Coach Ralph Sowder did not have unrealistic expectations for his 14-and-under and 8-and-under inline roller hockey teams from New Port Richey, Fla. The Sportzone Scorpions qualified for a tournament in Canada, but winning was not first and foremost on Sowder’s mind.
There was, after all, a side excursion planned for the 20 players and their families, who collectively anted up more than $40,000 for a summer hockey trip from the Sunshine State to the Great White North.
“We originally did this trip because we wanted to visit the Hockey Hall of Fame (in Toronto),” said Sowder, who coached both teams and had a son playing on each team. “That was worth the trip in itself, the Hall of Fame. But all that other stuff was really cool, too.”
The “other stuff’’ amounted to division titles in the North American Roller Hockey Championships (NARCh), July 15-30 in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga.
While roller hockey players in Florida are well aware of the NARCh championships, the Scorpions players and their families didn’t realize just how prestigious the tournament is until they returned to the U.S.
“When we came back across the border, one of the players was holding the cup (both Scorpions teams won one) and a customs guy asked about it,” Sowder recalled. “They knew about the tournament and the kids got excited. It’s a big thing up there.”
The two NARCh champions made quite an impression on their peers and rival coaches back home. “You guys did a great job,” South Florida Venom 14U coach Jorge Martinez wrote in an e-mail to the Scorpions. “What a great feeling it must have been. Most of our Venom team was there watching your finals game and hoping you would win so you could bring the winning trophy back to Florida.”
Earlier this summer, the 14U Scorpions tuned up for the NARCH series by winning a division crown at the 2Hot4Ice National Games in June in Columbia, S.C., while the 8U team reached its division finals.
In the NARCh tourney, Sportzone’s 14U squad competed with 17 teams from Canada and the U.S. The Scorpions won all seven of their games, outscoring the opposition 25-8, including a 3-1 win over Colorado in the title game. “We’re pretty good defensively,” Sowder said, adding, “If we can get a couple of goals in we’re usually in pretty good shape.”
In the finale, David Dillon had two goals and Alex Brown contributed a goal and an assist. Logan Sowder and Pat Trizis each set up a goal.
Tommy Futch, a goaltender from Jacksonville who stepped in as the Scorpions’ starter late in the season, posted a .920 save percentage and was named the division’s top goalie.
The 8U Scorpions outscored the opposition 22-14 in winning four of their five games, capped by a 7-4 defeat of Michigan in the championship game. Having sustained their lone loss in pool play, the youngsters had to come out of the loser’s bracket to earn their cup.
Scorpions sniper Reed Nichols outscored Michigan all by himself, tallying six times. Kyle Carathanasis had the other goal, while Lucas Sowder had three assists and Drew Carathanasis (Kyle’s twin), Mike DeMiceli and Nathan Smith each set up a goal. Drennen Atherton and Joseph Lowry split time between the pipes in every game.
Nichols, who had 16 goals and no assists in the Scorpion’s five games, was named the divisions top scorer. Sowder said Nichols’ teammates “kind of teased him, because he didn’t have any assists.”
As impressive as the two teams’ championship runs were, Sowder said the players might have relished the Hockey Hall of Fame visit even more.
“What’s really neat is they’ve got the interactive booths where you can shoot on goal or be in net,” exclaimed Sowder, sounding like a youngster himself. “Being kids, they spent 70 percent of their time there.”
A memorable trip, indeed.
The New Port Richey (Florida) Scorpions sent 14-and-under and 8-and-under teams to the NARCH Championships in Mississauga, Ontario, this summer and both won division crowns.
14U Scorpions: Pat Anderson, Alex Brown, David Dillon, Tommy Futch, Andrew Koontz, Matt Ryan, Logan Sowder and Pat Trizis.
8U Scorpions: Drennen Atherton, Drew Carathanasis, Kyle Carathanasis, Mike DeMiceli, Joseph Lowry, Brandon Napoli, Reed Nichols, Chase Pilawski, Lucas Sowder, Nathan Smith and Dillon Ward.
Coaches: Ralph Sowder is the head coach for both teams. Pat Trizis is an assistant for the older group and Bill Nichols assists the younger team.