Stephen Sullivan, Terra’s Market Manager in the Tennessee office, describes how hockey is bringing his family closer than ever.
Youth hockey in Tennessee is, if nothing else, time-consuming. Tryouts are in late May, practice starts mid-August, and typically the season ends in early March. This year, the AA Bantam Nashville Flyers extended their season as they qualified for the USA Hockey 14U Tier II National Championship National Championships at Notre Dame.
The Flyers played over 60 games, going 39-14-8 while playing teams from 16 different states. The team traveled to six different states, including a couple trips to the Chicago area and to the University of Notre Dame for tournaments. The South is not blessed with an abundance of hockey talent. In order for the Flyers to play better competition, we needed to hit the road, requiring a significant time commitment from each player and their families.
Our league consisted of teams in Huntsville, AL; Atlanta, GA; and Knoxville, TN. “League Play” consists of each team hosting a weekend where each team plays four games: two games on Saturday afternoon/evening and two on Sunday morning so you can be on the road home by 2 p.m. The Flyers dominated the league the whole year, going 15-0-5 and winning the league championship. Unfortunately, they had a little slip up in the playoffs and lost the championship game while still qualifying for Nationals.
Along with league play, we played six tournaments to fill out the schedule: two in Nashville, two in Chicago, one in Ohio and one in Indiana. These tournaments are where we get to play teams from many different states, and they’re the most fun for the kids. They stay multiple nights in a hotel and the boys get a chance to hang out with their teammates. One of the highlights was on a trip to Chicago when the boys got to skate on a pond near the hotel. Probably doesn’t sound like much, but for a bunch of 14-year-old boys from Tennessee, anything frozen is fun. Another highlight was playing a game on Notre Dame’s home ice. Out of the six tournaments, we won two and lost in the finals in another two.
This all leads up to the National Tournament which took us back to Notre Dame. I have to give it to USA Hockey and the local association—they really know how to put on a tournament. Typically the tournaments we play in are run by companies for profit and they are not always the best-run events. This wasn’t the case at the Nationals, where teams only play one game per day, play longer periods and ice cuts every two periods. Placing teams is never easy, but USA Hockey uses a method based on the number of USA Hockey players registered in your state. There were 16 teams in the tournament and we were placed in a division with teams from Alaska, Arizona, and New Hampshire. It was amazing how evenly balanced the teams were. We went 1-1-1, and every game when to OT and two ended in a shootout. The Carolina Jr. Hurricanes beat Team South Dakota to win the 14U Tier II National Championship.
Above: The Nashville Flyers AA Bantam team.
The travel may seem like a lot, and it’s not cheap, but I couldn’t think of a better way to spend time with my two boys. In my mind, there is no better team sport than hockey, and the life lessons and close friendships they have developed over the years are well worth every penny.
And yes, we just finished tryouts. Eleven weeks until the season starts again…