Union County teams take aim at national competition
For the 16U Junior Checkers team, there was one mantra chanted over and over during the state finals. “This is our Super Bowl, Green Bay is our Pro Bowl”. Taking on a Raleigh Jr. Hurricanes team that had played them hard throughout the season, the 14 to 16 year old Junior Checkers won 4 to 1 in the final game, punching their ticket to the national tournament.
“This is the first time we’ve made Nationals,” assistant coach and Waxhaw resident Bruce Wolno said. “We’ve made it to the district level before, but never this far. We’ve got a really well balanced team this year, the boys know their assignments.”
Over the last month, both the 14 to 16 year old Junior Checkers and their younger 11 to 13 Pee Wee squad won the state title, setting both groups en route to a possible national championship.
Before heading to nationals, the 16U Checkers had already made some waves on the national level. Currently they rank 57 out of 302 programs throughout the state. During the regular season, the team recorded 32 wins, with 12 losses.
“Raleigh’s a huge program, the tenth largest in the country,” Wolno said of the Junior Hurricanes. “They have a lot of players and there’s a lot of facilities. We’ve got three total in the greater Charlotte area.”
The team includes kids from Union County, Mecklenburg County and some whose family drives three hours or more to get them to practice and games.
“We’ve got kids from all over,” Wolno said. “Indian Trail, Waxhaw, Marvin, Huntersville. We’ve got one who travels from Wilmington and another kid who comes over from Tennessee.”
Now the team faces a new set of opponents, waiting for them in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Wolno said the group found out it’ll face off against the Missouri state champions, whose tournament hadn’t been decided as of Thursday, March 8. After that game, they will play Alaska, Indiana and the Arizona state champions in a round robin tournament. The top two teams advance to the single elimination round.
“If they play the game the way we’ve been playing, we’ll do really well,” Wolno said.
Hockey is in the blood for most of the younger squad. Twelve-year-old Jeremy Reiser got started in hockey because of his dad, who played in college. His teammate Noah Stanley, 12, picked up the game while living in Buffalo, New York. Twelve-year-old Patrick Kramer got involved in hockey after watching a Charlotte Checkers game. Now the kids, along with the other members of the 11 to 13 year old Pee Wee team will take their game to a larger stage this month, competing for the national title.
Both teams walked away from their respective state title games with a championship. The Pee Wee team took its title by beating the Junior Hurricanes Major team, then tying them in the last game. Because of tiebreaker rules, the Checkers walked away with the title.
“Our boys did everything I asked of them,” Pee Wee head coach Steve McKirdy said in a prepared statement. “In keeping with our team mantra for the year, ‘Whatever It Takes’, they worked hard and never gave up to accomplish our ultimate goal, securing our spot at the last ever Pee Wee National Championships.”
Funding the trip
This marks the second consecutive season the team, which practices and plays at Indian Trail’s Extreme Ice Center, has advanced to the Pee Wee Nationals, planned this year in Reston, Virginia.
The problem for both squads is how to cover the cost of the trip. Wolno estimates that for his team, the trip will run more than $10,000, including flights, hotels and meals. To help solve the problem, Extreme Ice will host a spaghetti dinner Friday, March 9 from 5 to 8 p.m. The event will be held at Extreme Ice, 4705 Indian Trail-Fairview Road, at the facility’s Center Ice Tavern. For a $8 donation, guests will get salad, spaghetti, bread and dessert. For anyone who can’t make the March 9 dinner can help raise money at a Skills and Drills Hockey Clinic that EIC will hold March 24, from 11 a.m to 12:30 p.m. The clinic will cost $20 and people can register at 704-882-1830. For both events, 100 percent of the proceeds go to benefit the two teams. Extreme Ice is also looking for corporate sponsors, to help handle the cost of the two trips.