) and Team Arizona (2006 AA) both placed fourth after coming up short in bronze medal matchups.
Werbach posted a 0.00 GAA and 1.000 save percentage in round robin play in the 2011 division and followed that up with a 1.00 GAA and a .895 save percentage in the division’s AAA playoffs while representing the Bulldogs Blue. Not to be outdone, he notched a 1.00 GAA and .927 save percentage in the 2010 AA playoffs for the Bulldogs Black.
Jayden Kehrier posted a .25 goals-against average and .976 save percentage in round-robin play at State Wars in the 2010 AA/A division while Blades teammate Connor Hayes potted three game-winning goals.
The Blades made their presence felt at State Wars 17 as three team members were selected as part of the Team North America 2010 AAA All Stars: Nolan Robbins (defense), Cooper Bell (forward) and Liam Becker (goaltender).
Becker posted a 2.00 GAA and .857 save percentage in the division playoffs while Bell tallied five goals in round-robin play.
2021 NARCh Finals Parade of Champions
6U: Buldogs Blue 7, Tour OC Blades 1
8U Gold: Bulldogs Black 6, San Diego Rockets 1
8U Silver: Raider Jets 8, AKS 1
10U Platinum: Labeda Jets 4, The Goonies 2
10U Gold: Bulldogs Blue 2, CO Stallions 1
10U Silver: Pure Octane Hockey 6, Bend Bullets 0
10U Club: Oregon Rollin Reign 6, Tour Raiders HC 3
12U Platinum: Tour OC Blades (08) 3, Angry Ducks (08) 1
12U Gold: Konixx Knighthawks 5, Bulldogs Blue 1
12U Silver: Pure Octane Hockey 7, Oregon Rollin’ Reign Black 2
12U Club: Tour OC Blades (09) 6, Bulldogs Black 1
14U Platinum: Angry Ducks (96) 5, Konixx Warriors 2
14U Gold: Konixx Outcasts (07) 7, NorCal River Rats 4
14U Silver: Inferno 5, Tour OC Blades Red 4
14U Club: Bulldogs Black 4, Konixx Outcasts Blue 3
16U Platinum: Tour Roadrunners (04) 4, Angry Ducks 1
16U Gold: Konixx Outcasts (04) 6, Konixx Warriors 4
16U Silver: Bend Bullets 5, Bulldogs Black 3
18U Platinum: Irezumi Samurais 6, Tour Roadrunners (02) 5
18U Gold: Raiders Young Guns 4, Velocity 2
Girls 13U: OC Blades Black 5, Hi-Chew 0
Girls 19U: Hi-Chew Sweet & Sour 4, So Cal Bears 1
21U Platinum: Bodangles 2, Tour Roadrunners (99) 1
21U Gold: The Bananas 2, Labeda Mayhem 1
Women Platinum: Rink Rat Republic 3, Pama Labeda Golden Knights 2
Women Gold: Tour Aztecs 7, Hi-Chew Gold 1
Division I (24U): Unify Black Ice 3, Tour Roadrunners 2
Men Platinum: Cypress 1, Team Mexico 0
Men Gold: Sin City Rebels Orange 4, Tour Aztecs 3
Men Silver: New Boot Goofers 4, Tour Roadrunners 2
Men Bronze: Pama Labeda Golden Knights 6, Boston Blizzards 5
30-Older: Kamagraf Say Less 4, Apex 0
40-Older: California Beach Boys 2, Pama Labeda Golden Knights 0
– Phillip Brents
(September 1, 2021)