Photo Credit: Cheryl Myers
In just its second year, the Minnesota Girls Tier I 14U National Invitational Tournament, which was held this past weekend in Andover, MN, has become a destination for the top girls’ teams from across the country.
The tournament featured all eight of the teams from the Minnesota Hockey CCM HP Girls Tier I 14U League and 12 teams from California, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, North Dakota and Wisconsin.
“Last year, it was so competitive, and this year it was even more competitive for us actually,” said Brandon Kaput, head coach of Little Caesars. “Even though we went 1-2-2 on the weekend, the most we won or lost a game by way two goals. I think that’s kind of what everyone wants to do is compete and learn lessons and see where the weaknesses are and where the strengths are. Coming up to Minnesota to play five really strong teams was perfect for us.”
“Credit to the teams we played against, which were all Minnesota teams, every game was a battle,” echoed Chicago Young Americans head coach, Frank Bisceglie.
Considering nine of the 20 teams in the tournament were participants in last year’s USA Hockey National Championships, it’s no shock the competition level was high, and for many of the out-of-state teams, their focus was to use this weekend as an early season measuring stick as they gradually prepare for another run to the national tournament this season.
“It helps us in that we know those are the best teams at our age level in the country. That’s how we can gauge our success,” said Bisceglie. “Where are we right now? Can we stay consistently competing at that level? That’s our barometer of where we hope to be, not now, but come April when we get to Nationals, if we’re fortunate enough to do so. It gives us an idea of what we need to work on and how far we may be from that level.”
Kaput added there’s also the benefit of getting a look at the top Minnesota teams so his team knows what to expect and are motivated to prepare diligently for what they hope is another chance to play them in the spring.
“From an outsider’s perspective, all three of those [Minnesota] teams were scary if anyone had to play them,” Kaput said, referring to the Green Giants, Lakers and Walleye at last year’s national tournament. “Coming up here this past weekend, it was what I expected to be an eye-opening experience for our girls. I think that losing two games and tying two games is kind of that step back for them where they can go, ‘Maybe I’m not as good as I think I am.’”
“Our focus as an organization is that national tournament, and now, we have four months to prepare.”
For Cheryl Mechelke, who serves as the director as the Girls 14U Tier I League and organized the tournament, the benefit of the high level of competition extends far beyond the teams whose goal is to play and win at Nationals though.
“We’ve known since we launched the Fall Tier I League that our teams are competitive with the top teams in the country but only the teams who have made it to Nationals have had that opportunity,” said Mechelke. “We have great relationships with Wisconsin and North Dakota, but this event provides all of our players and teams the chance to play more out-of-state teams and really see that competition nationally, while showing the visiting teams the level of competition in Minnesota.”
After two years, the NIT appears to be accomplishing that goal and much more.
“The competition was great, all the way through,” concluded Bisceglie. “Everything from the facilities at the rink, the people around the rink, the hotel accommodations, it was all top notch. We had a great time.”
For all of the scores and statistics from the NIT, click here.