The Atlanta youth hockey organizations consisting of the Atlanta Fire, Phoenix, Ice Bandits, the MIC and the Thunder could probably characterize their combined seasonal play as “competitive” with some teams and division doing better than others.
In the continution of a major recession hockey parents made financial sacrifices to keep their children on the road and in hotel rooms almost every weekend throughout the season.
The sheer drive to keep southern hockey moving in the right direction is as impressive as it is daunting.
Last week the Atlanta Phoenix (formerly the Junior Thrashers) organization through the AA Bantam Squad had something to cheer about.
The Phoenix upset their longtime cross town rivals, the Atlanta Fire. The Atlanta Phoenix Bantam Major Hockey Club (14U) will go on to represent the state of Georgia in the 2013 USA Hockey National Championships to be held in Charlotte, North Carolina during the first week of April.
The two rival rinks (Ice Forum and Cooler) battle for the quality hockey players in what is considered a small market. The Phoenix Bantam team normally has about 25 skaters try out for the travel team versus a market like Detroit or Chicago where there are hundreds waiting to try out for the numerous teams represented there.
Former NHL player, Russian star and now Ice Forum hockey director Yan Kaminsky and head coach Bobby Cernich continued to insist on skating and conditioning as part of the teams season long practice regimen and after a 3-9 start the boys and coaches still were very positive in the locker room and on the ice.
The AA Phoenix finished the season with a 38-13-1 record. The boys have played in 7 tournaments; have won 4 of them, were the finalists in another tournament.
The most remarkable of the victories, prior to the recent victory over the Fire, was the trip to Colorado Springs over Presidents Day Weekend. Traveling with only 13 skaters and 2 goalies to the high altitude of the Rocky Mountains the injury/illness bug caught them and they had to skate 4 of the games with 11 skaters or less.
Playing this many games of full check hockey, with such a small number of skaters, all in 3 days definitely took a toll on these boys. But, after 5 tough matchups and after being down 2-0 in the Championship game, the Phoenix battled back and earned the Championship berth enduring a 5 minute overtime period and a 9 round shoot-out.
A best of 3 series would determine the state of Georgia's representative in this year National Tournament. Already having played the Fire four times in exhibition play, and having gone 0-3-1 (all one goal losses), and the rivalry between the two teams - the Phoenix team did not wilt under the pressure.
Ironically, the Fire squad had a roster of solid players led by Dominic Yamarino, Mason and Mitchell Bright, and Dawson Vangelder all who were formerly members of the Thrashers/ Phoenix team in Kennesaw.
Jacob Cutshall, a defenseman for the Phoenix, who also was a member of the Kennesaw group, was unable to play because of injury adding to the final drama.
Game 1: The Phoenix scored first, but the Fire answered that with a goal and the game stayed tied 1-1. The Fire played a very physical game, but it cost them dearly as they took several penalties, and gave the Phoenix a short 5 on 3 power play opportunity to start the third period. The Phoenix capitalized and scored on the 5 on 3, as well as the remaining 5 on 4 to take a 3-1 lead. Shortly thereafter the Phoenix scored again to make the final score 4 -1.
Game 2: the Fire adjusted the second game with very little physical play, which seemed to catch the Phoenix players and coaches completely off-guard. The Fire jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead and held that through the first period. In the second period the Fire went back to being physical and got called for more penalties. The Phoenix capitalized on a power-play and scored 4 more unanswered goals to make the score 5-2 .
With time running out in the second period the Fire regained their composure and scored two goals in less than on minute to reduce the deficit to 5-4 entering the third period. The Fire capitalized on this power-play opportunity and scored the tying goal to bring the game to a 5-5 tie at the end of regulation.
The Phoenix knew that they could not let The Fire force a game 3 in this series after coming back from 2 goals down and then giving up 3 unanswered goals. Minutes into the overtime the Phoenix Forward, Cameron Miller flipped the puck over the Fire goaltender and the Phoenix advanced into the USA National Championships.
Miller broke his hockey stick prior to the game and his mother had to purchase another one and she told him” I hope you make good use of this” he did scoring the winning goal in overtime which prompted his mother to say “ best money I invested this year.” Miller was formerly a member of the Fire organization.
The champion Atlanta Phoenix ( 14U) squad consisted of : G Michael Sobczyk; G Andrew Ghimpeteanu; D Seth Bacon; D Brandon Reidy; D Nick Zellmann ( 2 goals and 1 assist); D Cael Cernich; D Jacob Cutshall; F Michael Leon; F Matthew VonDwingelo; F Chandler Schneider; F Austin Magera ( 2 goals); F Seth Johnston; F Jacob Nash; F Cam Miller; F Dominic Barcorolo; F Davis Middeke
Goal 1:Michael Leon assist by Austin Magera, Nick Zellmann
Goal2: Nick Zellmann asst by Austin Magera
Goal 3: Nick Zellmann asst by Jacob Nash
Goal 4: Austin Magera unassisted
Goals 5: Austin Magera asst by Seth Johnston
OT Goal: Cameron Miller unassisted