By Dan Hardenbrook
For the third season in a row, a local 14U youth hockey team is headed to the Michigan Amatuer Hockey Association State Tournament. The State Savings Bank 14 team, made up of players from Newberry, Manistique, and Munising, dominated in their District 8 Championship Tournament at the Negaunee Ice Arena over the weekend.
The State Savings Bantams were favored to win, and win they did. They outscored the competition by a combined score of 22-3 in their four games, finishing the weekend as the undefeated and undisputed kings of the Upper Peninsula.
The tournament format was slightly different this year, with only five teams participating. Instead of the traditional three-game division round on Friday and Saturday and a crossover style four-team bracket on Sunday, State Savings Bank played each of the other teams once in a round-robin style format to decide the winner.
The new format didn’t phase the squad. “We went in with the mindset that we had to win all four games,” said Head Coach John Nutkins. “I didn’t even look to see or know if there was a way that a team could lose a game and still end up winning the tournament. In our minds, the only way to guarantee we get what we wanted was to win them all, and that’s what we did.”
In the opening contest on Friday, the State Savings Bank team struck almost immediately. Playing against a tough Marquette team, SSB got on the board 38 seconds into the game with a goal from Austin Hinkson. It would be the first of 11 goals that weekend for Hinkson, who had three in the first game.
Hinkson got goal number two on a great pass from Gavin Nutkins to make it 2-0 at the end of the first period. Penalties became a problem as the game went on, and Marquette got on the board with a powerplay goal in a 5-on-3 advantage.
It would be the last momentum they had all game. Nutkins answered with his first goal of the weekend, scoring while the team was shorthanded to make it 3-1. Carsyn Hinkson added a goal as State Savings Bank won it, 5-1.
The Saturday morning game featured a matchup against host Negaunee Iron Range. State Savings Bank played an all-around good game, even managing to avoid penalties as they dominated the host team 7-1. Again they got an opening-minute goal from Austin Hinkson, who started off his second straight hat trick with a goal 44 seconds into the game. Hinkson added another later in the first. His brother, Carsyn Hinkson, rebounded his own shot and State Savings Bank was well out in front leading 3-0 after the first period.
Negaunee couldn’t get much going as they were overwhelmed over the course of the game. Gavin Nutkins had a highlight reel slapshot from the blue line that was the goal of the game in the 7-1 win.
Saturday afternoon brought a match-up with the Escanaba Hawks. Gaining momentum as the weekend went on, State Savings Bank had their best all-around game of the weekend, scoring a tournament-best eight goals in the victory.
Carter Deatsman added a third straight opening-minute goal, sending the puck home just 22 seconds in. Nutkins added another great goal 40 seconds later on a one timer, and the game was over almost as soon as it started. Austin Hinkson found an extra gear scoring four more goals to lead the way, including the next three in the game. Escanaba could only muster one goal, and they fell 8-1.
The 3-0 weekend record set up a Championship Sunday showdown vs Copper Country, in what would be the best game of the weekend. Copper Country needed the win to force a first-place tie, and came out fired up.
Copper Country was the toughest competition the State Savings Bank team had all weekend. The game was scoreless until the third period, when Brody Gariepy broke through with the go-ahead goal, scoring what also turned out to be the game-winning goal.
Austin Hinkson added another goal to run his final total to 11, but the big star in the championship round was goaltender Alex Noble. Noble had been so close to a shutout in each of the first three games of the tournament, only to miss out on bad bounces or deflections. Noble made big save after big save in the Championship clinching performance, which ended with a final score of 2-0.
After two years and two state finals appearances under the French Trucking banner, this year’s team is the third straight 14U team to win a District Championship. Newberry players Gavin Nutkins and Ethan Pavey have now earned their sixth straight State Tournament trip, and this will be the second time in three years that Coach John Nutkins has brought a team to the biggest tournament of the year.