By Dan Hardenbrook
The Puck of the Irish Tournament is an annual tradition that’s spanned nearly three decades to date, and generations of hockey players. Current and former coaches and players describe it as a favorite weekend of the youth hockey season and a perfect way to wrap up the long, cold, hectic winter of hockey. Last weekend, the 26th Annual Puck of the Irish Tournament was held in Bay City, and featured three teams local to us.
10U Renze Powersports
The 10U Renze Powersports can guarantee one thing when you watch them play: Win or lose, it’s going to be one wild ride. The combined group from Newberry and Manistique took on some of the toughest squirt teams in the state at the Puck of the Irish. They came up just short of reaching the Sunday Semifinals, but there was no shortage of smiles or excitement.
Friday games featured a tough draw as they took on one of the host Bay County Blizzard teams, as well as eventual tournament winners Saginaw. A loss and a tie left them with an uphill battle on Saturday, when they faced another top team from Battle Creek that also made the championship contest. They ended the weekend on a high note, knocking off the Gladwin Gladiators 2-1.
The 12U TAYHA Bandits mad an incredible run which got them to the semifinal round. But it certainly wasn’t easy. They also opened against the Bay County Blizzard and skated to a 2-2 tie. Game 2 on Friday saw them dominate the Grand Valley Stars, winning with a weekend high 10 goals in the 10-3 win.
“Scorin’” Oren Dewitt led the charge for the Bandits, who also got goals from Becca Rahilly, Tanner Plesscher, Julian Suriano, and Jarrett Zellar in the win.
That set up a simple mission for Saturday: Win, and they would advance. That’s just what they did.
Dewitt had a hat trick, Logan McIntyre added another pair, and Plesscher continued his hot streak in a 6-0 shutout win over HAWK Black. Libby McAlpine and Forest Cornell teamed up for the shutout in goal.
In the final group round game against Hawk Purple, Dewitt and McIntyre each scored twice. Carter Jankowski picked up his first goal of the weekend, and Becca Rahilly and Jarret Zellar made sure the Bandits would advance in a 7-1 win.
The Bandits earned a rematch with the Bay County Blizzard in Sunday’s semifinal, but fell 4-2, ending their weekend one game shy of the Championship.
14U State Savings Bank
The 14U State Savings Bank teams saved their best performance for last in the final weekend of their season. After dominating opponents for most of the weekend, they survived a pair of tough tests to wrap up the 14U Puck of the Irish Championship for a second consecutive year.
This team was much different than the experienced powerhouse that blew through Bay City last year. With only one second-year player, and one of the youngest 14U rosters around, SSB showed steady improvement all season and things peaked at the Puck of the Irish. SSB destroyed their early group round games, outscoring teams 23-1 in their first three games.
Their fourth game of the weekend finally provided a challenge. That’s when host teamt Bay County Blizzard pushed them to the limits in a 2-2 tie. State Savings Bank earned the number-one seed in the semifinals, where they shut down Grand Valley 4-0 in goalie Logan Lusk’s second shutout of the third shutout of the weekend.
The squad reached the championship in a rematch of the previous night’s tie game, as the Blizzard looked to win in front of their home crowd while State Savings Bank looked to take another title north of the bridge.
Joe Noble sniped one home on a faceoff win by Ollie Sevarns to make it 1-0 SSB. After the Blizzard responded with back-to-back goals, Noble did it again to tie things up 2-2. The score remained tied until late in the contest when Levi Vruggink netted the game winning goal. State Savings Bank clinched the 14U Puck of the Irish Championship, winning 3-2, and securing their gold at the end of the rainbow.