By Jeremy Ellis
Here it is Day 5 (day 1 for yours truly) in San Jose. A 3 am taxi ride to O’hare airport in Chicago for a 5am flight and 6 hours later I find myself amongst the faces I see a few times a year. The faces age, but they look oh so familiar. The Finals always seems like a community, a tight nit group who compete against and support one another. I always cherish the times spent with these personalities.
I was thrown right into the fire. Today signaled the start of the end for the Club and Silver divisions as we fully transition into Gold tomorrow. Six finals were scattered throughout the day along with 2 skill competitions. Mite platinum took the stage first this morning with the Alkali Colorado Kodiaks facing off against the Eagle Ridge BC 01. A quick powerplay kickstarted the Kodiaks and after jumping out to an early lead they were able to stretch out the lead and were crowned division champions with a 5-1 victory. Following that was the Mite Gold final, which saw the Arizona Groove boogie their way to a gold medal over the Revision Puckhogs by a score of 8-4.
In squirts, the silver division proved that the NARCh motto is fully intact when we say it is the “World’s Greatest Roller Hockey”, with the Hong Kong Dragons challenging the higher seeded Las Vegas Tour Rebels. The globetrotting Dragons have been an impressive program in their first ever NARCh final and they were able to take home the title and this wouldn’t be the last time we would see a Dragons team in a final today. The Squirt Club flavor also had international flavor with Canada being represented by the Bullfrogs Green from Alberta. They went up against local powerhouse NorCal Extreme. The boys from up north proved to be too much in this one as they wheeled away to a 6-0 shutout of the Extreme.
The last age group of the day was in Bantam. This is always one of the most intense divisions here at finals and in hockey in general. Kids are at an age in this division where they learn to play with and edge and inevitable more physicality. The Bantam Silver final was first and it proved to be the best game of the day. From the islands came the KIHA Warriors against another hometown juggernaut; Anarchy. The goalies dominated the highlights and at the end of regulation, the score was knotted at a paltry 1 a piece. Into overtime we went where it was up and down action until a nice corner cycle resulted in a beautiful feed to the slot for a 5-hole winner. The Warrior boys had to borrow some boxes to pack up their hardware for the long flight home. Bantam Club concluded the medal ceremonies for the day with the NCR Elite squaring off against the Hong Kong Dragons. Following the trend of stellar goalie, this one was a low scoring affair. In the end it was the Elite getting the shutout and the gold medal 2-0.
The skills were a pretty unique event today. In all my years I saw a first today. In the sniper division, with about 20 contestants, only 1 player was able to score. In the first AND second round! That’s right, the competition was over that fast as only one player could solve the riddle of the Tender today. It took quite a long time to eliminate goalies as there were only 2 goals scored in the first 50 attempts. The goaltending here today was incredible!
As we transition into Gold, one can tell the level of individual and team skill increasing. What doesn’t increase, however, is the determination and drive of all the teams. This is the 2012 Finals; the biggest event of the year. The memories made here last a lifetime and the medals you earn here cannot be taken way. The next few days will be good as gold, so grab some real estate by the rink, you won’t be disappointed!