Prior to this season, Columbus Youth Hockey split its 10-and-under Flames program into two balanced teams.
Last weekend, those two squads came together to form a team that won its division in the MLK Classic Hockey Tournament as part of the ECHL All-Star Classic hosted by the Indy Fuel. Games were played at the Fuel Tank in Fishers and the Pop Warner Arena at the state fairgrounds in Indianapolis.
“We went in with the reality that we could be competitive,” coach Steve Nelson said. “But with the teams that were entered in our division, the only one we had faced before was the Jr. Fuel. So we didn’t know what the competition was going to be like until we stepped on the ice.”
The Flames lost their first game 3-1 to Nashville (Tennessee), then tied the Indy Jr. Fuel 2-2 and beat defeated Athens (Ohio) 2-1. Columbus entered the semifinal round as the No. 3 seed and faced the a rematch with the second-seeded Jr. Fuel and won 6-1 to advance to the Championship Game for another shot at Nashville on Monday morning.
The Flames led Nashville 3-2, but in the final two minutes of play, incurred two penalties. Nashville pulled its goalie to add a sixth player to the ice, creating a 6 on 3 advantage. But goalie Jackson Wheatley and the Columbus defense held on to preserve the victory.
“For us to come out of that and not get scored on, that was phenomenal,” Nelson said.
Drew Weed led the Flames in goals for the tournament. Nelson said the team had some players score that aren’t normal goal producers.
Nelson coaches the Flames Blue team which currently is in second place in the Buckeye Western Conference. Eric Howe coaches the Flames Orange squad which is in the Buckeye Eastern Conference.
Players from the two Flames teams came together once before this season. They finished second in Culver Academies Tournament in October.
This time, they came away with the championship.
“We don’t have the privilege of practicing as a team,” Nelson said. “So it was pretty impressive to go into the tournament without the practice as a unit and come out as the victors. We could see the kids progressing as a unit with their chemistry. The teams we were playing had been playing together for the last three months.”
The Indy Flames 10-and-under results from last weekend’s MLK Classic Hockey Tournament:
Nashville (Tennessee) 3, Flames 1
Flames 2, Indy Jr. Fuel 2
Flames 2, Athens (Ohio) 1
Flames 6, Indy Jr. Fuel 1
Flames 3, Nashville 2