One of the most interesting and exciting inter-regional contests of the entire year was the match-up between the 2000 AAA Atlanta Fire and the TPH Thunder. This match-up took place primarily because both teams were competing in the Southeast Cup tourney in Raleigh, Carolina.
Several interested Atlanta parents, players and some coaches have long wanted to see this age group match-up happen for several years now.
The Fire has several players on their roster that previously played on the TPH Thunder squad. Goaltender Mason Palmer, A.J Kolesar, Cole Warner, Quinn Fahey and Spencer Anderson all previously played on the Thunder team they faced in Raleigh.
The Thunder won the Southeast Cup soundly sweeping the Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators, and the Atlanta Fire, but by far the most interesting contest was the Atlanta Fire versus TPH Thunder 00 match-up.
With limited elite youth hockey talent ( versus traditional markets) in the Southern region of the country and Northern teams now searching for talent everywhere it is available including the south games like the one in Raleigh take on added significance.
The Thunder needed to win each of their matchups solidifying their position as the elite AAA team in the region.
Coached by Keith Rowe they accomplished that displaying impressive improvements in wins, offensive statistics and much improved defensive performance far eclipsing the last two seasons.
The Thunder went from winning 18 matchups the entire 2012-13 season compared to 35 wins in 2013-14.
More impressive was the team’s performance against the top 25 opposition where the Thunder recorded a 9-5-1 record in the 15 Tier 1 games they competed in this season.
Their won-loss percent of improvement of @ 45 percent was even more impressive given the 2013-14 Thunder team is made up of many of the same players that the team had on its roster the previous year.
The Thunder moved up in the myhockey.com rankings precipitously from the middle 50’s to one of the top 30 teams in the USA.
Many could feel the electricity in the game from the starting face-off till the final buzzer in the third period.
The Fire showed intensity and desire exhibiting physicality and tenacity.
Zach Connor, Josh Stitch, and Eric Stroze delivered huge checks on Atlanta Fire players. Forward Cole Warner returned the favor distributed several body checks to Thunder players.
Defenseman Jonathan Shaw was assessed a two and ten for a devastating check to a former teammate. After serving his penalty he was targeted for a second two and ten by the Raleigh referee and was ejected from the game.
Shaw’s 2 big hits contributed to his team’s unusual physical play and helped to create a continuing tone on both sides of the ice, but also created a shorter bench for the Thunder for the last game and a half.
Goaltender Mack Guzda was strong in goal for the Thunder while the line of McAvoy, Lucas and Cooper gave the Fire defense fits with their speed and tenacity in pursuit of the puck.
The forward line delivered offense for the Thunder as they have most of the season.
Mikhail Khudenko and Matthew Frick scored for the Atlanta Fire. The Thunder won the contest 5-2.
Youth hockey examiner asked Coach Rowe about the team’s victory against the Atlanta Fire during the Southeast Cup tournament.
Examiner asked Coach Rowe about the team’s victory against the Atlanta Fire after the game in Raleigh:
How did you feel about playing against the 2000 Atlanta Fire in the Southeast Cup tournament?
For most of the team it was like any other game. For the Atlanta players it was definitely more. You could see their intensity. We, by no means are a physical team, but this game was probably one of our most physical games of the year. I thought the boys played great!
Examiner: What are the key things you think your players got out of winning the last few tournaments?
Coach Rowe: I think by winning our last three tournaments gave our players more confidence going into next season. The 00 team did not necessarily experience a lot if wins in their first two years, and I think again it just gave them a boost of confidence.
Examiner: The game had its share of hitting. Do you think physical play helped?
Coach Rowe: Don't know if it helped or hurt. Again, our team is not to known as a physical team, but I thought the boys competed hard. I thought we took some penalties out of emotion, ones we normally do not take.
The 00 Thunder and rival Fire squads both ended their seasons with improvement and further elevated youth hockey in the South.
Next year we can expect even more.