Wild playing for national title
By TOM BEHRENS
The Houston Wild Midget U16 ice hockey team has broken the barrier this year in being the first team from the Wild organization to play for the national championship, which they will April 7. They hope to establish another first for the organization by coming home as the USA Hockey Youth National Champions in their age bracket.
We have had teams that won the state tournament in the past but never gone past the Rocky Mountain District, which is the next tournament to go on to before Nationals," said Mark Servaes, President of the Houston Wild Hockey Club. This is our first team to go on to Nationals."
The Houston Wild is part of the Houston Junior Aeros Hockey Association (HJAHA) which consists of youth ice hockey programs for youth starting at age 10 up to 19-years-old. The purpose is to promote and develop youth ice hockey in Houston.
The Wild are travel teams, meaning that a team in the course of a season travels across the United States to play games. Wild teams are also described as elite teams meaning that its players are selected after tryouts from some of the best youth ice hockey players in their age bracket.
Kids from all over the city come and try out," said Benton Dibrell, head coach of the Midget U16 team. The best players want to play on this travel team."
The Midget U16 team has players from Texas City, Katy, Cypress, The Woodlands, Kingwood, Conroe, Bellaire, Sugar Land, and even Round Rock.
When I started with this team two years ago we only had about 13 players," said Dibrell. This year when we added the final two or three players to our roster, the team was set. We ended up with 20 players. Last year, and this was key, when all my players were first year midgets, we played up in the league and ultimately won games all year. My players spent all of last season playing up, being challenged. They are primed and ready to go."
According to USA Hockey rules, Dibrell's Midget team is rated as a Tier 2 team, meaning his players have less ice hockey experience than a Tier 1 team. In games this past season his team has played Tier 1 teams probably more than Tier 2 teams, and even some games against U18 teams.
Dibrell says he doesn't know much about the three other teams he will be playing at the Nationals, but that shouldn't present too much of a problem.
Since we played teams from all across the US, we know the style of the teams we will be playing," he said.
In the course of the regular season the Wild played teams from New England, Chicago, and the West Coast.
Dibrell describes his style of coaching as European.
We don't dump the puck much; we handle the puck," he said. We will prepare as we prepared for our Tier 1 tournaments we played all season, preparing to play teams that dump the puck. We know for the most part they are bigger than we are, perhaps stronger, but I doubt they will be faster."
Dumping the puck and European styles
Dibrell describes dumping the puck as when a team gets to the red line they shoot the puck in to the far zone and then set up and try to take it away from the other team. They don't take chances of loosing the puck in neutral ice.
In European style we maintain control of the puck. We come into the offensive zone in control of the puck instead of dumping it," said Dibrell. Over the years I have learned if you do that the players develop better skills and end up being able to play in colleges easier."
Competition to determine National Champion begins April 7 and ends April 11. The games will be played in West Chester, Penn.
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