Two Columbus youth hockey teams skated away with some hardware when they traveled to Indianapolis on March 4 to compete in the Fuel Invitational at the Pop Weaver Youth Pavilion of the Farmers Coliseum.
Both Columbus Mites teams earned medals after the A team took the first-place trophy in the A division and the B team placed second in the B division. Mites players were born between 2009 and 2011.
The tournament was broken down into two four-team pools. Each team had to play the other three teams in their pools, and the two best teams faced off in the championship.
Mites coaches Jarod Buchta and Eric Howe said all of the athletes showed tremendous progress being able to accomplish what they did.
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“I was so proud,” Buchta said. “Everyone has come a long way this season. We had quite a bit of kids on our team that this was their first season playing. It was just a huge difference in skill from the beginning of the year to now. It’s just incredible.”
The A team finished the season with a 19-1-6 record, while the B team went 18-9-1. The A team won its first two pool play games pretty handily, routing two separate Indianapolis Youth Hockey Association teams 9-0 and 9-1 before running into Indianapolis Junior Fuel.
The Mites looked as if they were going to run away with a third consecutive game after starting with a 4-0 lead, but the Junior Fuel kept battling. They came back with four unanswered goals of their own to end the game with a 4-4 tie. The Mites 2-0-1 pool play record still was good enough advance them to the championship.
The B team’s first two games were a bit more competitive than the A team’s. The B team won 4-3 against Indianapolis Youth Hockey Association before earning another one-goal victory against Indianapolis Junior Fuel North with a 6-5 decision.
The Mites ran into some trouble during the second game and found themselves in a shootout after ending regulation in a 4-4 tie. Junior Fuel South ended up getting the 5-4 victory, but that didn’t stop the Mites B team from advancing to the championship round.
The Mites were the only association to have both of their teams make it to the finals.
Howe said they came into the tournament expecting to do pretty well with the A team but weren’t quite sure what to expect out of the B team. It was exciting to see how well the B team players came together as a team to develop their skills, he said.
“Overall as a whole, it was kind of unexpected because last season we were in this tournament and went 1-3 with one team,” Buchta said. “This was a much better result than last year. The games weren’t even close. We got killed pretty bad. This year, it was pretty competitive.”
Both the A and B teams had to play in a rematch against their toughest pool play opponents for the championship games. The second game against Junior Fuel South ended in another shootout for the B team. They were trailing 4-1 with just six minutes left before scoring three back-to-back-to-back goals to tie the game, but Junior Fuel South walked away with the championship trophy after another 5-4 victory.
The A team was facing an early 2-0 deficit in it’s championship rematch against the Junior Fuel. The Mites ended up taking back the lead and held on for the 8-5 win.
Buchta said one area where both teams made one of the biggest improvements was at the goalie position. He was really pleased with the way his goalies, Keegan Bishop and Gabe Marsh, performed and said that had a lot to do with the two teams’ tournament success.
“It was awesome and fun,” said Bishop, the A team goalie. “I blocked all the goals, and I had fun.”
Columbus Mites A team
Coaches: Jarod Buchta, Eric Howe, Tom Kareus, Brian Neumann.
Columbus Mites B team
Coaches: Buchta, Howe, Ryan Larsh, Chris Tuttle.